grahfzilla's Maniac Mansion (PC) review

A true classic


God damn is this game good. Or maybe I should say, holy hot darn is this game STILL good! I'm amazed at how well this game plays over all these years.

So what is there to say? It's adventure gaming at its finest. Which is strange because the game is pretty much the grandfather of all graphic adventure games, at least the point and click variety. It's still full of charm and wit. It's a bit on the simple side, but that's not really a problem.

One thing that the game lacks is a good story. The set up is great, but there is no ongoing storyline during the game. There are cutscenes, and if I am not mistaken I think Maniac Mansion was the first game ever to have those, but they don't really tell a story. They show you time specific events in the house, and serve to give a lively feeling to the house. But the little story there is is good enough. A lot of people don't understand that it is the immense amount of dialogue that turns people off of adventure games, not the puzzles. People love puzzles. People don't like sitting through huge amounts of text. I especially dislike some of the more modern Lucasarts adventure games, which had text just for the heck of it. 70% of the dialogue in the monkey island games is pure silliness, only about 30% is really important to the story. I like to laugh like everybody else, but sometimes too much is too much. A good way to tell a story in an adventure game is like in 5 days a Stranger and its sequels. Everything straight to the point, pretty much every line of text relating to the events at hand.

But still, sometimes there doesn't need an in depth story. Being stuck in a mansion with maniacs is a story in itself, and that's why this game works so well. It's puzzle focused, and its puzzles are of the "action reaction" variety which means that a lot can happen depending on what you do and how you do it. You can kill yourself, make someone else kill you, or even kill a hamster. There's a slight horror mood to the game that works well, it's charming even if not really scary.

As for the remake only features, well it has 256 colors and background music taken straight from Day of the tentacle (the sequel). At first it bugged me because I felt it was out of place, but after getting used to it I have to say that I like it. As for the graphics, honestly I'm sort of divided on them. This is the most color rich version of the game, however it cannot be run with Scumm VM. So that means no HQ3X. It really hurts the game. AGS (the utility used to make the game) supports an anti aliasing mode, but anti aliasing 2D sprites without filtering them always looks blurry, and this is no exception. So you have the choice between blurry and smooth, or crisp and blocky. I have to say that from a pure graphical standpoint, the 32 or 64 (not sure which one it is) color Amiga version looks better than deluxe when it is run in Scumm VM. There's a lot of tearing on the screen though, akin to having vsync turned off, even though vsync is forced on in my display options. All in all, from a visual standpoint the game is a deception. From an aural standpoint, it's a success. However, one thing is that I really love the graphics. This is maybe the one thing that differentiates this old game from some of the older games I've reviewed in the past year or so, like the Ultima games for example. The graphics in those games were ANCIENT and they had little redeeming value. But the graphics in Maniac Mansion have that classic 2D beauty, and they're just plain super charming. I love them. This isn't the best version for the graphics as far as I'm concerned, but it still looks great.

Also this version of the game lacks some of the personality of the earlier, true retail versions. For example, there's one event in which you can kill yourself by cooking something specific in the microwave. In the original version, when you open the microwave your character blurts out "OH NO ******* ********" and he starts to spin around the kitchen until he falls on the ground. In this version, he says his line while staying in front of the microwave, not moving an itch. It's a small detail, but it removes some of the personality that there was in the original version. Or in another similar event, at a certain point in the game you see one of the residents playing an arcade game. In the original, you could hear the sounds of the game while he was playing it, and it lasted a good 3-4 seconds. In this version, they show you like a 1 second shot of the dude in front of the arcade machine with the screen lighted up, and then as fast as it came it's gone. Once again, small, but noticeable if you played the game before.

So what does this mean? It means that for someone who's played Maniac Mansion before (I played the Commodore 64 version like a madman growing up, as well as a bit of the NES version. And while playing Deluxe I tried out the Amiga version), this is probably not the best version to play. However, if I were to recommend Maniac Mansion to someone who's never played it before, this is surely the version I'd recommend.

So to finish, yeah I think this game is pretty much perfect. It's only weakness is the lack of story, and it doesn't really bug me. Is it because I grew up with the game, meaning that I don't need a story to carry the game? Maybe, who knows, it's hard to judge for me. This might very well be a case of me being biased. On one side, I don't think it has weaknesses, on the other side I can see a lot of modern adventure game fans not liking this game because it doesn't have a strong story. After all, people who still play adventure games play them for the storyline.

Eh, whatever, screw them. Don't be tuna heads people!

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