Maniac Mansion


Review by · October 5, 2000

Do you like cheesy B movies? Do you enjoy fighting evil zombie warriors from outer space? Do you live just to collect everything that even slightly involves LucasArts? Then buddy, have I got a game for you. From exploding hamsters to bloody chainsaws to Pepsi advertisements (Coke rules), Maniac Mansion has it all, and here’s my review. Don’t be a Tuna Head! Read it!

Twenty years ago, on a dark and stormy night, a strange occurrence happened. Out of the sky, a flaming meteor crashed into a hill… The very hill upon which Dr. Fred Edison’s mansion was built. Although he had always been a bit eccentric, Fred slowly became weirder and weirder after that day. For one thing, he stopped eating and sleeping. Patients under his care would mysteriously disappear without a trace. The mansion was covered with “Trespassers will be horribly mutated” signs. Something was definitely amiss.

It is now the present (Duh). You, Dave, are now faced with the biggest challenge in your young adult life. The fiendish physician has kidnapped your girlfriend Sandy! Although you are normally as law-abiding as the next guy, you decide that a little breaking-and-entering action is in order. And so, Dave and two of his friends that he called up are forced to solve the terrible mysteries of Maniac Mansion. The fate of the world hangs in the balance…

Maniac Mansion is a sentence-based puzzle game that was originally on the PC but wound up on the Famicom and eventually the NES. You start out by choosing a group of Dave (Sandy’s boyfriend. Leader of the rescue) and two of the following: Bernard (Geek Award Winner and Physics Club President), Michael (Ace Photographer for the College Newspaper), Razor (Leader of the Band Razor and the Scummettes), Jeff (Lives on the Beach, Answers to “Surfer Dude”), Syd (Aspiring Musician who Wants to Start his own Band), and Wendy (Waiting for her Big First Break as a Novelist). You wander the mansion by using the D pad and clicking where you want to go. You can interact with most of the things that you see through the set of Actions at the bottom. For example, if you click on “Pull” and then click on “Doormat”, you will “pull” the “doormat”. The choices are endless.

Wherever you go, puzzles appear for you to solve. Whether you have to distract Nurse Edna so you can search through her stuff or need to climb on top of something to reach a key that’s just out of reach, there is always a way to get by that obstacle. However, what really sets this game apart from all other games of its kind is that there are usually at least two or three ways to solve every puzzle, and many ways require different members in your team. For example, because Razor and Syd are the only musically talented people in the group, they are also the only ones who can solve puzzles requiring music. Likewise, Michael is the only photographer, and that skill may come in handy when it comes to solving puzzles with photography. There is always a way for every group to get through the mansion, but different teams have different difficulty levels. Because Surfer Dude is almost worthless, you might want to pick him for a challenge.

Although any group can get through the mansion, that isn’t always true if someone dies. Losing party members is a hard thing to do though, so you shouldn’t have anything to fear. The deaths are funny and are mostly there to add replay value to the game. Try to find all the ways to die! Just keep this in mind; whenever someone passes on, everything he or she carries is lost. Gameplay in this game is very enjoyable, even if you do have to restart from time to time due to failed puzzles, and gets a 94%.

Visually, Maniac Mansion is decent (for the NES). The large characters are easy to distinguish and the mouth movement of talking characters is a nice touch. It’s obvious that a lot of work was put into designing the mansion and the wacky objects within. A few NES-quality movies were added from time to time, giving visual aids to help advance the story. The only true downside was the walking animation. When you move to the left or right, it just looks a little bit on the cheesy side, but vertical motion is quite pathetic. One half of the body will drop down a few pixels and then the other half will follow as the first half is raised. This creates the illusion of footsteps, but not very well. All of the funky looking characters and high-tech devices more than make up for that little problem, and Graphics get an 85%.

The music of Maniac Mansion was outstanding. Each character carried a CD player with them at all times, and turning this on let you hear their theme song. Add a commercial jingle, more than a few special event themes, and the bad guy music, and you’ve gotten yourself quite a little soundtrack there. The songs range from good to great without exception and are far longer than most musical creations for the NES. I’m surprised that this game isn’t considered a classic just because of this area alone. The sounds are also pretty good in quality, but they’re extremely rare. Aside from the “ping” you hear when you pick up an item, the noise the Hunk-O-Matic TM makes when in use, windows shattering, and Fluffy’s final words, I can’t think of any noises in the game at all. Sound/Music still gets a 92% because of Razor’s song.

The entire game was made to mock every bad zombie alien movie ever made, and it does so very well. It has the usual teenage hero trying to save his girlfriend, the insane scientist who’s been mind controlled by an evil entity, the evil entity who was just mentioned, the helpless damsel who just screams a lot and has very few real lines, and a bunch of the hero’s friends. There’s also a host of other demented characters scattered throughout the game, making for quite a cast!

Anyway, the game itself is interrupted from time to time with humorous cut scenes in order to reveal the mansion’s secrets to you and to let you know how Sandy is doing. You also get to talk with the inhabitants when you meet them, but only if they don’t send you to the dungeon first. There are many different endings for you to receive if you can find them, giving this game the same replay value that Crono Trigger had. The only things I can complain about are the endings being too short and the fact that Nintendo forced the game to go through a bit of editing before it was released. Fortunately, Nintendo never got around to playing with the microwave, missing a classic Maniac Mansion moment that wasn’t noticed until after it was too late (of course, I don’t approve of this kind of behavior in real life, but in a game, a microwave is just asking to be toyed with). Burn, Fluffy, burn! Storyline gets a 97%.

Finally, we get to controls. The game was originally for the computer, allowing a mouse to be used to control where you go. This was replaced with the D pad when the game moved to the NES. The D pad and the mouse are not very similar. Fortunately, you can still move the pointer fairly quickly and precisely. Controls get an 80%.

Although Parasite Eve is the official cinematic RPG, I believe Maniac Mansion deserves that spot. I will admit that the graphics would seem to disqualify it, but every other aspect of it reminds me of the silver screen far better than PE ever did. With wonderful music, a silly and psychotic storyline, a phenomenal amount of replay value, and average graphics (I probably shouldn’t have ended on that one), Maniac Mansion is a definite classic that every RPG nut should own. Overall, MM gets a 96%.

Gameplay – When all else fails, hit the Red button. 94%
Graphics – Everyone has such a pretty smile in the Edison family! 85%
Sound/Music – My workout equipment sounds like that. 92%
Storyline – His ambition was to rule the world… One teenager at a time! 97%
Controls – Better than the Japanese version’s. 80%
Overall – Buy it or be a Tuna Head! 96%

Overall Score 96
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Andrew DeMario

Andrew DeMario

Andrew went by several names here, starting as a reader reviewer under the name Dancin' Homer. Later known as Slime until we switched to real names, Andrew officially joined RPGFan as a staff reviewer in 2001 and wrote reviews until 2009. Andrew's focus on retro RPGs and games most others were unwilling to subject themselves to were his specialty.