Maniac Mansion

Don't be a tuna head.

Source // Wikipedia

Ah, Maniac Mansion. That classic graphic adventure title with the pointing and the clicking and the puzzle solving. Oh, the puzzle solving. How I wish I were better at you...

Dave Miller's girlfriend, Sandy Pantz, has been kidnapped by Dr. Fred, locked away in a mansion full of horror and humour. Naturally, Dave seeks to rescue his girlfriend, enlisting the aid of two of his mates to push, unlock, turn on, pick up, read, use and fix all kinds of interactive objects in all manner of puzzling scenarios.

It does not take a genius to work out that in my playthrough, dear Sandy was not rescued. Still, this is 1001 Video Games You Must Play, not Finish, so let's see what's what.

Fun Times

I was playing the NES port which does have its differences, but not enough to completely overhaul how the game is played (though a d-pad is not the best of inputs for this kind of game). I brought along Michael and Razor, for reasons completely unknown to me. I read much later that each character has their own unique abilities, and with them their own way through the game, meaning that each person you pick will give you the opportunity to tackle the overall problem in their own way.

Not that I'd ever get that far.

The list of interactions you can have are displayed on screen, as are any items you have, and it gives you more of an idea of what's possible at any point in the game, unlike text adventures that more often than not required you to have a manual at hand, else a good memory.

One by one you explore the mansion, switching between characters whenever you feel the need. They'll need to work together too, as some puzzles involve timing, or else being in two places at once.

Not that I was too successful at that either.

As you make your way through the mansion, cutscenes show you what's going on with Dr. Fred and Sandy, as well as other characters. Maniac Mansion isn't the first to use animation to tell a story, but to cut into the middle of gameplay in such a way makes for a pretty big impression when you see one take place. It nearly caught me off guard. I'm so used to seeing nothing but cutscenes these days, and expected nothing but gameplay here. Turns out that it's a witty plot too.

A sentient meteor brainwashes the Edinson family and tasks them to gather more brains - that explains why Dr. Fred is working with human sized tentacle partners, right? Thought so. Games are entertainment, plots can be too.


What's not entertaining though is when a game gets to the point of 'seriously though, why am I still playing this?'.

I say that in the sense that I'm very obviously getting absolutely nowhere fast. My progress is painfully slow, partly as I get to grips with what can be done, partly with the fact that I'm not using a mouse (though it's surprisingly snappy in the NES version regardless), but mostly because I am a complete and utter idiot, especially in these kinds of titles.

It's so open from the start that it's almost overwhelming. I understand that exploring what does and doesn't work is part of the fun, but everyone has their breaking point. If a character dies or is out of action for any reason you can rope in another sucker to take their place, and only when all of Dave's friends are gone do you fail in your goal.

I didn't get everyone killed off, but I didn't stick around to see their fate.

Final Word

There is so much praise for Maniac Mansion, and rightly so. It really kicked off this kind of game, introducing the SCUMM engine to the gaming world, giving cutscenes a reason to exist, showing that adventure games don't have to be serious all the time. At the end of the day though, if I can't get into it to see all that good, then it's probably not going to find its way into any of my best of lists.

That is on me however, and when I fail at a game I watch someone succeed at it. Watching a playthrough of Maniac Mansion reveals the usual 'how the hell are you meant to work that out's and 'that did what now?'s, which is to be expected from these kinds of games. At the same time though, it allows me to actually see that grand plot that was going on all the while I was meant to be trying to save Sandy.

It doesn't take too long to watch, which is certainly a better option for many of us than taking too long to play and still not getting anywhere, and depending on which characters are chosen you'll see different aspects of the mansion at work.

So the longevity and replayability is certainly present, as is the humour and ease of entry into the game. Sticking with it long enough is down to the player though, and this player right here - he must have had his brains eaten by a meteor.

Fun Facts

The mansion is inspired by the main house of Skywalker Ranch. Perhaps that sentient meteor still influences the occupants to this day. It'd explain Episode I.

Maniac Mansion, developed by Lucasfilm Games, first released in 1987.
Version played: NES, 1990, via emulation
Version watched: PC, 1988 (World of Longplays)