Maniac Mansion is an early Lucas Arts creation released in 1987 for the NES. Many have either never heard of it or forgot about it along with most of the 80′s pop culture. But for a handful, this game remains as a pioneer of innovation and creativity that paved the way for the Lucas Arts franchise. In fact, many of its distant memories remain in a fanboy culture.
Why so much attention was catered to Maniac Mansion lies in its vision to successfully employ techniques that have rippled to contemporary video games. The complexities of the game have strongly grasped future developers, and it never really let go. Multiple endings, a story driven adventure, various playable characters with unique abilities, and the famous in game cut scenes are just a few examples of its experimental success.
The game begins with a meteor crashing nearby an old Victorian home where the reclusive Edison family reside. The meteor’s presence raises eerie suspicions about the true nature of the family. They virtually disappear into the home, and patients from the local hospital begin to vanish. Now, a local girl, Sandy Pantz, has been kidnapped, and her last sighting was from Dave Miller, her boyfriend, when he witnessed her being carried off into the mansion.
In attempt to save her, he rallies a group of friends where the player chooses two of the seven characters (three including Dave Miller). It is up to Dave Miller and two friends to save Sandy and unveil the Edison family secret.
At the time, what made the game so remarkable was the emphasis on character personality, and how certain key skills could alter the ending of the game. For example, Michael F. Stoppe is a young African American aspiring to be a professional photographer. His knack to use and develop film can force the Edisons from their reclusive home and into mainstream media.
On the other hand, Razor is a female punker whose skills can be the death of her. Her musical integrity and her raw emotions can create jealousy and uncertainty, which lead to murder. Although the differences in each of the characters are slight, they carry a strong impact.
While playing the game, you can’t help but feel like you’re playing through a B-Slasher flick meets Scooby-Doo. In fact, the mechanics of Maniac Mansion are nearly identical to the Super Nintendo’s Scooby-Doo Mystery game. The player is given a basic set of commands like pull, push, get, give, turn-on, turn-off, et al. From those commands, the player combines certain objects together that will progressively reveal tidbits of information.
Also, as you progress, you have to mix character talents with objects found within the game. For example, if you find a blank cassette, then you can compose a song as long as the character is musically talented.
Not to mention, what made Maniac Mansion truly an iconic experience was the in game cut scenes. At random times, you’ll be walking through a hallway when the game will cut to a conversation between the alien family members. Sometimes the cut scenes are pertinent to the progression of the story, and sometimes they are irrelevant.
For example, at one point you’ll hear the door bell ring. For a moment you’re not sure what to think, but then it will cut to Weird Ed shuffling off to the front door. If you have a character stuck in his path, then he’ll be locked away in the dungeon, but if no one is in the way, then Ed will receive a package from the local mail man. It’s the unexpected features like these that make players feel vulnerable to random ploys and tricks.
Similarly, the game is notorious for employing “red herrings.” Red herring is a term to describe a particularly strong emphasis on an object that leads to no where. For example, the game features a Venus Fly Trap that basically consumes whatever you give it. While I was playing, I fed the plant every food object in my inventory in hopes that it will reveal a piece of information. On the contrary, it just kept eating and eating revealing nothing. I finally got fed up (no pun intended) only to find out that I was duped. Believe me, there are many useless interactions that will lead you on a wild goose chase.
Finally, What Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground did for Punk Rock is nearly identical to how Maniac Mansion shaped the future for video games. The idea of character uniqueness, alternate endings, and the inclusion of critical clues are just a few of its outstanding affects it has had on the industry. For any gamer who is interested in the early life of gaming have to start here. It is an exciting and innovating experience that will refresh your perspective about the gaming culture.