While it’s around Halloween and we all start watching DansGaming or check Steam for some killer deals (no pun intended) on horror games, I figured I’d go back to one of the first horror-adventure games I played as a child and still love to this day, Maniac Mansion.
Growing up, my family would always would go to the video store on Tuesdays. Tuesday, because, anyone old enough will remember, that’s when the new movies would be released. Some were so hot, they had a warning on the shelf: When this movie is released, there will be no holds. Oh, what I’d give for a time machine. I saw the box for this game and it seemed spooky and piqued my interest as NO Nintendo game could ever be questionable, so my parents would just toss it on the rental at check out. (Minus that one game Taboo, that for some reason, had an 18-and-up label handwritten on it. I should go check that out after writing this.)
This was my introduction to the adventure-game format, with the various options down below: push, pull, open, close, etc. etc. I knew what my first gaming love was at that moment. The challenges for it being an 8-bit cartridge was and still is just amazing to me. The SCUMM system they used for the Lucasarts games basically put you into a game, instead of a text-based game with visuals, along with your commanding actions. I couldn’t figure out how to get into the house. Mind you, I was a child. I had no clue, yet was still just enthralled. This was a time when the Internet — if you were lucky to have it, and I wasn’t — didn’t have all the answers. We had some awesome gaming magazines, Nintendo Power, GamePro, Electronic Gaming Monthly, oh, the list goes on. Guess what game wasn’t ever included in any of the ones I saw on shelves? Maniac Mansion. I guess Nintendo Power felt it wasn’t colorful enough.
This game, by the way, did have its struggles on release. The original format had to be edited for content. They did ship some of the cartridges unedited and that got Nintendo good and fumed up. The edited content was so obscure, I’m amazed it was ever found. Some examples would be at one point you collect a hamster, and on the unedited you could put it in the microwave, turn it on and blow it up. They edited it, called you a sicko and wouldn’t let you complete the task. Where you find Edna’s number behind the shower curtain said, “For a good time call Edna…” The edited version said, “Call Edna…” Very small editing, but so be it.
The game has one character you have to pick, Dave. He’s the hero type who is looking for his girlfriend, Sandy, which is why we’re even at this mansion to begin with. Then the craziest thing I’d ever seen in gaming: You could choose two more characters to be, out of six. I CAN PLAY MORE THAN ONE CHARACTER?! Just a different hat or something, right? A WHOLE NEW GRAPHIC AND THEY HAVE DIFFERENT SKILL SETS?! This fit onto a Nintendo cartridge? Still blowing my mind.
So, once I figured out (SPOILER) to pick up the mat on the front porch and there was a key to unlock the front door, it was game on. There was an entire house to explore, with items I had to click to “pick up.” Each room was different and you could use items with other items. You had to really use your brain and then others just made no sense. Why am I feeding wax fruit to a giant tentacle? If you picked the wrong kids, you couldn’t use some items in the house. For example, there are pictures that you can develop for more story in the game, but you have to use the right kid that has a skill set in being a photographer.
I know what you’re thinking. YES, ONE CARTRIDGE.
You’re basically trying to break out Sandy, who for some reason is locked in the basement, with what only looks like Dr. Satan from House of a 1000 Corpses in 8-bit form. Whew! If that, alone, doesn’t get your attention, I have no clue why you think you’re a gamer. The rest of the crazy family is wandering around the house, too. Get caught and it’s off to the dungeon for you. Then there are tentacles around the house that I had no clue for the longest that you could just approach. There are more than 20 different rooms, full of funny and clever remarks that differ from character to character. There is plenty of dialogue and dark humor.
I’ll openly admit it wasn’t until adulthood that I finally beat the game that got me hooked on adventure gaming. I broke my gaming code and looked up a walkthrough. Let me tell ya, I have no CLUE how they thought my tiny mammal mind was supposed to figure out some of those puzzles. If you’re looking for a challenge and some nostalgia to the 8-bit world of original horror games, go check out Maniac Mansion. There has been a remastered release, which is phenomenal, but I still love the old 8-bit, if I’m going for nostalgia.
Also, there was a light shining in the gaming world over the past decade, as the original creators of Maniac Mansion, decided to create a brand new game on the SCUMM system: Thimbleweed Park. That’s for another day and another review.