TURN TO CHANNEL 3: ‘Maniac Mansion’ is the cult classic you should have grown up with
Christmas time is obviously here in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and as I am wont to do, I often think back to the holiday seasons of the past, those great mornings when you’d wake up and hopefully find those video games and consoles you were pining for all year underneath the tree.
Well, this month, during “A Retro Holiday” here on Turn to Channel 3, we look at some games that certainly shaped my childhood during those amazing mornings all those years ago. We begin today with a game that perhaps wasn’t a part of your childhood, but certainly played a huge role in mine. We will be covering the odd Lucasfilm game “Maniac Mansion,” so let’s fire up the NES and get right down to it!
“Maniac Mansion” (NES)
Every era of gaming has those songs, those catchy tunes that you just can’t get out of your head, and despite not having quite the commercial success of other titles with equally popular soundtracks, “Maniac Mansion” has great music that could definitely stand toe-to-toe with “The Legend of Zelda” and “Super Mario” titles on the NES for sure.
One of the things you’re going to hear a lot from me in this review is the attention to detail in this game. You can tell as you play “Maniac Mansion” that a lot of time went into it in order to make it the quality game that it is, and all of that begins with creating tunes, not only for the title screen and the events that transpire during the game, but for every character you can choose from in the game. That’s something we’d take for granted today, but back then, that was a tall order for any video game composer, and yet it seems in “Maniac Mansion” that this was achieved effortlessly.
We all have our favorite tunes, but for my money, “Flashbulb Funk,” Michael’s theme, is just some amazing video game composing that I often feature in our store’s musical playlist. The music just fits each character like a glove. Throw in some great little sound effects and you’ve got music that is quietly one of the more complete and well-rounded soundtracks on any NES game in the entire library.
At first glance, “Maniac Mansion” doesn’t look like anything special as far as 8-bit graphics are concerned, as many characters look quite similar aside from a few subtle differences, but like the soundtrack, it is the attention to detail that really puts the graphics and artwork of “Maniac Mansion” in a class of its own.
Each room in the house is detailed enough to give you that feel like you’re in a unique environment. No room is the same, and again, while we all gush over expansive worlds in today’s games, imagine what it must have been like, with the technology available, to create an entire mansion worth of adventure in one game! Every room has interactive qualities, things you can pick up, turn on, or push and pull, all to either gain access to other rooms or obtain important items you will need to complete the game. It’s also worth noting that the little scenes in the game are also very well done.
Like many good NES games, “Maniac Mansion” lulls you into this false sense of security that it is some pushover novelty game, when in fact it is one that requires great strategy, just in the selection of characters at the beginning of the game alone. Each one comes with strengths and weaknesses that not only increase or decrease your chances of completing the game, but alter how you will accomplish said feat.
I have always found it refreshing to play a classic game that doesn’t beat you over the head with the premise or take you by the hand, step by step, thus reducing the fun of trial and error. Did anyone really think that you could play a game where you could put a hamster in a microwave? Well, “Maniac Mansion” made sure you didn’t have to ask that question any longer, while also letting you know that there are dire consequences to you being so cruel, you evil, evil gamer you!
“Maniac Mansion” also puts you in many situations where you must think on your feet and not be distracted by pesky little things like hungry green tentacle creatures and nuclear reactors blowing up the whole mansion because, really, who has time for that? While many will find the whole point-and-click process of this game tedious and annoying, I still feel that there are features in this game that are sorely missing in today’s gaming world.
In many cases, it is perhaps too easy to spot the “cult classic” games present within the vast history of video games, but in my mind, games like “EarthBound,” “Zombies Ate My Neighbors,” and “Conker’s Bad Fur Day” wouldn’t have had a chance at obtaining such a bold label had it not been for “Maniac Mansion” taking everything we knew about NES games and turning it completely on its head – and all for the better, I’d say. If you’ve grown tired of stomping goombas or saving Hyrule for the 100th time, then you owe it to yourself to sit back, relax, and enjoy a game that truly is its own creature – “Maniac Mansion.”
I hope you enjoyed our first review this month. Join us next week as we make the logical progression from a game about exploding hamsters and hungry green tentacles to a game about ninjas. “Ninja Gaiden II” will be the subject of our next review here on Turn to Channel 3, where we always remind you to make time during the holiday rush to game on!
Note: All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.
by Nick DeMarco
Nick DeMarco is a blogger, the owner of retro video game store Nick D's Video Game Vault, and lover of all things retro. Don't get stuck on an elevator with him, unless you know who Ace Harding is and why Crystal Pepsi deserves just as big a comeback as Surge.