Maniac Mansion

   Maniac Mansion was the forefather of graphical adventure games for the PC, offering puzzle-filled worlds awaiting exploration through verbal commands. While classified as an adventure game, Maniac Mansion also held many elements common to RPGs and puzzle titles. This immensely enjoyable classic was eventually ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Yeah, so?
Yeah, so?

   Years before the game's beginning, a meteor crashed to earth near an old mansion. A group of teenagers eventually decide to enter the dark abode, led by a boy named Dave. Each character possesses different skills to help rescue Dave's cheerleader girlfriend, Sandy, before evil Dr. Fred can "suck her pretty brains out." Though Dr. Fred spends all his time in the basement laboratory, his wife Edna and son Ed are still going about their business inside the mansion...

   Up to two of the teenagers are chosen to accompany Dave into the mansion. Dave must be included in your party, as he's Sandy's boyfriend, but he has no special skills. Usually, he's the one to act as a distraction while someone else sneaks around, which almost inevitably leaves him locked in the basement by Ed or Edna. Wendy is a good writer, Michael is a photographer, Bernard can fix just about anything mechanical (although he's a complete coward), Jeff's a surfer dude with a knack for phone repairs, and Syd and Razor are punk rockers.

 Nurse Edna
Captured by Nurse Edna!

   One interesting aspect to Maniac Mansion is that the game's characters aren't imbued with inhuman super powers -- they just use the skills they have to make their way through the mansion the best way they can. Tasks are accomplished by choosing from a menu of possible actions. You can "use" one item on another, or "open" a door, or "turn off" a stereo. Almost infinite combinations have been programmed into the game, so sometimes even if you don't achieve the desired result, at least something happens. Replay value is high -- depending on which characters you choose and how tasks are accomplished, you can view one of several different endings, and participate in even more plot paths.

Mark Eteer
Mark Eteer, what a guy!

   Rather than playing with the express purpose of beating the game and seeing the endings, however, it's far more enjoyable to simply wander around in the mansion and try bizarre commands. Many major sub-quests in the game involve a man named Mark Eteer, who does a television commercial claiming that his company, "3 Guys Who Publish Anything," will give anyone a contract. You can always mail him the objects which advance the plot, but before you do, it's also fun to send him things that you're not necessarily supposed to send him, such as a tape of a ear-splitting, high-pitched noise. Another darkly amusing element is the variety in ways your characters can be killed. Unlike most games, death in Maniac Mansion is a permanent condition, but the multitude of ways in which you perish makes them worth discovering just for fun.

  Heh heh heh...
The kitchen. Heh heh heh...

   Of course, before any such sadistic pleasure can occur, you need to figure out how to get inside the mansion when the door is locked. How about a little B&E? Even evil, homicidal aliens hide their spare keys under doormats, apparently. At every opportunity, the game pokes fun at the teen horror/slasher movie genre. Displayed in the kitchen, next to the set of carving knives, is a chainsaw surrounded by bloodstains. And what's that red liquid leaking from the refrigerator? Closer investigation reveals that there are broken bottles of ketchup inside.

Chuck the Plant

   Demonstrating that the designers left no stone unturned, amusing touches of detail are everywhere, such as Dr. Fred's mail-order medical diplomas, a record that skips annoyingly when played, and a plant that is inexplicably named Chuck. And of course, the one element for which Maniac Mansion is remembered: microwaving Weird Ed's hamster. "Cool!" exclaims Razor. Too bad Ed doesn't think so.

   Neither did Nintendo of America, when they discovered it. Before the next batch of cartridges were made and shipped, NOA removed the "exploding hamster" gag, adding it to the long list of items cut out in the NES' port. Fortunately, nearly everything they cut overall was inconsequential -- gameplay remained nearly identical, and most modifications contained equally twisted humor. In the second version, if Razor tries to put Ed's hamster in the microwave, she exclaims "No way, man, these things are loaded with cholesterol!" Not quite the same, but still morbidly funny.

   When it comes down to it, morbid humor is what this classic is all about. The very first item you'll run across at the beginning of the game, in fact, is a sign stating "TRESPASSERS WILL BE HORRIBLY MUTILATED." But in Maniac Mansion, sometimes it's fun to be mutilated. So go on. Be a tunahead all you like. You can always reset.

Retrospective by Andrea Hartmann.
Maniac Mansion
Developer Lucasarts
Publisher Jaleco
Genre Adventure
Medium Cartridge
Platform NES
Released 1990
FAQs, walkthrough, and misc. info
12 screen shots