Oh boy. I haven’t played this one since 1995 or so. It…hasn’t aged so well. Escape From Monster Manor came out in 1993 and was apparently one of the first traditional first person shooters to hit consoles, predating even the console versions of Wolfenstein 3D. It actually bears a lot of resemblance to Wolfenstein 3D, but in most of the worst ways, unfortunately.
It looked and sounded amazing in 1993, and I have to give it credit for how good the enemy models and animations were for their time (they look much better in motion), but the sound and music has aged really badly. There’s only about three songs repeated over all twelve levels of the game, and two of them sound an awful lot like one of those old “sounds of Halloween” tapes we used to have when we were kids. It sounds like someone just loaded up a bunch of stock spooky sounds like chains rattling, electricity crackling, and a whole lot of screaming, and just started mashing on the keys randomly while hitting a couple music notes occasionally. It’s like a cheap haunted house, though I suppose it’s fitting for this game.
With the silly sounds, cheesy ghosts, generic spooky castle type levels, and inexplicable laser weapon, it all feels like some kind of weird 80’s ghost laser tag battle. While this atmosphere carries a certain charm to it, it only carries the game so far with all the problems it has. The number one offender is that damn laser gun. Not only is it the only weapon you get for the whole game, but it also only holds twenty shots. This doesn’t seem so bad in the first few levels, but as the levels start getting bigger and tougher, ammo also starts getting rarer and more spread out. You’ll have to be very careful with your shots in later levels and do a lot of annoying backtracking just to grab ammo drops you passed long ago because trying to push ahead with only a few shots left and no idea how many enemies are waiting up ahead is a good way to get killed.
This is not a game you want to get killed in either. While there are multiple lives and the opportunity to gain extras, there’s no real point to them, as the whole level resets on death, and you can save between every level anyway. Levels really, really reset too. You’re not only back to the beginning with all progress lost and all enemies respawned, but even your damn map is cleared too. This can be an absolute nightmare in the later levels, as they become so huge and mazelike that you NEED a map to get by.
You are gonna die though, because this game gets surprisingly tough after the first few levels. Enemies don’t make noise except when they die and with the clunky old console 2.5D shooter controls you can easily get ambushed even if you’re being really careful. These guys hit hard, and wouldn’t you know it, health becomes very rare too.
Level 10 is the ultimate example of all these flaws coming together in the most painful way. This one takes a huge jump in difficulty, dropping you in a massive level with wayyyy too many different directions to choose from. This makes it quite hard to to find the exit as it is, but oh right, I also forgot to mention that you need to find the amulet piece in each level before you can leave, and naturally these tend to be as far away from the exit point as possible. This level suddenly decides to not give you even close to enough ammo to possibly clear the whole thing so how are you supposed to survive when you’re looking for two needles in a deadly haystack that you can’t possibly search all of, especially when your map gets wiped on every death? Well, all you can really do is make your own map so you can keep track of which areas are pointless dead ends until you find the right two. It’s a huge pain in the ass.
Things settle down a bit in the last two levels, but by then I was more annoyed than entertained and was just ready for it to be over. I finished up, all so I could see one of the absolute shittiest endings in the history of video games, and here we are.
Escape From Monster Manor tries very hard, and it even does a few things right, but mostly it’s a clunky, dated mess that overstays its welcome and isn’t much good to anyone but the most obsessed horror fans and/or people like me with an intense specific nostalgic itch for the game. I’ll probably even play it again in another twenty years, even after all this complaining. Oh well!