KIDNAPPED CHEERLEADERS! BLUE PEOPLE! TENTACLES! OH, MY!
No, this is not a description of a typical anime porno site. Okay, it very well might be, but that’s another subject entirely. As it turns out, these are also major parts of one of the weirdest (and most fun!) games available for the NES, Maniac Mansion. The “boy must rescue girl from mad scientist” set-up may seem average enough, but that’s where the normalcy ends. What lies ahead is a journey into the surreal, and Monty Python-esque scenarios…
WHAT A CAST
Probably my favorite part of the game is its cast, which is truly an ensemble piece. You play the part of Dave (just an average guy), who is out to save his girlfriend, Sandy. You also take on the role of two other kids to help you infiltrate the maniacal Dr. Fred’s mansion, and rescue Sandy. There are six kids to choose from, and each has special abilities that affect how you proceed in the game, and ultimately the outcome.
Rounding out the cast of characters is Razor and Syd who are musicians. They are also basically the same character (though I do admit a preference for Razor. C’mon, you’ve all had that trashy punk rock girl fantasy…), as both of their specialties are performing music. Wendy is an aspiring writer, quite good at making things readable.
Michael is a photographer, and can develop film. Jeff, the stereotypical surfer, is also quite adept at fixing phones, and then there’s the thick glasses and pocket protector bedecked Bernard, who can operate and fix just about anything. He is a bit squeamish, though.
You can use almost any combination of these characters to defeat the game. Some combinations of kids are quite easy to use, while other pairings will make you have to try many different avenues. This makes the replay value of this game immense!
…AND THEN THE BADDIES
The villains in this game are excellent characters in and of themselves. Demented Doctor Fred, the mildly gullible Nurse Edna, junior gestapo member Weird Ed, the “Purple Tentacle”, the “Green Tentacle” (who is so miserable, he may be easy to sway onto your side), the sinister “Meteor”, and of course my personal favorite, “Dead Cousin Ted”.
They help keep the plot moving, and can create great trouble for you, especially if one of them manages to toss you in the dungeon.
ENOUGH WITH THE CAST ALREADY!
This game employs the “point-and-click” set-up. Basically, you choose from a list of simple commands (Look, Open, Turn On, etc.), point and click on the item you wish to perform the command on, and there you go! Either something happens (not necessarily something useful) or it doesn’t. Simply point and click to form a sentence of what you would like to do. Try just about everything, because unexpected actions could bring unexpected results!
The point and click system is quite useful in exploring the mansion, as there are many items located within, some of which need close observation, and others have odd uses.
The graphics are a bit goofy at times, but overall, quite superior to most NES games. The amount of detail in the game is quite impressive, and each character in the game has a unique look, as well as unique music. See, each kid comes with a CD player that has their own theme music. From Bernard’s computer music, to Razor’s punk riffs, to Wendy’s proper sounding theme, all are entertaining and fun to listen to.
The gameplay in this game is fun, plain and simple (sometimes some of the other playable characters in the game interfere with your progress, but it’s forgivable). Exploring the rooms, and finding various uses for various items (say, a hamster and a microwave…) and finding ways to safely interact with the bad guys (you might need some allies!) can take hours, not because of the difficulty, but because of all the different ways to approach a situation. Using your imagination is key in this game. Not to say the game is easy, but there are so many different ways to play the game, it’s as hard or complicated as you want to make it.
BOTTOM LINE: Featuring superior graphics, easy to learn gameplay, tons of options and basically being just plain fun, this game is a worthwhile addition to any collection.