I swear, why is it that every time someone’s girlfriend goes missing, they end up in the clutches of some mad scientist who can’t wait to suck out her brains? A simple phone call to the police is never enough to save her, either. I mean, who in their right mind would believe a sentient meteor fell from the sky and warped a doctor’s mind to crave the removal of brains from their fleshy shells? Not me! If it was me, I’d just think my girlfriend left me and cry myself to sleep. Luckily, Sandy Pantz has a heroic boyfriend, Dave Miller, who is willing to brave the perils of Maniac Mansion in order to rescue her. This leads us to yet another Retro Halloweekend. A manic Halloweekend, if you will.
Maniac Mansion is a classic point-and-click adventure game that was developed by LucasFilm Games (which would eventually become LucasArts) and released on multiple consoles including the Commodore 64, the Apple II, and the Nintendo Entertainment System. As one of the original games that put Lucasfilm Games on the map, Maniac Mansion helped to carve out the company’s space in the adventure genre. With the help of the newly developed SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) system that would later be used in countless games released by the company, Maniac Mansion gave players a wide variety of choices to create in-game actions. By including a list of 15 commands and combing them with various items found in the environment, the number of ways to play the game seemed limitless at the time, while still giving players a bit more direction than competing adventures like Sierra’s King’s Quest series.
In Maniac Mansion, you play as Dave — a young man trying to save his girlfriend from the clutches of the evil Dr. Fred — and two of his friends. The first thing you’ll do upon starting up the game is select which two friends will join Dave on his quest inside the mansion. What’s really cool is not only do each of these characters have their own unique abilities that can potentially grant different endings to the game, but each character also comes equipped with their own personalized background music that reflects their personality. I feel like music in games still goes unappreciated a lot of the time so to see a game like this, released in 1987, focus so heavily on creating music that reflects which characters are on screen is really awesome to see and to hear.
While Maniac Mansion is definitely influenced by typical horror film tropes (i.e. kids stuck in a mansion with potential life or death scenarios), the game stands apart by taking those ideas and making them comedic. The writing is charming, funny, and sometimes gross, even for being edited quite a bit on the NES version due to Nintendo’s strict policies. Regardless, a lot of situations that occur throughout the game can lead to some laugh-out-loud moments. This comes from the care given to each of the characters, both the heroes and the villains. Each of Dave’s friends is described by a short blurb, but it’s more than clever dressing — their unique traits and abilities actually change how you progress through the game. The villains inhabiting the mansion — Dr. Fred’s wife, Edna and their son, Weird Ed — even come alive through innovative, often interactive cut scenes. I don’t know if it was a marketing decision, or the result of such well-crafted characters, but Maniac Mansion eventually was made into a television series that lasted for three seasons.
My biggest complaint about playing Maniac Mansion during Retro Halloweekend was it just didn’t fulfill my Halloween expectations as much as I would’ve liked. Sure there are some weird, goofy, things that fit the season all too well, but for the most part, I could play this game without ever really thinking about the holiday. So I got to thinking, what would these characters dress up as for Halloween? I already have a pretty good idea of who they are, so I should be able to figure this out.
Dave, the Ghost
Dave would dress up as a ghost for Halloween. Though he has the best of intentions in Maniac Mansion, he just really doesn’t have too many skills. He’s not very creative and seems to act on instinct. If he was going to dress up for Halloween he would simply throw a sheet over himself and be a ghost. It’s the most basic costume there is. If he was a teenager in 2014, this would translate to dressing up as a zombie, because everyone is a freaking zombie today.
Michael, the Spider-Man
As if predicting a future with Miles Morales, Michael would undoubtedly dress up as Spider-Man for Halloween. Michael has one of the most lively music tracks in the game, and although hesitant, is willing to put his concerns aside for his friends. Just like a true hero! This, along with his passion for photography makes me believe he would be a perfect fit to dress up as the web-slinger, Spider-Man.
Wendy, the Shakespearean Lady
Wendy walks around pumping classical music from her CD player. It’s probably the least chaotic of all the songs in Maniac Mansion and happens to be one of my favorites. Wendy is also a novelist so it’s safe to assume she’s a fan of literature. I could see Wendy dressing up in some sort of Shakespearean garb for Halloween, complete with big, puffy sleeves, frilly collars, and a long flowing train.
Razor, God Save the Queen
Razor is the lead singer of the band “Razor and the Scumettes” and doesn’t seem like the type who would partake in Tricking or Treating, but she might participate in some of the darker celebrations of All Hallow’s Eve. With this in mind, I see Razor as simply amplifying her style into some sort of Punk Rock Queen, and then going out into the night looking for haunted houses, scary monsters, and probably booze. Jean jackets. Patches. A mohawk. Razor would look like how the album God Save the Queen sounds.
Syd the Vampire
All you have to know about Syd is that he wears his sunglasses at night. He’s an aspiring musician and judging from his CD player, he’s into rock and roll. As someone who rebels against the status quo like all rockers do — and who apparently hates the light — I believe Syd would be a Vampire for Halloween.
Bernard the Atom
Bernard? More like BerNERD! This smarty-pants is a book of knowledge. From physics to repairs, he seems to understand the bells and whistles of all the things we take for granted. It only makes sense that he would dress up as the smallest building blocks of matter.
Jeff wouldn’t dress up for Halloween because he’s probably too stoned to remember the holiday. That, or he just spent the whole day surfing.
Thank you so much for reading this week’s entry of Retro Halloweekend. We hope everyone is having a fun-filled October, and everyone’s getting ready for Halloween. It’s only one week away now! If you want to catch up on any of the past Retro Halloweekends, we talked about Sweet Home, Resident Evil 3: Nemesis, and I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.