Maniac Mansion is a diamond in the rough of NES games. Surrounded by endless
platformers and other usual NES fare, this port of the zany PC original was
completely different than most other 8-bit games at the time. Lucasarts
(then Lucasfilm Games) went out on a limb in creating a console version of
the game, and I haven't stopped thanking them since.
Utilizing Lucasart's SCUMM engine, Maniac Mansion is a point-and-click
adventure of oddball proportions. Players must navigate the game's scenarios
by using key words such as "use" and "get" in conjunction with their
surroundings or their inventory to perform actions. The SCUMM engine is like
a graphical interface for those old Infocom text adventures, and despite the
sometimes tedious trips to the inventory bar, it works well.
Simply put, Maniac Mansion is a point-and-click lover's dream. The story is
terrific (involving that lovable Edison family and the meteor that turned
them sour) and is one of the few examples where a videogame story is both
important yet unintrusive; the game constantly goads the player into delving
further into the plot, but with a feeling that the player is the only one
who will affect the outcome. It feels like anything can happen, and truth be
told, that's a pretty accurate statement. Since the game requires the player
to select two teenagers from a group of six to accompany the main hero Dave,
there are a whole wealth of replay possibilities. Each kid has certain
skills and you can mix and match them all -- and the game can be beaten with
all combinations, with several different endings.
This teamwork style of play is the game's best feature. Since the player
controls three teenagers at a time, switching among them at will, some
serious thinking is required to progress. This allows for some really
charming moments, like having one kid ring the mansion's doorbell to
distract Weird Ed, while the other kid slips into Weird Ed's room to snoop.
The tasks required to progress in the game are challenging but not
frustrating, and they'll also provide some of the most memorable moments
that can be had in a game (did somebody say "microwaveable hamster?").
Since the game is a port from the PC, there have been a lot of changes.
Firstly, the graphics are all re-drawn to better fit the NES, and while the
original game had larger characters, the NES version is cleaner and a lot
easier on the eyes. Also, the redrawn art created smaller rooms, which means
less pointless walking around. Secondly, the game has been censored
severely. Nintendo forced Lucasarts to edit the original game in a lot of
ways due to its (now somewhat passť) strict policies. Gone are lots of
things, such as the (naked) Michaelangelo sculpture in the second floor
hallway, posters in Cousin Ted's room, and many other things, including
Edna's suggestive comments. Plus, Maniac Mansion cartridges that followed
the first initial production runs have another change -- they disallow the
use of hamsters in microwaves. Is nothing sacred?
Despite the heavy censoring, the NES version of Maniac Mansion is a gem.
With it's cast of great characters, that go-anywhere-do-anything feeling,
and biting humour, the game is a classic for Nintendo's hoppin'-and-boppin'
console. A diamond in the rough, sure, but a diamond nonetheless.