By Adrenaline 1 Comments
I hope to start getting these out quicker, although it's going to be a challenge considering how much stuff there is I can and should be doing these days.
Maniac Mansion (PC)
Maniac Mansion was the first game released using LucasArts' SCUMM engine, which actually stands for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion. It came out originally way back in 1987, and you can definitely tell. The graphics are extremely primitive and the sound is made from barbaric bleeps and bloops, with the game unable to play more than one at once. Whereas modern games have streamlined the interface down to a very simple point and click system, the lower half of the screen here is flooded with different commands you can use, and there are frequent situations where it's just too specific for its own good. An early example is the door to the basement that doesn't have a handle. Even if your magic deduction skills are good enough to realize you need the gargoyle on the nearby staircase to open the door, "using" it doesn't work. You have to "pull" the gargoyle for anything to happen. I'll make no secret of the fact that I used a FAQ pretty heavily to make it through to the end after getting stuck on my own multiple times, as I'm fairly certain I never would have otherwise. My simple modern brain is just too used to properly telegraphed and hinted puzzle solutions to go this far outside its own safety zone.
Besides the difficulty of the puzzles though, Maniac Mansion is a pretty interesting and actually fairly forward-thinking adventure game. Things like the use of multiple characters you can choose from and apparent flexibility in how you can go about finishing it are pretty impressive. Almost every game in this genre is stuck in the one problem, one solution system that being able to try different things that end up working is really nice. One thing that's unfortunately missing though is the wit and humor that the classic LucasArts adventures are generally known for as much as anything else. There are a few little skits with the various villains and protagonists here, and some moments that sort of skirt around the edge of being funny, but it's clear they were still figuring out what they were doing back then and by this point it looks like it was put together by ten year old kids. It's just quaint. Other SCUMM games I've seen have blown Maniac Mansion's writing out of the water in just their first few minutes. Still, you can see how important the game was to the legacy of LucasArts and the adventure genre in general.
Next: Samus' greatest adventure.