From The Archive is a series that takes articles written by Jennifer McMurray in the past and presents them here on MIC News for a new audience.
The Maniac Mansion Mega Review was previously published on The Adventuress on November 12, 2012.
Maniac Mansion was re-released digitally for modern computers on Steam in 2017 and on GOG.com in 2018.
Maniac Mansion was the first adventure game by LucasArts to use their famous SCUMM engine, which was in fact named after this game (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion). Since 2012 is the 25th anniversary of the game and the engine, I thought it would be a perfect time to review this game. Like the other mega reviews on this site, this review will cover every different version of the game available and will recommend which version of the game to play.
Unlike later adventure games, Maniac Mansion doesn’t have much text. Most of the game’s story comes through the cutscenes that will play sporadically throughout the adventure. Unlike later LucasArts adventures, there is no look verb. Instead, there is a “read” verb, which limits the number of descriptions that will be shown. This is different in the fan-made Maniac Mansion Deluxe, as they use the Day of the Tentacle verb system, which does include look. As such, they have added a lot of item descriptions to the game. The lack of inventory descriptions, personally, doesn’t bother me, but your opinion may differ.
The game’s strengths come in it’s set of quirky characters and ability to choose a team of teenagers as player characters. The game has a B-movie monster vibe, with a mad scientist kidnapping a cheerleader, and a group of teenagers going into a spooky mansion to save her. The mad scientist has a family consisting of a son and a wife, who will lock you in the dungeon if they catch you. They are just as quirky as the mad scientist himself. The teenagers are chosen in teams of three. The cheerleader’s boyfriend is always on the team, so you have the option to choose two other characters to accompany him. Each of the characters has their own abilities, which can be used on various objects in the game in order to achieve your goal. Since there are multiple different ways to get to the end, there are multiple endings. The Nintendo Entertainment System version adds one additional ending over the others, which will be available if the player eliminates the ability to achieve another possible ending.
There are mild swearing and sexual overtones in the game, which lend well to the game’s B-movie roots. Both PC versions, the AtariST version, the Amiga version, and the Mac version (which uses the data files of the original PC version) are slightly censored over the Commodore 64 and Apple II original, editing a swear word at the game’s finale into a more family-friendly version. The NES version goes even further, censoring out all of the swearing and sexual overtones. The European NES version also edits out a puzzle which will lead to the death of one of the characters.
Unlike most LucasArts adventure games, all of the versions of Maniac Mansion have the ability to die. The fan-made Maniac Mansion Deluxe removes the possibility of a dead-end through a character’s death by having the option to transfer the dead character’s inventory to another character (an ability that is not present in the official versions of the game). This version also fixes many other dead ends, however, not all of them. It is still possible to kill off all three characters, resulting in a game over, as well as killing off every character with an ability that is needed to reach the ending, resulting in a dead end.
The NES version and fan-made deluxe version also add music to the game. The fan-made deluxe version also slims the verb interface to one resembling Day of the Tentacle, adds comments to many of the objects in the game, adds an icon-based inventory, and removes many of the dead ends (although dead ends and game overs are still possible). However, I still recommend the NES version over the fan-made deluxe version because of the music. The Deluxe version omits the excellently creepy Edison theme song during the cutscenes and uses Day of the Tentacle music rather than the tracks from the Nintendo Entertainment System version. As Day of the Tentacle was a game with a very different visual aesthetic and a Saturday morning cartoon feel rather than the horror B-movie feel of Maniac Mansion, the DoTT music tracks just feel out of place.
As Maniac Mansion was the first point-and-click adventure by LucasArts, it does show it’s age and doesn’t hold up to the test of time as well as some of the other LucasArts adventures. Unlike most LucasArts adventure games, it has dead ends and it’s possible to die. Even so, the odd characters, fun puzzles, interesting B-movie atmosphere, and multiple endings make it a fun adventure that’s worth playing. I personally recommend the Nintendo Entertainment System version (preferably played using ScummVM, which adds the ability to control the cursor with a mouse), as it has excellent music that fits the atmosphere well and adds additional ways to win the game.
3½ out of 5