A Fortnight of Fright: Maniac Mansion

Posted: October 18, 2011 in PC, Retro
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

As Halloween night draws near, Chad has taken it upon himself to dig into the vaults to bring you some of his favorite horror-themed video games in his Fortnight of Fright. Can you handle the madness? Read on, if you dare!

1987: LucasArts Starts a Rad New Trend with SCUMM

It would appear Edna shares my longstanding crush on Razor. Time to load last save...

Welcome to Day 1 of A Fortnight of Fright, where we’ll be counting down the days ’til Halloween looking back on the horror genre’s classics. We’re starting things off with none other than that ever-revered beginning of LucasArts’ classic adventure games, Maniac Mansion. Maniac Mansion puts you in the shoes and stylish denim jacket of Dave Miller, as well as two of his six friends. While you are given a choice, logic dictates that you take fiery punk rocker Razor and tech genius geek Bernard. I mean really, are you gonna take the surfer and the aspiring photographer? This is dangerous work!

The goal of the game is to break into Dr. Fred Edison’s mansion and rescue Dave’s girlfriend Sandy. Naturally, Dr. Edison and family aren’t too happy at this turn of events. You have to deal with the alien meteorite-possessed Dr. Fred, his sadistic, dirty old woman of a wife Nurse Edna, and their sole human progeny, the nutty survivalist Weird Ed. Some of the other people – er, characters – you’ll encounter include Green Tentacle and Purple Tentacle (Green being a generally cool guy, while Purple is a bit on the cantankerous side) and Ed’s hamster, which you can take and microwave. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this¬†was before more politically correct games wagged their fingers at you for microwaving rodents until they exploded (and subsequently returning it to Ed).

You say to yourself you won’t, but you always¬†will. Search your feelings, you know it to be true!

Green might have a big appetite, but he's a pretty chill dude.

The essence of the game is that of a cheesy ’80s horror flick – it definitely hearkens back to movies like Evil Dead and Night of the Creeps for its general “feel”. It’s all goofy, good fun that occasionally ends with all three of your teenagers locked in a dungeon waiting to be chainsawed to death. Well, we’ve all been there.

In the immortal words of Wesker, "STOP! DON'T OPEN THAT DOOR!"

The game also managed a lot of firsts for the adventure game genre – it pioneered the point-and-click interface, making all those fussy text parsers obsolete in graphic adventures, and also debuted LucasArts’ SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), which would be LucasArts’ go-to engine for adventure games for another ten years. It also coined the phrase “cutscenes”, and used them extensively to advance the plot. This formula would become even more successful as mice became common computer accessories. It debuted on the Commodore 64, but was soon ported across to all the popular home computers, as well as the NES (and it even made the cover of Nintendo Power). And again, the first exploding hamster in video game history.

To add to all of that, it received a sequel in 1993, featuring the return of Bernard, the Edisons, and both Tentacles in the aptly titled Day of the Tentacle. It features a plot involving time travel, The Declaration of Independence, and portable public toilets. And yes, that’s as incredibly awesome as it sounds.

And on top of all that, even with its primitive graphics, the original holds up not just as a historical artifact, but as a fun and well-written game. There was a time when LucasArts was a mark of quality; Maniac Mansion was one of the flagship titles of the quality fleet. It’s as rad as the decade that begat it.

View Next Fortnight of Fright: Monster Party

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