Quite a few of you have been expecting me to really enjoy Maniac Mansion. There have even been suggestions that the game will in all likelihood lead the board by the time I’ve finished it. So far I have to say that there’s every chance it will, as it really does push the genre forward while being highly entertaining. I do have a few concerns about the way multiple characters and solutions play out, but there’s every chance those concerns will diminish over time as I get used to the game mechanics. Before I talk about any of that though, I’m very interested to know why the voters chose Bernard and Wendy in the recent poll. I can totally understand Bernard being a favourite as he would later reappear in Day of the Tentacle, but the choice of Wendy the writer is intriguing. Is it because her path through the game is particularly interesting, or is she just the character a lot of you guys chose when you first played through? Maybe there’s something more sinister going on and in fact taking Wendy into the mansion makes the game much more challenging? I must admit, the fact that she came from nowhere to win with a few days left (it was between Syd and Razor to accompany Bernard until then) suggests there may have been some foul play, but I can’t imagine anyone feels passionate enough to rig an Adventure Gamer poll (hopefully one day)!
The moon is so close to Earth that it's gravity affects the size of the human head
Regardless, I’ve entered the mansion with Dave, Bernard and Wendy, and can’t see any reason to regret that just yet. When I say entered, that wasn’t as easy as I just made it sound. You see, the door was locked, and it did take me a little while to figure out how to get in. Knocking resulted in an ugly dude (who I believe is named Weird Ed) coming down and opening the door, believing that a package has arrived for him. As soon as he saw that there was no package, he told my character to go away and slammed the door. My first reaction was that I needed to do something with the mailbox that would make him think that the package had actually arrived, which would then allow me to hide and then enter unseen while he checked it out. A few minutes of experimentation with the mailbox, including closing it, putting the little flag up, knocking on the door and then hiding, taught me two things about the game. Firstly, that it’s worth checking the most obvious solutions first when playing Maniac Mansion (the key is hidden beneath the doormat) and secondly, that the interface is far more advanced than all adventure games prior.
Don't press the New Kid button! It seriously limits the time you have to play Maniac Mansion!
It didn’t click straight away (probably due to the ICOM games making the counter-intuitive seem intuitive after enough practice). I spent the first few minutes clicking on verbs and then items only for nothing to happen, but I soon learnt that some verbs work differently than others, and simply selecting the verb and item didn’t complete the action. For example, clicking on the word “Open” and then clicking on the mailbox does not open the mailbox. It does however form the sentence “Open Mailbox”, so one further click on the mailbox opens it. In the same way, clicking the sign and then clicking “Read” does not read the sign, but clicking the word “Read” again will make it happen. I was initially a bit flummoxed by the “What is” option, as following the above method did not result in the game giving me a description of a chosen object. Soon enough I realised that you use “What is” by selecting it and moving it around the screen. Anything you put the cursor over appears in the sentence form (i.e. What is sign). This makes it extremely easy to find objects in any given room that you might be able to interact with, prior to choosing verbs such as “Push”, “Pull”, “Open”, “Close”, “Pick up” etc. etc. It only took a couple of minutes to master and is a huge improvement over everything that came before it in the genre.
What is it with light blue wallpaper in these adventure games? Maybe it was just the eighties.
Once I got inside (as Dave), I soon realised that the game was certainly not going to be a walk in the park. I passed through one doorway into the kitchen and was immediately captured by Dr Fred and imprisoned in a cell, with no apparent way to escape. My first thought was that perhaps, like in Black Cauldron, this is scripted and supposed to happen, but then I couldn’t help wondering whether the same thing would have happened if I’d entered the house with Bernard or Wendy (who were just standing around outside) instead of Dave. I restarted with Bernard (you switch characters with the function keys) and entered the kitchen…no sign of Dr Fred...does it only happen to Dave? I then restarted as Dave again to find out and this time Dr Fred wasn’t waiting in the kitchen so I wasn’t taken prisoner! This immediately raised concerns that some of the events occurring in Maniac Mansion are entirely random, particularly as I can’t see how random events could work in a game with so many solution complexities. If Bernard were to get imprisoned, is there a way to escape or would I need to finish the game without him? Would that even be possible given that puzzles requiring his skills would not be solvable? Could those same puzzles be solved by another character in a different way? My solution to all of this uncertainty has been to make sure none of my characters get captured, and if they do, to immediately reload and try again. However, apart from that initial random encounter with Dr Fred, all other encounters with the family seem to be entirely scripted and therefore easily avoidable once you reload.
Great! Two minutes in and I'm no better off than Sandy. Perhaps if I had the keys to the seckrit lab!
The other thing that’s on my mind is whether or not some of the items I’m picking up are only useful for characters that I’m not using. How do I know that I’m not completely wasting my time trying to solve something or looking to use a particular item that are only part of another character’s solution? Are certain items only available to pick up if you have the right character? One thing that makes me think that might be the answer is the developer liquid I tried to pick up, only for it to fall on the ground and smash. I imagine if I had Michael the photographer on the team, that wouldn’t have happened? As Bernard I can remove the tube from the radio, but perhaps I wouldn’t be able to do that if he wasn’t one of the college friends I chose to accompany Dave? If this isn’t the case, then surely the game will become pretty difficult once you’ve got stacks of items in your inventories that play no role in “your” solution. Anyway, I’m not asking anyone to actually answer all the questions I’m firing off. I’m simply expressing what’s been going through my head in the early stages of the game. I’m pretty sure it will all become clear one way or another over the next couple of days.
That's a question most teenagers would ask today!
So how far have I got? Well, I’ve found the hidden cassette tape and figured out that I can record onto it off the record player, but I’m not sure what I actually need it for. I’ve had Wendy edit the manuscript on the typewriter and seen the ad on TV with an address to send anything you want published. I’ve got Weird Ed’s package too, which means I now have some stamps to try to post it with, but haven’t attempted to do so. I’ve given the green tentacle stacks of food and then water, so he’s let me pass into the upper levels of the mansion. I’ve found a gold key, a silver key and a card key, but have so far only found a use for the silver key, which has given me access to the pool area. I assume I need to empty the pool to get the radio (another radio!), but haven’t yet figured out how to do it. One thing I would like an answer to (for 10 points) is whether or not I need to start again. When I originally found the tube in the old fashioned radio, instead of taking it with me, I had Bernard fix the radio itself with it. It’s only then that I found the much more modern looking radio in another room that is missing a tube and now don’t seem to have any way to retrieve the tube from the old one. Have I already hit a dead end!? I’m going to restart regardless, as it will only take about ten minutes to get all the way back to where I am, but I would like to know whether it’s a dead end. Anyway, I’m keen to get back to it. Talking about the game has just made me want to play it more!
Oh...and you can't microwave the hamster, despite what I read. Maybe it was removed for the enhanced version?