It has been twenty years, to the day, since a mysterious purple meteor came hurtling out of the sky and crashed on the front lawn of a huge Victorian-era mansion belonging to the Edison family: Dr. Fred, his wife, Nurse Edna, and their son Edward, a.k.a., "Weird Ed," were reclusive people who leave the house rarely. The meteor's arrival brought about a strange change in Dr. Fred and the family was seen even less. Their mansion fell into disrepair. Lately, patients from the local hospital have begun to disappear.
Now, a local cheerleader, Sandy Pantz, has been kidnapped. Dave Miller, her boyfriend, saw her carried off to the Edison's mansion. He's gathered a few of his college pals on a rescue mission to invade the mansion and save Sandy. The player can select the friends from a group of six, and the game would play somewhat differently depending on which friends were selected. The game was a parody of the horror B-movie genre, featuring a secret lab, disembodied tentacles, and an evil mastermind.
Maniac Mansion was notable for its multiple possible endings, depending on which characters the player used (and which ones survived) and what those characters did. For instance, you can send the adversary off into space, or have him arrested by the Meteor Police, or make him famous by having his autobiography published, or, in some versions, feed him to the mutant plant. The game also allows permadeath, which is unusual for Lucas games. If one character dies, replacement needs to be selected, and if all characters die you will get a game over.
The game featured some notorious red herrings, such as a chainsaw for which there was no fuel, despite many wishful rumours to the contrary. In one of the in-jokes that are a hallmark of the LucasArts adventure games, the second SCUMM game, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, contains some fuel "for chainsaws only", but no chainsaw. Another red herring is the staircase in the library (with a sign reading "staircase out of order") that appears to be a puzzle, but in fact there is no way to fix it or cross it. During development, it had been planned to put a room there, but the room was left out due to a lack of disk space. One notable bug in Commodore 64 version of the game was at the Garage near the pool. If you didn't open the Garage door, you can select the top of the garage with the Walk-To option and the player's character would walk up the garage door like it was a staircase.
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