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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thursday Night at the Arcade: Maniac Mansion

Once upon a time in 1987, a little company known as Lucasfilm Games released a video game called 'Maniac Mansion'.  It proved to be a huge hit, and was released on quite a few different video game consoles.  For the sake of argument, I will talk about the Nintendo version, but really, there were hardly any differences between the Nintendo version and the Commodore 64 and Apple II versions.

(Well, okay...some copies of the Nintendo version wouldn't let you microwave Weird Ed's hamster...but that was probably a good thing, because what vile horrible person would microwave a rodent?)

(Wait...WHY are you staring at me?  I'm innocent!)

Okay, so the basic plot of the video game is almost similar to one of those B-rated horror/science-fiction films that would often air at 1:37 in the morning.  Evil mad scientist kidnaps young cheerleader and decides that he wants to drain her brain for some experiment he is performing.

The cheerleader's name is Sandy, by the way.

As Sandy's boyfriend Dave, it is our job to break into the mansion, save Sandy and live happily ever after at the next high school pep rally.

The trip will not be easy going.  For starters, Dr. Fred Edison isn't the main antagonist here.  You also have to get past the equally nutty Nurse Edna, who may or may not be Dr. Fred's wife.  I'm not exactly sure, as my memory of playing the game left the answer to that question a bit muddled.  Dr. Fred somehow ended up with a son, Weird Ed.  Let's just say that Ed lived up to his name.

Oh, and then there was Cousin Ted, who lived in the bathtub wrapped up in gauze.  He didn't speak much.

Yet, the two octopus tentacles (one in green, the other in purple) could talk.  One could even sing!  And if you fed him fruity stuff, he'd be the Nicole Richie to your Paris Hilton.

Have I completely lost you yet?

Okay, so if you can get through that contrived plotline, I'll talk about Dave's friends.  There's six of them that tag along, and of the six, you can play with two of them along with Dave. order of the friends, there's Dave, Razor, Bernard, Sid, Wendy, Jeff, and Michael. 

The reason I want to talk about Dave's friends is because I share good qualities with quite a few of them.

(Well, okay...not Jeff.  All Jeff can do is fix the telephone in the library, and don't want me anywhere near a phone hook-up.)

It is true though that I can see myself in most of these characters.

Take, oh, let's say, Michael for instance.  While I may not be able to develop film, I do like photography, and Michael definitely was a master at it.  Oddly enough, his soundtrack in the game kind of sounded like a retro 80's Michael Jackson song...wonder if there was inspiration there?

Bernard was a total nerd of a character.  At first, when playing the game, I rarely used him.  He was awkward, I always managed to get him caught by Nurse Edna, and whenever he ran into one of the tentacles, he would run away in fear, leaving me stuck.  However, if you could somehow get Bernard to face his fear (or avoid it by letting someone else meet the tentacles instead), Bernard could fix phones, radios, even call intergalactic policemen.  I guess in many ways, I could be kind of the physical version of Bernard, right down to the dark hair and glasses.  I guess in many ways, I too am fearful of certain things (not tentacles, but other stuff), and I guess in reality, I'm going to have to overcome my fears to get to whatever I am meant to do.

Razor and Sid were interesting characters in the sense that both of them did the same thing.  Razor and Sid were musicians, and if you brought them with you, you could get the Green Tentacle on your side by helping him win a recording contract using a cassette tape, a pre-recorded record, and an envelope and stamps (which might I add were some of the most frustrating items to find in the whole game?  Seriously, the only way you could get the stamps was by waiting by a mailbox to get a package before Weird Ed did, with a doorbell being your only warning.  It was doable, but you really had to plan ahead).

So anyway, Razor and Sid used their creative genius to get through their biggest hurdle, and it ended up being a big success.  Though, you have to make sure that the recording contract goes to the Green Tentacle, and not Razor or Sid themselves...because then you die.

Seriously, somehow the Green Tentacle kills you off.  Don't ask me why, but it does.

There's another character that uses their skills to get through the game, and it's also a character that I strongly identify with.

Most people when they played Maniac Mansion avoided Wendy the same way people with nut allergies avoided peanut butter.  Not I though.  Any time I played Maniac Mansion, Wendy was usually always the first kid I chose.  Why?  Because Wendy loved to write.

As you know by now, I love to write too.

More importantly than that, Wendy loved to edit other people's work.  Somewhere in the game, you find a manuscript written by a meteor (I can't believe I even typed this sentence out, but if you've played the game, you'll know that the meteor is the REAL antagonist, and not Dr. Fred).  Anyway, apparently space rocks do not have a great grasp of grammar and basic spelling skills (gee, you think?) and you have the option of having Wendy fix up the manuscript for the meteor.  If you do, and mail it away, the meteor will get famous and stop terrorizing the mansion.  He/She/It'll even release Dr. Fred from the meteor's control, and you can rescue Sandy!

I told you it was a weird game.

But hey, at least Wendy used her skills for something good.  That's where Wendy and I are similar.  I can't begin to tell you how many homework assignments I've edited for classmates.  Or how many words I helped people spell in their journals.

And unfortunately for both Wendy and I, we didn't really get credited for our contribution.  The meteor (and my classmates) took all the glory, while we were left in the cold.

(Maybe I should've fed the meteor to the pirahna plant inside the typewriter room instead...)

I did manage to come up with a rather unusual blog entry on one of my favourite video games, and managed to tie it to my own experience somewhat.  I'll admit I was kind of struggling for a topic for this entry, but I think I made it work.

I mean, if the game inspired (but never had any similarity to the video game whatsoever) a TV sitcom, it couldn't have been all that bad.

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