Maniac Mansion: Ding-dong!

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1987’s Maniac Mansion. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

One of the reasons I love doing the Retro Gaming series here on Bio Break is that I get to correct some great oversights in my own past and visit games that I didn’t get to (or was unaware of) at that time. So one of these big oversights is LucasArts’ 1987 classic Maniac Mansion. All I really know of it is that (a) you can play through it with different characters and skills, (b) it was the sort-of prequel to Day of the Tentacle, and (c) it existed back in the text parser era. Other than that, I’m going in pretty fresh!

I do applaud the idea of creating different parties for the game to alter the playthrough experience. Considering that adventure games had very little in the way of replayability back then, this is a cool design. I went with the nerd Bernard and the punk rocker Razor as my picks (you have to use Dave as well, so he kind of doesn’t count for personal choice).

The intro is very barebones. We’re shown a meteor crashing down near a mansion “20 years ago,” a catchy theme song plays, and then we arrive at a group of young adults who are on a rescue mission. Apparently “Dr. Fred” has kidnapped “Sandy,” but nobody’s really giving me any overt context for this, so I’m assuming that we want Sandy back.

The sign in front of the mansion says, “WARNING: Trespassers will be horrible mutilated.” That’s a good sign, right?

The interface here took me a second to get it, but it’s actually pretty slick for 1987. Instead of typing everything out, you use the cursor to select verbs and then click on things in the environment to make full commands. I like that there’s a limit to how many verbs we’re talking about here. Plus, there’s the ability to swap between kids, which has a Lost Vikings puzzle-solving feel to it.

As Bernard starts poking around the mysterious mansion, a brief cutscene shows tube top Sandy in the clutches of blue-faced Dr. Fred. He’s doing the mad scientist thing of gloating about his evil plan — something involving sucking brains out — and he leaves Sandy to her doom.  This cannot stand!

One part of this game’s design I’m not too keen about is the fact that it uses a (semi?) real-time system, so that events start happening around the house in particular order. This puts pressure on to do things quickly or wait for certain other events to happen — such as Weird Ed here going for a snack — and that kind of raises the stress level for me.

Meanwhile, Razor gets captured in the kitchen by Nurse Edma and thrown into the dungeon. I think the characters here are like additional lives, in that you can lose one or two and possibly win, although you might be backing yourself up into an unwinnable scenario if you can’t have access to a character with a particular ability.

Yes, this looks like a totally normal door that anyone might have in their house, eh? At this point, I don’t know if this Sandy is worth all the trouble!

One thought on “Maniac Mansion: Ding-dong!

  1. jameshateswordpress April 7, 2021 / 9:18 am

    Loved this game back in the day. I still remember the Wierd Edsel 🙂

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