Often when I review things, I give it needlessly harsh criticism. This often gives people the idea that I hate everything I review. I don't, I just hate everything I've reviewed so far. So, as a change of pace, I've decided to review something I really like. Being that the only thing I really enjoy is point and clickers from Lucas Arts, I decided to go through them all one by one, singing their various praises and complaining that there are no games like this anymore. The logical starting place is with a brief history of the Scumm engine and the game it was developed for: Maniac Mansion
The SCUMM engine was a revolution in adventure gaming. Basically it made the "old" way of interacting with your computer completely redundant. Previously if you wanted to endure an adventure game, you would need to memorize a whole bunch of stupid command words like "go" or "get", as well as every object you could interact with e.g. "east" or "pumpkin". The main problem was that it wasn't very helpful if you didn't know exactly what you were doing. To the point where there might be two of the same object on a screen and it might get confused, so you would have to type something like "Get Pumpkin" and it would reply with "you grab the pumpkin for an unknown reason" when you needed the pumpkin loaded with explosives to solve the door locked with no key puzzle. The SCUMM engine, which was an acronym for Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion, developers looked beside their keyboards and found the little device with the cord on the end they used and thought: What if all the verbs you needed were all ready there for you to click on? This seemingly simple idea had eluded many other programmers and then Lucas copyrighted it. This is why for nearly 10 years when you thought Adventure Games, you thought Lucas Arts
Needless to say, the game and the engine on which it was built were amazingly successful. I've sung the engine enough praises, so let's go on with the game. The game's plot revolves around Dave, your typical jock arsehole, trying to save Sandy, his dirty cheerleader whore of a girlfriend, from the evil Dr Fred Edison with the help of two of his six friends, all of whom are much more useful than he is. This makes the first puzzle of the game a choice of which two friends you choose to walk through the game with. The game’s puzzles and solutions vary depending on which character you choose. Each has his own strengths (electronics genius, typist, photographer, ect.) and therefore his own path to the end. Now admittedly I'm not as familiar with game history pre-1990 as I would like to be, but I'm nearly certain this was the first game to offer an alternative path to the solution of a puzzle, meaning that for the first time, there was replay value in a puzzle game. This in itself puts it miles ahead of any other adventure game out there. Throughout the course of the game you discover Dr Fred isn't just a loony, he's a loony under the control of a sentient purple meteor with dreams of universal domination. So, the main mission of the game is to somehow remove the purple meteor from the area (or planet) which you do using one of your characters, thus freeing Fred and Sandy leaving everyone else to go home happily.
That is, of course, unless you somehow manage to piss off the video game and it kills the offending characters. If you haven’t finished the game before this can quickly become a hassle, particularly because once they die, all their items (like keys and vital puzzle pieces) go with them. Of course, once you know how to finish the game, killing the kids is a barrel of fun! Here are, out of context, a few ways to get yourself killed: microwave some radioactive water, microwave a hamster and give it back to its owner, drown a kid in a swimming pool or my personal favorite, play the disembodied tentacle the tape you made of the Tentacle Mating Call and get Hentai-ed. There are several ways you can end the game in a massive nuclear explosion as well. If you leave the power off for too long, the place suffers a meltdown and explodes. If you touch the keypad at the security door, the place explodes, etc. It's also interesting to note that in nearly all subsequent adventure games, Lucas made it impossible to kill your character or put the game in an unwinnable situation. This is the fabled Lucas Rule which I will come back to in subsequent reviews. For now, all you really need to know about dying in this game is that it took effort on your part to do it.
The other noteworthy thing is that the game is immensely difficult and loaded with "Red Herrings", the most famous of which was that ****ing chainsaw. I want to point out that all the promotional stuff for the game, including the title screen, had a chainsaw somewhere, more often than not cutting into the letter N at the end of the title. So in the kitchen you find a chainsaw, and due to the bombardment of chainsaws you've seen in relation to the game, you automatically assume it is a vital puzzle piece and will become amazingly useful towards the end of the game. It doesn't. Whenever you try to use it, your ***** character says "it's out of fuel", which sounds like a launch into ANOTHER puzzle to find the fuel to make the chainsaw run. There is no fuel anywhere in this game. The chainsaw just doesn't run. It's a joke item. It's an amazingly annoying, frustrating joke, but at the end of the day a damn funny one. There was also a puzzle involving a can of Pepsi which had a code that was supposed to stop the house from melting down. It was a total lie, if you tried entering the 1000 digit code you were dead before you hit the fifth digit. There were THOUSANDS of people who tried this out and failed when all you needed to do was flip a switch. I'm sure part of this game was a send up of the ridiculously difficult solutions to problems in other developers' games, but still, it was cruel sometimes.
Speaking of cruel, time has not been kind to this game. I mean I never once looked at this game as any kind of stunning visual experience, it looked blocky and ugly back in the day, but now it looks as though they weren't even trying. Given today's technology they could very easily render this game better and make it look like a million bucks, but in the end I suppose if you're playing this game to look at the pretty pictures then you should hand over your computer right now. The other thing about this game that has always pissed me off was that even though the item you wanted could be seen on the screen when you picked it up, it just became words in your inventory. So rather than having a picture of a glowing key, the words Glowing Key were in your inventory. I can't complain too hard about that because there were more than 50 useless items in the game, all of which could be picked up and would therefore require their own picture, meaning lots of space being taken up on the disc leading to some other vital elements being taken out, so if something had to go, I’m glad it was that.
So, let’s get this over with. The game itself, despite its obscene difficulty, insanely campy plot, ancient graphics, interface and nigh on complete lack of sound is one of the best games you will ever play. This game is a timeless treasure loaded with pitch black humor, B grade horror and genre defining gameplay. This game has several endings, bad jokes, and lots and lots of hours of fun built into it. I highly recommend you check it out.jim_doki