Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Maniac Mansion - Famicom version

There are actually two versions of Maniac Mansion released for Nintendo's 8-bit system. Most of us are familiar with the Lucasarts one, published in 1989 by Jaleco. I actually think this is the best version of the game, because despite the censorship and the improved detail of the VGA version, the NES one moves quicker and smoother than the PC versions, and has a rad soundtrack to boot. Anyway, Jaleco actually made their own version specifically for the Japanese market a year prior, and it's a bit of a wreck.

Check out the graphics. All of the characters, what with their empty eyes and vacant smiles, look like they jumped out of a Cathy comic strip. The Game Over screen, which shows the characters as angels and is only in this version, looks particularly ludicrous. The box cover shows them all as super deformed dwarves, although at least there's some cool artwork in the manual. (Images from here.)

There's no scrolling whatsoever - everything moves screen by screen. The longer backgrounds are either split up into multiple screens or condensed into one. Various background details are missing, although it has the nude statue that was taken out the NES version. Outside of a few original tunes here and there (and an especially aggravating pause ditty), most of the game is played without music, much like the PC versions. The only noises are the annoying footstep noise when your character shuffles from place to place.

The FC version also pares down the interface a bit by removing some the extraneous verbs, like Fix and Unlock. The NES version did the same thing, but made a very welcome improvement - whenever you highlight an object you can interact with, its name pops up at the bottom of the screen. None of the other versions have this exact function, but the PC versions have an extra command called What Is that works the same way. This command is completely missing from the FC version, which makes fumbling around in the dark a huge pain in the ass, because you basically just need to click everywhere. I found this Japanese review which expressed frustration at that one hilarious part where you can accidentally blow up the whole house while looking for the electricity breaker when the lights go out.

This same page brings up something I hadn't thought of, though. The first puzzle in the game is to get through the front door, which is, of course, locked. The solution is a well known cliche - just check under the doormat. But then it dawned on me that this cliche might not be well known outside the English speaking realm, and with the difficulty in finding objects to interact with, it's possible that Japanese players might just give up before they even start. It's interesting how this is the sort of puzzle that might be more difficult due to cultural divides. There are other bits of localization that make the FC version more palatable - the dime becomes a 100 yen coin, and the Three Guys Who Publish Anything apparently have an address in Tokyo. There's even a Japanese style mailbox in the first screen, which I'm not entirely sure makes sense, because there's a regular mailbox in front of the porch two screens over. Huh.

The worst part, though are the passwords. The NES version was kind enough to include a battery. Japanese gamers had to deal with 104 character passwords, officially making them the longest of any game on the system, or perhaps, ever.

The NES version

Nude statue in the NES prototype


  1. There's a little more: that nude statue in the hall is one of several sprites created for the NES version, removed from the game at Nintendo's request, then dropped into the Japanese version for some reason, despite the clash with the style the rest of the game is drawn in. Go upstairs to the hall leading to Dead Cousin Ted's bathroom to see more: the sexy mummy pinup, the jars of organs, etc. You can see all this stuff in its original context in the proto version of the original NES game, which was released to the internet a little while ago, or in the big spread Nintendo Power did around the time of that game's release.

  2. Nah, the Japanese version came a year before the NES one. I ran through the proto and the nude statue is definitely different. I added a pic in the body for comparison.

  3. Wow, never knew that this game existed. Interesting bit of gaming history there.

  4. Awesome! I love HG101 going over the differences in Maniac Mansion Famicon vs. NES vs. PC! I knew about most of these, and while I prefer the PC version for ease of use, there's a lot that make the NES version a lot better, the control and save function are really the only thing that faults it. Both US NES and PC have graphics that sort of look like ass (even the "enhanced PC version") so that part is really up to the player's preference.

    Anyway, does this mean an HG101 article on Maniac Mansion (and Day of the Tentacle) is coming soon? I can only hope.

  5. I'm the biggest Manaic Mansion nut you'll ever meet, so I own the cart on this one and have played through it all kinds of extensively.

    I'd write an article or something, but probably get shot down again for fart jokes and pop culture references.