Imagine it’s 1993 again. Summer CES comes around and you’re lucky enough to be able to go. You pack your camera, hopefully some extra clothes (if you’ve ever traveled on a plane you’ll know how nice it is to be able to change once you reach your destination) and head on over. Amongst Sugar Ray Leonard playing Super Nintendo against a kid and giant Sonic the Hedgehog signage littered around the show floor, you aim to visit the 3DO booth.
Upon arrival you’re greeted with this:
That would have blown my damn mind out of my skull. Call the janitor, my brain is on the floor. Fast and fluid 3D action, that’s what I wanted to see. I’d played Wolfenstein, I’d played Catacombs and here’s a high colour, full frame, fluid 3D shooter on the 3DO.
Now, I was 4 when the 3DO reached market so I wasn’t even aware it existed, however I know the appeal of playing a genuinely unique first person perspective shooter on a console would have been overwhelming. I imagine I would have been about the same, playing some PC titles but favoring my consoles. So, if I was on the fence about the 3DO before, CES would have made me lay down money then and there for one.
Fast forward to launch. There’s some dispute about whether Escape from Monster Manor actually did launch with the console or it was a launch window game, let’s just say it was a launch game. You bring it home and pop the game into your console and then there it is: Virtual Reality. Well, it might seem quaint by our standards but Escape from Monster Manor was impressive for a few reasons.
You play an adventurer trying to reassemble an ancient amulet used to protect the world from darkness that was pulled apart by a bunch of greedy idiots. This caused a bunch of ghosts, zombies and various other spooks and spirits to appear. Using your trusty ghost gun you have to reassemble the amulet and escape.
Escape from Monster Manor immediately endears you with excellent narration by Les Hedger and smooth, full frame introductory video. Starting the game you find yourself in a Wolfenstein style first person horror shooter that really evokes feelings of classic haunted houses like the Haunted Mansion. Gameplay is smooth and responsive, with enemies being surprisingly varied for such a simple engine.
Combat is made engaging through some enemies only being vulnerable when jumping in the air, while others will become stronger as you gradually kill more enemies. This, to me, is like an early attempt at scaling difficulty which is quite progressive for 1993. Other than that the game is a bit of a key hunt, requiring you to hunt high and low through every corner of the map. This does become a little tedious when maps start getting more complicated towards the end of the game and enemies gradually get stronger. You will inevitably die a fair few times, even if you consider yourself to be great at video games.
There is no on-screen display either, which is quite jarring considering that when games go HUD-less today it is considered innovative and edgy; Leo Schwab did this in 1993! Your hand slowly decays as you take damage and a small red meter on your gun reminds you of how much ammo you have remaining in your gun. Escape from Monster Manor might look simple in screenshots but it’s very deep for a “Wolfenstein clone.”
Graphically, I find Escape from Monster Manor to be very solid. Super smooth textures with little to no deformation, animated textures on walls, beautifully stop motion animated enemies and a consistent frame rate make the game look good. It doesn’t do too much that could be considered revolutionary but Escape from Monster Manor never looks bad, it never gave me anything to complain about. For that, I consider it a success.
I mentioned Les Hedger before. He was recruited internally to provide the voice for the narrator and does an excellent job providing a fun, tongue in cheek classic horror experience. The soundtrack is a little hit and miss, but it is generally pretty fun and spooky, and for that reason I enjoyed it.
Escape from Monster Manor is great. There is no doubt about it. It’s a really long game as well, that’s something I noticed. It will take you a fair few hours to finish it, and you will want to finish it. Rock solid gameplay, combined with really smooth graphics and a good soundtrack rounds out an overall excellent package. It’s a fantastic achievement considering it was developed in a few months and it laid a foundation for the amazing spiritual successor: Killing Time.