Throwback Thursday: Maniac Mansion

This was a game that was originally released for the Commodore 64 and Apple II computers in October of 1987. After the original printing, it was ported to other computer systems of the era, such as the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, and DOS based systems. In 1990, the game was ported to only a single gaming console, the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

It was a game that featured flying cars. Radioactive pools. Long, empty dungeons. Crazy wanted posters. Intergalactic communication. A mysterious package. A medical family. Three guys that will publish anything. Houseplants that burped after drinking cans of Pepsi. Slimey meteors. Severed tentacles that wanted to become rock stars. And if that wasn’t enough for you, microwaved hamsters.

For those of you out there that don’t know that I am talking about “Maniac Mansion”, you really need to “stop being a tuna head”. I can remember buying my copy of the game at the now defunct “Child World”. Buying games there was quite awkward. You had to get a slip of paper from the aisle that had the video game library, take the ticket to the cashier, pay for the game, and then go to the back of the store to pick the game up at what looked like a bank teller in a bad neighborhood. Kind of like how when CD’s first came to be, when they were always in that locked glass case in the back of the record store. I guess they were considered “premium” purchases back in the day. But regardless, nothing was better than tearing open the package in the car and reading the manual while I was the passenger in life, on the long trip home.

But I’m getting off topic here. Maniac Mansion was one of many games that I had purchased with my hard earned allowance money, but it was also one of the few that I had purchased solely based on the box art and testimony only. The front of the box, with its surfer guy, flashlight ghosting, and the typical big 80s hair. Complete with that strange face in the middle, that really cool looking mansion, and the full moon. The back of the box, with the statement, “Why is there a chainsaw in the kitchen?” As the 80s ad used to go, “Inquiring minds want to know. *I* Want to know!”

I start the game up with what had to be one of the most amazing video game theme songs that I hadn’t heard since Zelda II, which is one of my all time favorite video game soundtracks. Then with the title screen scrolling the words “Maniac Mansion” with the heart stabbed at the end, it was a homage already to everything that I loved: Bad B-Horror movies. I just knew at that point that it was going to be good.

Maniac Mansion takes place in the house of the Edison’s. Dr. Fred, Nurse Edna, and their son, Weird Ed make up the human-like aspect of the household, but add to that purple and green tentacles, and you have one big happy family! “20 years ago today”, a meteor crashed near the Edison mansion. The meteor took complete control over the family, which in turn, caused Dr. Fred to begin sucking the pretty brains out of other humans for experimental use. Dave, the main playable character in the game, believes that he saw his girlfriend, Sandy, get abducted to the mansion, and fears her safety. It’s up to Dave and two friends (of your choice) to enter the mansion and save her.

Each of the other characters that you can pick have a special talent or ability that will help you with the game. Examples of special traits include being able to repair radio and telephone equipment, playing musical instruments, or being excellent writers. The combination of characters that the player selects will determine not only the order that the game is played, but will also effect the possible endings, both positive and negative.

Once you enter the mansion, is when the real fun occurs. Using an interface called SCUMM (seriously), you select from options such as “Open”, “Go To”, “Use…With”, and others. It makes it feel like the old text adventures where you had to type out long commands and do a lot of reading, but the interface makes it easier, and of course, there’s graphics involved. I always had a thing for these kind of adventure games, because for the most part, you could take your time. (Unless of course you go straight for the kitchen… “Hello Dearie!”)


The object of the game is to use your special talents and abilities, and try to find and rescue Sandy. As weird as it sounds, to do that, you need to do some pretty strange things. Like getting to the attic by feeding Chuck a Pepsi. (Did I mention Chuck is a plant?) Or, feeding a tentacle a bowl of wax fruit. Or, temporarily emptying out a radioactive pool. Even doing something REALLY crazy like trying to set up a new band, or by writing a best selling novel! But don’t give a certain person their beloved pet after microwaving it, or it’s curtains for you.

The game is mostly a trial and error style of game unless you have a cheat guide, or watch walkthroughs on Youtube, but you’re not that kind of player, right? Besides, playing the game a few times has a very nice benefit, other than being a lot of fun. See, one cool aspect of the game is the multiple types of endings. Of course, in today’s games, it’s very common to have endings happen based on your input throughout the game. But in 1987, this was something very new. For instance, you can save Sandy, but get the Slimy meteor a record contract. Or, you can save Sandy, and have the meteor be arrested during a live intergalactic television broadcast. But make a few wrong moves, and you can also cause an atomic meltdown that causes “everything within a 5 mile radius” to be infected. (Really? Just 5 miles? Maybe those “Duck & Cover” videos from the 50s were right!)


Maniac Mansion screenshotWith this a trial and error game, and with many different combinations of characters that you can play as, it really gives the game a fantastic replay value. Which for any generation of gaming, if you’re going to pork out $50 on a video game, replay value is an absolute must in my opinion. I’ve personally only seen about 3 different endings in the many years that I’ve played the game, but I know there are quite a few more. (Cause, you know. I *am* that kind of player!) And don’t feel that you have the finish the game in a single sitting: The cartridge uses a battery save state instead of a tedious password system. After all, games are supposed to be fun, not data entry! Kudos to Jaleco! All in all, this is definitely a game that should be added to everyone’s NES collection. I’m sure once you give it a play, even for just a few minutes, you’ll be hooked on the randomness, that is, the Maniac Mansion.




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