I’m old. Older than your average gamer today. Gone are the days where I can pick up a brainless shooter game with no story and play it for hours without every once thinking that I could be playing something with more substance. As I have aged, my criteria for what makes a good, playable game has changed. I look more for a total package, something that covers many bases of what I’m looking for in a game.
That’s why I started buying and re-visiting retro games from my past. I don’t have a huge collection and I’m not trying to complete anything. I just have been picking up systems and games that I enjoy playing because they provide a complete gaming experience. The games have a strongly built anatomy.
This week, we are going to take a look at the anatomy of one such game, Maniac Mansion for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Now, before I start I want to clear up one thing. The PC version of this game is better in my, and most people’s, opinions. But for the sake of this article, I’m going to focus on the NES version because: it was the version I owned as a kid, and it’s the version I currently possess.
The NES port of the game was published in 1990 by Jaleco, who up until that point were probably most famous for publishing the Bases Loaded series of games. It was also the first game developed by Lucasfilm Games, I probably shouldn’t have to explain who Lucasfilm is.
For the NES version, the script of the original PC game had to be severely edited to conform with Nintendo’s strong Game Standards Policies, but I don’t feel it takes anything away from the game itself. Some things were missed in the early run of carts. For example, in the first run, you could still microwave the hamster, later carts of the game had that part removed.
On the surface, it’s a point-n-click game. It’s a nice looking 2D game where you have 15 action commands available for you to solve puzzles and progress through the game. You control a team of three including Dave and your choice of two others. Your goal is to rescue Dave’s girlfriend Sandy from the evil Dr. Fred. Your choice of characters matters because each character has a specific skill that helps them accomplish certain tasks. For example, if you pick Syd or Razor, they have the ability to play musical instruments, Michael can use his photography skills to develop film, Bernard, Wendy and Jeff have specific skills as well. These skills matter because not having a certain character will close off certain aspects of the game.
If you’ve never played a point-n-click game before, there is a bit of a learning curve. Knowing which command to use in certain situations takes a couple of tries the first time through, but you quickly grasp what is going on learn the ropes. You will have to use every command available as you progress from room to room in the house and try to save Sandy.
You can switch from one kid to another at any time, a skill you will have to learn to use effectively in order to achieve certain things or access certain areas.
A lot of vibrant colours, and a whole lot of purple
You’re basic NES-era graphics here. This game was released in the later part of the NES life cycle, but was mostly a port of the PC game, so the graphics are pretty standard. One thing that does stick out is the vibrant colours. Throughout the various rooms of the Edison house, you will encounter vibrant oranges, pinks, purples and greens, which really gives each room its own little identity. Otherwise, the graphics are pretty standard, nothing to write home about.
In my opinion, this game is right up there as having the best music on the NES. Each character has his or her own chiptune when you are using them and instantly makes you love or hate them. The music is upbeat for the most part and addictive. It’s easily one of the best parts of the game. If you made a ‘Top 20 NES Game Tunes’ playlist, you should have at least 1 or 2 songs from this game on it (I recommend Dave’s and Michael’s for starters)
Let’s Save Sandy!
With multiple endings, and dozens of possible character combinations, this game is one which you can still pick up 25 years later and beat it a different way than you did before. It’s highly addictive as well because that OCD side of your brain wants to try every possible command combination with every little trinket you find in the house. This game has definitely stood the test of time in the replay value department
Lore & Legacy
This game is unique in that it spawned a TV series, who’s writing staff was led by Eugene Levy (CANADIAN!). It was loosely based on the game and lasted for 66 episodes over three seasons.
The game also had a sequel, Day of the Tentacle, which was not as well received.
Many people consider this game to be a key point in the life span of point-n-click games. Giving users the commands on the screen took away the need to guess syntax. It was written well and really well received publicly. It’s often looked to as a spark to the casual game genre in the early 90’s. People saw that it really improved upon what casual games had been in the past, taking away a lot of the extracurricular stuff and allowing the user to focus mostly on solving the puzzles that games presented for you.
Maniac Mansion is a must-own NES game, and one that you should play at least once or twice a year. It’s a fun game with great music, good dialogue, different endings, and good anatomy.
Until next time!