Unlike later adventure games, Maniac Mansion doesn't have much text. Most of the game's story comes through the cutscenes that will play sporadically throughout the adventure. Unlike later LucasArts adventures, there is no "look" verb. Instead, there is a "read" verb, which limits the number of descriptions that will be shown. This is different in the fan-made Maniac Mansion Deluxe, as they use the Day of the Tentacle verb system, which does include "look". As such, they have added a lot of item descriptions to the game. The lack of inventory descriptions, personally, doesn't bother me, but your opinion may differ.
The game's strengths come in its set of quirky characters and its ability to choose a team of teenagers as player characters. The game has a B-movie monster vibe, with a mad scientist kidnapping a cheerleader, and a group of teenagers going into a spooky mansion to save her. The mad scientist has a family consisting of a son and a wife, who will lock you in the dungeon if they catch you. They are just as quirky as the mad scientist himself. The teenagers are chosen in teams of three. The cheerleader's boyfriend is always on the team, so you have the option to choose two other characters to accompany him. Each of the characters has their own abilities, which can be used on various objects in the game in order to achieve your goal. Since there are multiple different ways to get to the end, there are multiple endings. The Nintendo Entertainment System version adds one additional ending over the others, which will be available if the player eliminates the ability to achieve another possible ending.
There is mild swearing as well as sexual overtones in the game, which lend well to the game's B-movie roots. Both DOS versions, the AtariST version, the Amiga version, and the Mac OS version (which uses the data files of the original DOS version) are slightly censored over the Commodore 64 and Apple II original, editing a swear word at the game's finale into a more family-friendly version. The NES version goes even further, censoring out all of the swearing and sexual overtones. The European NES version also edits out a puzzle that will lead to the death of one of the characters.
Unlike most LucasArts adventure games, all of the versions of Maniac Mansion have the ability to die. The fan-made Maniac Mansion Deluxe removes the possibility of a dead-end through a character's death by having the option to transfer the dead character's inventory to another character (an ability that is not present in the official versions of the game). This version also fixes many other dead ends, however, not all of them. It is still possible to kill off all three characters, resulting in a game over, as well as killing off every character with an ability that is needed to reach the ending, resulting in a dead end.
The NES version and fan-made deluxe version also add music to the game. The fan-made deluxe version also slims the verb interface to one resembling Day of the Tentacle, adds comments to many of the objects in the game, adds an icon-based inventory, and removes many of the dead ends (although dead ends and game overs are still possible). However, I still recommend the NES version over the fan-made deluxe version because of the music. The deluxe version omits the excellently creepy Edison theme song during the cutscenes and uses Day of the Tentacle music rather than the tracks from the Nintendo Entertainment System version. As Day of the Tentacle was a game with a very different visual aesthetic and a Saturday morning cartoon feel rather than the horror B-movie feel of Maniac Mansion, the DoTT music tracks just feel out of place.
As Maniac Mansion was the first point-and-click adventure by LucasArts, it does show its age and doesn't hold up to the test of time as well as some of the other LucasArts adventures. Unlike most LucasArts adventure games, it has dead ends and it's possible to die. Even so, the odd characters, fun puzzles, interesting B-movie atmosphere, and multiple endings make it a fun adventure that's worth playing. I personally recommend the Nintendo Entertainment System version (preferably played using ScummVM, which adds the ability to control the cursor with a mouse), as it has excellent music that fits the atmosphere well and adds additional ways to win the game.
Addendum: October 26, 2022: I forgot the Family Computer version, which is completely in Japanese and was created in-house by Jaleco. It's a really different version of the game that deserves its own article.
Update: October 27, 2022: I also forgot to mention the fact that Maniac Mansion can be played on Ed's computer in Day of the Tentacle. Since this review was written, Day of the Tentacle Remastered was released by Double Fine and Maniac Mansion can still be played on Ed's computer in this version. Interestingly, the original Day of the Tentacle contains the original DOS version of Maniac Mansion, while Day of the Tentacle Remastered contains the "enhanced" DOS version.
Update: October 26, 2022: There is now another option for playing Maniac Mansion. Meteor Mess 3D is a fan-made three-dimensional remake. It has voice acting, which is actually pretty good. The 3D models are quite stiff, but the backgrounds are great. They fit in perfectly with the original, low-resolution, low-color backgrounds, and they work perfectly with the atmosphere of the game.
I still recommend the NES version, but Meteor Mess 3D could be an option for those who still have yet to play the game or want to play it again, as long as you don't mind the stiff character models.
3½ out of 5
3½ out of 5
|Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle Review|