In the beginning there was a game, and the game was Maniac Mansion, and thus the Lucas Arts universe began…our lives would never be the same.
Without this title, so simplistic that it takes up less space than the average porn flick, would we be spending precious time and money on discussion boards and cheap whiskey debating whether adventure games were dead or not? Would we now be eagerly anticipating Space Quest 53, in it's all-new immaculate 3D spinny-roundy-o-vision? That's a matter for the more philosophical of our Mojo punters and not something to be contemplated by a mere humble reviewer such as myself. But there is one thing absolutely certain, without it I would not be sitting in front of this haphazardly coffee-ringed 'work area' a broken and miserable man.
In the days of yore, when Commodore 64's roamed the planet and games were produced in 4 BRILLIANT COLOURS, we were impressed by pretty much any new technological jiggery-pokery. It was an era of big hair and tight fitting leather, where it was hip to stay curled up in your bedroom, padding out code from your favourite games mag, and only braving the outside world when you discovered that chamber pots, though easily accessible, were impractical. It was the decade that taste forgot.
In these enlightened days of Full Screen Anti-Aliasing and gigahertz processors looming over the wallets of unsuspecting technophobes, we can all see we must have been a few sandwiches short of a six-pack. But what may seem disgustingly drab and unpalatable nowadays was an unimaginable feast of delights a mere 20 odd years ago.
Let us now put aside our resentment off all things not containing fancy acronyms or equipped with a 64 player frag-fest option as standard and step back into that world long ago that we would all rather forget.
If It Hadn't Been For You Meddling Kids...
I shall draw a veil over the ridiculously short and remarkably uninformative introduction to the game and just tell you here and now that evil Dr. Fred Edison has kidnapped Sandy, the high-school cheerleader for some reason, though I never quite found out why, ah well. Her boyfriend, Dave, assisted by two out of five of his fellow high-school chums decided to tread the horrors of the mysterious mansion where they believe Sandy is being held.
Playing with a different combination of friends will change the play and outcome of the game each time. The differences may be subtle and the general linear theme remains, but the fact that this daring component was attempted to heighten the re-playability of the game does it credit. To the best of my knowledge, such a thing had never been attempted before and was something not to be sniffed at, however, once around was enough for me.
I can already imagine the letters of nostalgic fury worming their way into my inbox as I write these words but lets face it, it is impossible to try an merit this as a worthy game seeing it in the light of the new millennium. It is possible to excuse the graphics whereby the player is given the impression of controlling mobile potatoes that have been given a few vicious blows with a spatula in an environment consisting of warped Lego. It is also possible to forgive the sound effects, which screeches out of the internal speaker as though someone was chain sawing a group of orang-utans (though I am assured the original was much better). But the actual act of playing the game will often feel more like a chore than an escape. There is an almost inexhaustible supply of obscure puzzles to work your way through, a jail to be locked in every time you are caught thieving your unlawful way about the house, random events that have to play out before you can continue gaming, and of course the least popular blunder we have ever seen in adventures, death. The use of only one save is also an extremely hazardous venture, especially when everything in this game has to be done 'just so'. If you make one mishap in this game you will have to start over from the beginning, I myself came very close to despair when, about to enter the final showdown, I could proceed no further because of one minute detail I had failed to foresee. I could have just cried.
Yes I am being a bit harsh, we have a lot to owe to this creation and it still can have a certain rustic and ye olde charm to drag you back for just a little bit more insanity. On the positive side, it did incorporate humour into it's scripting, something that was considered verging on blaspheme by those bods at Sierra. And aside from being the first company to produce a non-linear story, it was also the first game to incorporate a point 'n' click interface rather than the cumbersome "look around" typing box. It has to be given a good deal of respect for it's highly satisfactory sequel, which in itself is well worth the pain caused in this first edition.
Do not misunderstand me, I take my hat off to Maniac Mansion, it marked an important turning point in gaming history and I would suggest that everyone give it a go just so that they can hold their head up high and say "I completed their first independent game", but do not expect a piece of software akin to anything Lucas Arts has become famous for.
Review by Lemonhead
© The International House of Mojo 2001