A Bunch of Words About Maniac Mansion
By: Jeff

Dave Miller has a bright future ahead of him. He's smart, well liked (somewhat) and is close to becoming the class president at his college. However, underneath this fašade, lies a troubled young man, one who partakes in home invasion, vandalism, robbery and, perhaps worst of all, forcing his friends into being his accomplices. Just the normal activities of a budding politician you say? Not quite.

Now, exactly what took place is anyone's guess, all that is known for sure is that Mr. Miller brought some of his friends (by force most likely) to the home or Dr. Fred Edison, an old Victorian mansion in the country, where the kids proceeded to gain entry and then terrorize the residence. Dave claims that the elderly Doctor kidnapped his girlfriend, Sandy, with intent to "remove her freakin' brain or something" using a "big ass machine in his basement." His account of the night's events include stories of giant talking tentacles, man-eating plants, mummies, nuclear reactors, meteors and the sexually charged threats of Mrs. Edison. Obviously drugs were involved.

While his friends can corroborate his story to a point, they can't seem to agree on a few things. Each of them, except for one, takes credit for making Sandy's "rescue" possible due to their different talents in photography, writing, music and electronics. Some say the night ended in an explosion from the back of the house, others reported a space ship appearing overhead or, as crazy as it may sound, a complete change of heart from the supposed villain, a sentient meteor. They also seem to be unable to recall who exactly accompanied them and Dave to the mansion, saying one name then alleging they were with someone else. Again, drugs may have been involved.

So how do we find out what really happened at old Dr. Fred's house, aka the "Maniac Mansion" as the locals call it? Well, by retracing Dave's footsteps of course! Force that slacker and two of his cronies back into the mansion and see what happens. You'll have to help them out along the way though, these kids today with their MTV and Pepsi cola rotting their minds have probably forgotten what they did by now so give them a hand.

Ah, Maniac Mansion, what a really, really fun albeit really, really old game. It's been one of my favorites ever since I first got my grubby hands on the NES version way back in 1990 around a few months after its release. It was my first time playing an adventure game and I was hooked, loved every minute of it and often started a new game right after finishing. If my NES could speak, it would've been begging for me to remove the game and play something else but, even then, I wouldn't let a jive-talking console stop me from playing, unless it had the voice of Redd Foxx, then maybe I'd stop.

Somewhere along the line, I learned that it was actually a port of a PC game released in 1987. I was amazed because not only did that mean that there was another version out there to try but that I also managed to somehow completely ignore every mention of the PC version in magazines covering the NES one. Needless to say, I eventually went on to experience the original in all its blocky, low-res glory while also learning about other versions of the game that were released throughout the years.

That's what this whole thing is going to focus on, the different versions of perhaps the most important adventure game ever made (look it up). Why am I focusing on Maniac Mansion? Well, why not? I just got done writing about the Monkey Island series and felt like discussing a game that has a special place on my shelf. Besides, there's already a review of it on this website so it's not like I've got a lot of options here. Let's a go!

Maniac Mansion NES

While the PC version had already been out for a few years, there wasn't much of an installed user base at the time since the average price of a PC was "too fucking much" but there were thousands of NES's in people's homes throughout the country. Based on the enhanced re-release of the PC original, the NES version of Maniac Mansion hit stores in the fall of 1990. Published by Jaleco Entertainment (known for such classics as, uh, City Connection and, I dunno, Astyanax I guess) but developed at Lucasfilm Games (creators of the original) this port was released to positive reviews and good word of mouth, which was all you had to go on before the internet.

The game itself is the same as the original, Dave and two of his friends have to explore Dr. Fred's mansion, solve a bunch of puzzles and rescue Sandy. The biggest difference is that you used an NES controller to move the arrow around instead of a mouse which worked well enough. There are the usual graphic differences but unlike other PC game ports, this one actually turned out pretty nice. The rooms are big and detailed where needed and the character sprites are nicely designed. It's a great looking title all around.

The biggest and possibly best addition was the inclusion of music. The original only had a few songs with the rest of the audio consisting of footsteps, crickets and other sound effects. While it did add to the ambiance, a good deal of the time all you heard was silence. For the NES version, theme songs were created for every character based on their appearance/personality so punk chick, Razor, had a fast paced guitar heavy track while surfer dude, Jeff, had a laid back...surfer theme. It's easily one of the best soundtracks ever assembled on the system with most people mentioning Dave's theme as their favorite but, personally, I'm all about Michael's theme.

If, for whatever reason, you didn't want music in your game, possibly because you hate awesome and prefer to enjoy a stale bran muffin by a barely lit fire whilst reading poems incoherently scribbled on parchment by a lonely, delusional spinster, you could always turn off each kids' CD Player and hear lots and lots of nothing outside of a scant few sound effects. Besides music, Lucasfilm Games was nice enough to add a quick verb function to the select button allowing the player to cycle through the USE, GET and OPEN commands without having to select them from the bottom menu. Speaking of the verb menu, the useless UNLOCK and FIX commands were removed while WHAT IS was replaced by having the hotspots show whenever the arrow was moved over them.

Not all the changes were for the better though as some of the game's content was edited due to Nintendo's strict censorship policy at the time. In the long run, it really isn't a big deal, most of what was removed was innuendo and a few feminine images, nothing that hasn't been in a NES game before but what really gets me is why the hell did this get censored but Monster Party, Chiller and Friday the 13th (with its implied murder of children) were left virtually untouched? Still, funny how microwaving the Hamster was never caught until after the game was released so it's possible to do it unless you have the European version.

I guess the real downside to the censorship was how all the magazine previews and reviews were using working prototypes of the game so there were screenshots showing Ted's room with the playboy calendar and all that. It wasn't until a few years back that a copy of the complete, unedited prototype was purchased, dumped as a ROM and then set loose on the internet for everyone to play. I don't know how much it must've cost the people who did it, probably a couple thousand easy, but, I for one would like to say "Thanks for making it possible to play the real NES Maniac Mansion".

Everything else aside, the NES version is a great game even if you're a diehard PC only type, you can't deny it was put together extremely well and belongs on any classic gamer or collector's shelf.

Maniac Mansion Famicom

Alright, now here's something special, the Famicom version of Maniac Mansion developed in-house by Jaleco and released a year prior to the NES game. A bit of a curiosity, I didn't even know this game existed until about 6 or 7 years ago when I saw some screenshots posted somewhere. Now, I've tried to play this game several times in the past, but could never bring myself to get past the language barrier. To be honest I was waiting for somebody to make an English translation patch for it but after years of waiting, and the desire to write this article, I had no choice other than to sit down and get through it the best I could.

See, I can't speak or read a lick of Japanese outside of counting to five so when I finally decided to play, and finish, this one I had no idea what I was going to do about the strange hieroglyphs at the bottom and top of the screen. At first I told myself, "I know this game like the back of my hand, this'll be easy", several minutes later, I was trying to shove a flashlight into a tape recorder. Now, if I'm anything besides cheap, it's persistent, so I broke out the old pen and paper and began documenting every single thing of importance as I played. Five hours later, Japanese Sandy was safe and I had a desk covered in paper scraps with foreign scribbles all over them.

A learning experience, I assured myself, so I decided to give it another go, now equipped with my Japanese to English list for everything I'd need, and managed to finish in about a half hour. This time I was able to notice a few odds and ends of this version like how you can only hold one dime at a time and they magically reappear where you found them after using. Then there was the password screen, a 104-character long horror using both English and Hiragana symbols. It probably takes less time to play through the game then it would to write down and re-enter it all. Finally, was the B button which, when held down, acts as the hotspot revealing the WHAT IS command. Finding that was, without a doubt, my favorite moment playing this, it made things so much easier given the game's small graphics.

I also came across a few cultural changes, the dime and quarter were turned into 10 and 100 Yen coins and a Japanese mailbox was put in the starting area. The odd thing is that the old mailbox is still by the front porch but the game makes you use the Japanese one to mail anything while delivered stuff appears in the classic one. Unlike the released NES version, this one is uncensored as far as background images and props go. I have no idea about the dialog, Gazuga knows I tried translating some of it. Other than those, things seemed pretty well intact for the Japanese version of a game dealing with kidnapped cheerleaders and giant tentacles.

So how's it different from the others outside of not being in English? Well, for starters the graphics are incredibly simple not to mention really small. Each room in the game was made to fit a single screen so there's no scrolling, let alone any detail. The characters are all right, I guess, they kind of look like Lego people but they're different enough and about as true to the originals as they can be; well, the kids are anyway, the Edisons look nothing like they used to. There's also some music that seems to just play randomly along with this really irritating tune that plays when the game is paused, but the piano and demo tape songs are actually pretty good.

While slogging through, I came across a few problems. The biggest was that my cursor kept disappearing, causing the mansion to blow up a few times when it happened during those parts were you had to act fast. It might have been because I was playing it on an emulator but it happened more than I would've liked, although holding the B button seemed to bring it back most of the time. Then there was a game ending glitch I encountered when the Meteor Police cutscene and the Green Tentacle/Purple Tentacle ones played out at the same time. When the scene ended, I was able to control the meteor cop but lost Dave and my Third character. The reason it was a game ender was because Dave had the one item I needed to finish with and his inventory was wiped when I lost control of him.

So, how's the Famicom version of Maniac Mansion? If you look past its flaws, it's not that bad. Nowhere near as good as the other versions but still a decent game and there's much worse out there. If anybody reading this wants to give it a shot themselves, here's a fancied up Jap/Eng chart I made for easy reference. It's not 100% on everything but it'll get you through the game without much trouble.

Maniac Mansion Deluxe

So why am I bringing up a fan remake of Maniac Mansion? Cause I'm the one writing this, that's why, plus it's a damn fine piece of work. Deluxe was made by a group of amateur adventure game programmers under the name, Lucasfan Games in the year of our 3-eyed Gorilla God, 2004. What they did was, more or less, took the enhanced version of the original, tossed in some music, prettied up the graphics and added a few extra things here and there.

Without getting technical, this remake was made from the ground up using a program called AGS or Adventure Game Studio. In the right hands, some games of varying quality can be made and enjoyed by everyone but, in my hands, a world of wondrous failures await. For this, the developers did a great job mimicking the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine used in the original allowing for a near perfect recreation.

Deluxe plays exactly the same and, outside of having to use the paint brush with the can of paint thinner, there was nothing new that I can recall added to the core game. Item locations, puzzles and everything else are all where you remember them but there are a couple things added more for effect than anything else. The command menu was replaced by the one from Maniac Mansion's sequel, Day of the Tentacle, adding the TALK TO command to the mix which you can actually use to speak to the other characters. All the items in your inventory now have graphics as well which makes finding things much faster and helps speed things along a bit.

Now it can't be called a remake unless there's been a change in the graphics or sound in some way and, sure enough, this one dabbles in them a tad. Music, also from Day of the Tentacle, was added throughout. It's a nice addition, but I would've preferred the character themes from the NES version. All the rooms, while looking the same as before, have been hit with some extra shades of color and a few new sound effects were added to help round things out. The whole package works well together and helps make the overall game feel more complete than ever before.

I did have a few problems though, so let me put on my "Bitchin' Hat" and get my complaints out there. The paint thinner thing I just found stupid, there's really no reason to mess with a puzzle that everybody has done for years by suddenly saying, "Oh, wait, you need to do this too". Then there's the TALK TO command, it's a nice addition, talking to another kid gives you hints, but everybody says the same thing without any change in dialog. Kind of a stupid complaint but it got on my nerves a little.

Usually a remake offers a great chance to fix things that didn't play out well originally but it seems that nobody wanted to bother with it. I am, of course, referring to Jeff and his inability to be of any use to the team because he has no way of allowing access to Dr. Fred's lab. That's always been my biggest complaint about Maniac Mansion since all the other kids (besides Dave) are actually useful in that regard. Packed with the original game was a poster set up like a bulletin board filled with articles and notes that gave hints and insight on what you'd find inside the mansion. Two things involved Jeff, one was a coupon for a pizza and the other was a news article about him being electrocuted and predicting the winning lottery numbers. For the longest time, I tried to zap the hell out of him in hopes that the article was a hint about something instead of just a throw-away piece of filler (or arcade game/lab combination hint). Maybe it's just me, but it would've been nice to see that incorporated in some way along with Syd getting a puzzle of his own instead of being a clone of Razor.

All minor, personal complaints really, nothing that takes away from what is, without a doubt, the best version of the game out there for the PC. Why these guys chose Maniac Mansion to remake is anybody's guess, maybe it was a test project for them or something, but the end result was that now there's a version that works on current systems without much effort and a younger generation of gamers have a chance to check it out. Or had a chance to check it out anyway since Lucasarts legal department found out about it and awarded the developers with the coveted "Lucas Legal Cease and Desist" letter leading to the group calling it quits. Luckily, this wonderful monster we call the Internet has the amazing ability to make things never completely vanish, no matter how hard lawyers try, so Maniac Mansion Deluxe is still floating around the cyber landscape waiting for whoever wants it.

So, there you are, a look at three versions of the game that gave the world cutscenes, talking tentacles and exploding hamsters. If you read through all of this, you might be asking yourself what the point of this article was if all the games were basically the same but with changes in graphics and sound. Well, there is no point; sometimes a man just has to ramble on and on about something to get it out of his system. Besides, since when has anything I've written had a point other than my own amusement?

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