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Wrap Your Pretty Brains Around Maniac Mansion

Maniac Mansion There's something odd about that Edison family that lives up the hill in that big mansion.  Patriarch Dr. Fred hasn't slept or eaten since he started working at the evil meteor's behest.  Nurse Edna's kinkier than all-get-out, and their strange son Weird Ed has a psychotic grip on that hamster of his.  Cousin Ted died a while back, but nobody remembers hearing anything about a funeral.  Just what is going on inside that house?  Leave it to teenagers to go snooping for answers as Hardcore Gaming 101 covers the Lucasarts adventure titles Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle.

Maniac Mansion begins with a meteor crash landing in the backyard of a large, rickety house. The story fast forwards twenty years, as Dr. Fred Edison, owner of the mansion, kidnaps Sandy, a local teenage girl, to conduct a number of mad, brain sucking experiments. These two events are not coincidental - the Meteor is sentient, and has taken control of the not-so-good doctor. Sandy's boyfriend Dave is none too pleased by this, so he assembles a group of his friends to stage an impromptu infiltration and rescue her from the Edison's basement laboratory. Dr. Fred lives in weird company, with his crazy wife Nurse Edna and military nut son Weird Ed. Even though neither of them take too kindly to intruders, they're equally as concerned for Dr. Fred's deteriorating mental health, and your troupe can attempt to befriend them to provide aid for the greater good. Also inhabiting the house are two sentient tentacles - the green one, who looks fearsome but mostly just lounges around and dreams of being a rock star; and the purple one, who is actively evil and aids Dr. Fred with his schemes. There's also Dead Cousin Ted, the mummified remains of a long deceased family member who nevertheless seems to maintain a fairly decorated living quarters.

Before Dave begins his trip into the mansion, you must pick two of his friends to join him. Although Dave has no special talents, the rest of his pals are defined by their various skills, which allow for different solutions for any of the game's puzzles. Bernard is a tech nerd who can fix anything; Razor is a punk rock musician who can help Green Tentacle with his singing career; Wendy is an aspiring writer who can turn the Meteor's memoirs into a work of literary genius; and Michael knows his way around a photo lab and can develop pictures to help out Weird Ed. There are two other cast members - Syd, a new age musician who's functionally the same as Razor, and Jeff, a wasted surfer dude who is essentially useless, since his only skill is being able to fix telephones, which Bernard can also do. You only control a single kid at a time, and each explores the mansion independently, although you can switch to any other member via the "New Kid" command. There are a total of three "good" endings (with a number of variations) based on who you bring with you. It's a very freeform approach to design that most successive adventure games - further Lucasarts games included - tended to leave by the wayside for a more focused experience. It allows for tons of replayability, because you need to play through the whole game at least twice to see all of the possible endings, much less find the multiple solutions to the puzzles.

The original Maniac Mansion had so much bizarre strangeness in it, from the chainsaw that's out of gas to the Three Guys Who Publish Anything to the record of tentacle mating songs to the microwavable hamster (just don't give the remains to Weird Ed).  I have a soft spot for Maniac Mansion (specifically, the Nintendo Entertainment System version), and of all of the Lucasarts adventure franchises, it is the one I'd most like to return to some day in a new release.  Episodic game aficionados over at Telltale Games who have revived other Lucasarts adventure properties like Sam & Max and Monkey Island, are you listening?