I can’t believe October is almost over. I hope you’ve all been enjoying our 31 Days of Horror here at The Horror Syndicate; I know I’ve been having a blast writing about my genre favorites and reading everyone else’s articles. When Rayzor brought up the idea of doing the 31 Days, he told us to write love-letters of a sort to our favorite movies, series, actors, games, pretty much whatever we wanted. I started thinking back to those days in the late 80’s when I really started to sink my teeth into slasher flicks and Stephen King books and a memory surfaced up from the murk, a flashback of a very quirky 8-bit video game my friends and I used to trade back and forth and play ad nauseam: Maniac Mansion.
If you’re around my age, you probably remember this game; there was even a TV show loosely based on it. Maniac Mansion was originally released on the Commodore 64 and Apple II, but the version most of us remember is from the NES. It’s a point-and-click graphic adventure heavily influenced by old school sci-fi and horror flicks. You play as Dave and his friends Wendy, Razor, Bernard, Syd, Jeff, and Michael, as they travel up to the creepy mansion owned by Dr. Fred, a mad scientist, in order to rescue Dave’s girlfriend Sandy. The gameplay is pretty much solving a series of puzzles by utilizing the special abilities of each character on your roster all while trying to avoid capture (or murder) by Dr. Fred, Nurse Edna, and their son Weird Ed, all of whom have fallen under the influence of an evil sentient meteor that directs Dr. Fred to kidnap local kids and steal their brains.
Sounds like a great game for a bunch of elementary school kids to play, right? Well, from what I remember the Nintendo and the C-64 versions were pretty heavily censored and the closest to an uncut version you could get was a port released to the early PCs. But, censor or not, there was a lot of cool, gross stuff you could see and do within the game on the NES, probably the most infamous of all is the microwaving of Weird Ed’s hamster (Note: you can only do this is you happen to have an original release cartridge. This was removed in subsequent editions after many complaints from angry parents).
I remember having a blast with this game: blood, mummies, torture, the nymphomaniac Nurse Edna, partying with the green tentacle… for its time, this game was pretty damn groundbreaking in terms on not just content, but scope. There are multiple endings depending on what puzzles you solve and who among your crew survives (if any) and you could play the game over and over, never having the same experience twice. This was an early predecessor for what we now know as “survival horror”, perhaps more schlock than shock, more Rocky Horror than abject horror, but for kids like me landing your mitts on a copy of Maniac Mansion was like finding the Holy Grail. If memory serves me right, the graphics were actually a bit better and more detailed on the Commodore 64 version, but the gameplay was smoother and faster and the music was better on the NES, but on either system the game was great to me back then, with plenty of cool stuff to peruse hiding in the background, rock and roll, and tons of sexual innuendo that mostly went over my head.
The game got a sequel which was not nearly as popular, called Day of the Tentacle (I actually have this on my PS4), and somebody a few years back created a freeware remaster of the original for the PC (and the original DOS version can be found on freeware/abandonware sites). I’ll always have a soft spot for this game; besides Castlevania, this was the first horror-themed game I remember playing and until Resident Evil came along, was the only horror game I thought captured everything fun and cool about the genre perfectly.
I think I may be spending some time this weekend saving a girl from getting her “Pretty brains sucked out”, handing an exploded hamster over to Weird Ed, helping an alien tentacle become a rock star, and launching a meteor into outer space in the trunk of a classic car.
If any of you guys remember Maniac Mansion, share your favorite memory in the comment section on Facebook. And if you’ve never played this classic, I suggest you get a copy and treat yourself to a good time chock full of 80s nostalgic goodness.