Released in 1987 for the Commodore 64 and Apple II, Maniac Mansion was the birth of SCUMM (Story Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion), the game engine that defined LucasArts point-and-click adventures for a decade. Actually, back then they were called Lucasfilm Games, and they were breaking new ground in a number of different places.
For starters: you can play Maniac Mansion as one of seven playable characters – and switch between them at will (at least when the game lets you), and the game has puzzles that can either only be solved by one character, or have multiple solutions to one problem. Pretty groundbreaking for the time.
Maniac Mansion was also the video game that defined “verb lists”, or verb charts – lists of verbs that can be clicked-on, then used to carry out certain actions. This was an interesting new development in the graphic adventure genre back in 1987, and one that still reverberates to this day, with games like Thimbleweed Park.
At its heart Maniac Mansion is a tribute to late-night horror films, such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street, but with a humorous – almost Richard O’Brien-like – twist. The game cuts away to other characters doing things, like a TV soap opera, and the dialogue is self-referential and funny.
The graphics in Maniac Mansion are pretty basic, but work very well and are colourful and full of character. The big heads of the main characters are very distinctive and somewhat reminiscent of the main character in Labyrinth. The backgrounds are ‘interactive’ and sometimes change when clicked-on (the fridge for example). A lot of this was very innovative back in 1987 and it really made the gaming world sit up and take notice.
There are better-looking versions of Maniac Mansion around, but this original Commodore 64 version is still well worth a play any day of the week. The MS-DOS, Amiga and Atari ST versions all have updated graphics and mouse controls, and are all excellent. There’s also an NES version too. And – as the eagle-eyed will already know – the full Maniac Mansion is also available to play as an Easter egg in the 1993 sequel, Day of the Tentacle.