Maniac Mansion was one of the earliest parser based games produced by Lucasfilm Games. It was the first game to make use of a specially developed engine that would later form the basis for many classic games on many platforms. I picked up this game because I loved Star Wars and I saw that Lucasfilm had done this game. I know that seems like a bit of a lame reason to pick up a game, but that was mine. I was enthralled by the way that Lucasfilm could transport me to another world.
I wanted to go wherever they would take me.
Where they took me was on the most amazing foray into breaking and entering that you could possibly imagine. The story surrounded a Mansion owned by the mysterious and I dare say nefarious Dr. Fred. Dr. Fred has kidnapped Sandy and her boyfriend Dave has to go in to recover her. He has two friends to join him on his quest and it is truly shocking how very important these friends are. You have to choose two from a possible six friends and these two along with Dave will be the instruments you use to get Sandy back.
This game is put together as a graphically enhanced text adventure for lack of a better description.
You look at the area at the top of the screen and you see a visual representation of areas around and rooms within the Mansion. There is a list of verbs and actions at the bottom of the screen and nouns are added to the mix as they are discovered in the graphics area of the game. You enter a room and move the curser over various hot spots which can be examined. As these are identified, nouns are added to the mix so sentences can be built defining game actions.
Clicking on the verb “Use” and the inventory item “Key” on the hot spot for “Door” would bring up a description of what happens. This may be a visual cue like the door opening, an auditory click of the unlocking or an acknowledgement from the active character that the door is now unlocked, or not. Adding items into inventory is accomplished by clicking on them with the use of the verb “Pick Up”. Each character has their own independent inventory and the ability to use or combine various items depending on their skill sets.
This is where the game really shined for me. I had been used to games with puzzles and I had enjoyed text based adventures like Zork. This at first, to me, seemed to be basically a text adventure with graphical enhancements. But as I played I realized this was a whole new deal. In this game you used each character independently of the others. You were able to switch between each of the 3 characters and do actions within the Mansion to accomplish certain goals. If that were it would have been a really diverting adventure, kind of like three games in one. The truth however was even more satisfying than that.
Not only did each character have the ability to gather and interact with various places and things in the game, but, each character had a back-story, which in turn gave them a logical basis for knowledge and skills to use in the game. One character, that was a sort of geeky, brain type, character had an affinity for the mechanical. Utilizing him in the party, gave you the ability to fix broken things and figure out how to use mechanical objects. Some inventory items were only useful if picked up by specific characters and some options for solving problems only applied to characters that would naturally be able to utilize that sort of solution.
In order to accomplish goals in the game, you also had to coordinate the actions of the three characters so that something could get done. For example, kid one may need to go to the front door and ring the bell, to get the bad guy to leave his room. Then switch to kid two to enter the room and accomplish some task before the bad guy returned from the door. Some interactions were much more complicated than this. This made choice of characters, choice of which character picked up which items, and choice of which kid preformed which actions totally critical to getting further in the game.
The intuitive game mechanics, graphics, well thought out and logical puzzles and use of absolutely wheels off humor, made this one of my favorite games. It even had a bit of replay value, since you could choose different characters the second time through. This became a different game because different characters begat different solutions to the puzzles and opened up opportunities to use the inventory items in different ways. This much depth and ingenuity coupled with spot on and quirky humor mad this instant classic.
Other games that came after were maybe longer or more involved as far as storyline, but this one will always have a special place in my heart. I love it and would recommend it to anyone that can get a hold of this to play it.