It’s kinda hard to follow up a review of one of your favorite games ever by reviewing a game in the exact same genre, by the exact same developer, but of a much lesser quality. There are fans out there, mind you, who will tell you that Maniac Mansion is where point-and-click gaming is at. It’s for some people, that’s for sure, but if you really want a bonafide p’n’c experience, Maniac Mansion will likely leave you wanting.
The story goes like this: Dave’s girlfriend Sandy has been kidnapped by the family Edison, in particular Dr. Fred. Dave and two of his friends, who you can choose from a group of six, try to get her back. And that’s about it. You’ll get to learn some trivial details about the Edisons as you go through the game, but the storyline is highly lacking. There’s next to no character development, there’s no background story for the characters you choose besides a one-liner before you decide who to use, and, as there’s hardly any talking throughout the game, you’re going to feel quite lonely.
There is, of course, dialogue when you’re using items and looking at things, but, to be honest, half the objects you can look at will just be greeted with a “Neat”’ response from your character. And it gets frustrating seeing that same response in nearly every room. Back to the talking, and you barely can. There aren’t many characters in the game outside of your three chosen ones to talk with, and even your trio can’t really chat with one another!
Maniac Mansion uses the tried and trusted SCUMM engine. Verbs and items are displayed below the main action screen, so you click “use” and then the “flashlight” item if you’re in a dark room and want to see better. It works like a charm, as it does in most LucasArts games, but the items can get a little annoying at times.
For instance, you’ll pick up a tub of paint remover and a paint brush. You’ll come across a wall in the game that has been badly painted, so logic dictates that you’ll simply use the brush with the remover and voila, clear that paint to see what lies beneath. Of course, for at least half an hour I walked around unable to put the two together until I realized I actually had to open the tub myself. >_> Some may call it stupidity, but come on—if I get a pack of sweets in a game, I don’t want to have to click “open” before actually being able to consume them, or click “turn” handle before “push” door “open.” This may all work very well in real life, but in a p’n’c game, it’s nice to cut out the middle man and have the game open the fucking paint remover itself.
That’s me getting frustrated. I hate it when a p’n’cer frustrates me to the point where it hampers my enjoyment. The trio system of having not one but three characters seems good on paper (and was phenomenal in a certain tentacular game later on), but it just doesn’t work in MM. So you can pick two additional characters to join Dave in his quest for the babe? Realistically, they only have one special trait each, and you’ll find yourself rarely having to utilize said traits through any play through.
Had it just been Dave you’d played through the game with, and he could somehow learn to play the piano or re-write the manuscript to any ol’ thing, it would have worked a lot better, but, as it is, having to bounce back and forth between three characters in three different locations is frustrating. You may be Bernard on the top floor and realise that you need an item that Dave in the basement has. Cue the annoying journey of traipsing all the way back downstairs to get said item, and heading back upstairs, probably to only find that the blasted thing doesn’t work after all. The game probably seems three or four times longer than it actually is because of this wonderful gameplay mechanic.
So is it all bad? Not really. Some of the tunes play well, though the sound effects do suck big-time. There’s just not a whole lot of variety in them and you’ll likely find yourself wanting to maybe play some of your own music.
Graphics? Meh. Granted, this was an early outing for LucasArts, but they certainly ended up with games that looked a whole lot better than this. The rooms seem sparse, with the only items in them often feeling like being part of one puzzle or another. Otherwise, you’re left with “joke” items such as the broken staircase, which, let’s be honest, really isn’t that funny. A massive library where the only item you can really interact with is a telephone and two lamps. Yes, a whole library of books and no book puzzle! What were they thinking?
If you’re looking for a p’n’c to tide you over, Maniac Mansion isn’t the one to go for. Even with its “different” routes through the game depending on the team you pick, it’s just not that fun to play through, whether you have Razor, Bernard, or Syd bring up the rear. I’d only recommend this to the person who absolutely has to play through every LucasArts games, or, if possible, if you could play it before you’ve played the later and better games. Otherwise, coming to this after the likes of the Monkey Island series (yes—even 4), Grim Fandango, and Loom is going to leave you feeling manic yourself.
Next month boys and girls, join me on a trip with Zak McCracken to rid the world of those Alien Mindbenders. Have mercy on my soul.