Monday, December 5, 2016

Mayhem Mansion (MAYHEMM*.PK3)

(This review is an expansion and edit of my review for the original, single-level release of Mayhem Mansion. The original is still available here.)

Mayhem Mansion had an original release back in 2013, a single level drawing inspiration from the notorious and obscure FPS, Exploding Lips. In 2016, the saga of Mayhem is complete, and while it's still full of magical-thinking moon-logic, I feel like I have a sense of closure. The final iteration of Mayhem Mansion has a grand total of eight levels for ZDoom, the last two being the final boss and credits maps. It's got enough puzzling and exploration to make for a full megaWAD's worth of time, though. If you are looking for something that plays like Doom, well, you should probably just look elsewhere. This is a fantastically different experience.

I still don't think that MAYHEMM has any sort of a plot. You start out in a weird mansion, and every now and then you'll hear about head cheese Mayhem, but every factoid wrestled from the grounds of child-like imagination only raise more questions. Once you leave the mansion you'll be able to investigate its surroundings, including the nearby city and its sewers; the dungeon beneath; the nearby volcanic island chain; a secret factory also located on said island; and in grand Castlevania fashion the TRUE mansion. Well, it isn't upside-down, but even if it had been, it wouldn't have surprised me.

To reiterate some of the points of my initial review... dar has hidden several of the ZDoom option menus, so if your compatibility settings are on anything other than DEFAULT, make sure you change them before loading or figure out the command to set them yourself. The big thing that tripped me up was that I was still set on Doom (strict) my first game and Boom (strict) my second, which meant that infinitely tall actors was messing me up with both the ceiling decorations and monsters under platforms. There are also several difficulty settings, one of which is hidden. Only masochists should play on Hard and, later on, Normal. If you really love Mayhem Mansion enough to play it again, though, you might as well switch it up.

Exploding Lips has its own dream-logic, which dar tries to emulate at points. The audience cheers whenever you grab puzzle collectibles and you pick up everything from chess pieces to letters of the Greek alphabet to various diamonds and lamps. I'm not sure if it's possible to emulate weirder behavior, like getting messages from using / shooting walls, which the designer of Exploding Lips used to dispatch all sorts of wonderful information. Doors are almost always opening, usually because you grabbed something. Sometimes it's because you used it instead. And, maybe, the way to get through some weird floating portal in the foyer is to give the cat a present so it'll raise up a ledge so that you can jump through the hoop.

These scenarios only increase in complexity and strangeness as you proceed. The idea that bananas can teleport isn't a joke, it's a crucial piece of information that is used to complete one puzzle and circumvent at least one ambush. Quicksand is lethal, but you can freeze large patches of it using one of your spells for a great progression mechanic. In the final normal level, the layout becomes so gargantuan that remembering where one particular thing was and even getting there becomes a challenge what with all the sawtooths and teleporters. Of course, the author is almost always quick to provide a shortcut or some sort of highlight to guide you in the right direction. If you have to backtrack, dar is pretty good about putting you in the general area.

Mayhem Mansion has monsters. There are weird crawling things that bite you, television screens that shoot static, desk lamps that shoot eyeballs, the aforementioned lips, powdered toast men, angry books, wizard toys, Billycopters, vampire bats, floating eyeballs, trolls, anvil bats, and cacodemon lips that also spit explosives. The expanded edition adds even more weirdness, including lightning lemons, Billytanks, tentacular shadow crawlers, enemy toasters, super turrets, skeletons (both robed and dis-), super-lips, heavy lourdes, brainhanders, enormous slithering eyes, saucy vegetable women, wallmasters, game and watch shadows, sonic the flower, cackling -noclipping shadow creatures, and umbrella monopod magicians... to name a few. Many of these monsters have a weakness, whose ammo they drop. Protip: your knife isn't a weakness. (More info at the Logic Obscure wiki.) Each of the levels has a boss monster, too. In truDoom fashion, the first boss shows up as a miniboss-sort in the later maps, but you won't see the others again... unless you go trolling for the final mega-secret. I'll warn you, too, just so you can't say that I didn't warn you.

The weapon system has been sort of overhauled. While you still have four slots, each slot contains two weapons, and each weapon has an alt-fire. Don't forget about that last detail or you may get stuck in the beginning of the third level, trying to figure out how to hit the target on the wall. The alt-fires are pretty critical; the crossbow's uses magic ammo to fire a tight spread of explosives, and it's usually a long time before you acquire magic. The magic system has been completely retooled. Its original incarnation was a powerful piercing projectile that could be quickly spammed and plowed through monsters. Now, the original spell is nowhere to be found except perhaps as the significantly slower rate of fire scepter. Instead, alt-fire selects one of three different spells. You'll need to know when to use all three in order to complete the mansion...

The musket was the original game's workhorse, and it's still pretty potent. Its alt-fire consumes more ammo for a powerful punch that's nice for skirmishing but I think that you're still better off using the original for ammo efficiency. Its slot buddy is the rifle, which is great for rapid-fire stunlocking but again pales in comparison to the damage per ammo efficiency of the musket's normal fire. The alt-rifle fires faster but includes a zoom scope. The scepter's alt-fire deploys a Tesla mine sort of thing that isn't good but for stunlocking. The first slot's alternate weapon is the same bomb you've been using to blow up those paneled barriers, again adding to the sort of Metroidvania feel. Its alt-fire is a little more nuanced; you have to alt-fire again to drop a trapped bomb or it'll explode in your hands. Your magic alternative combines ammo types to provide new super-spells, but it's secret-ish. However, you CAN use it to rain Monty Python feet on your oppressors.

Some of your foes will drop coins; killing them with the melee alt-fire pretty much guarantees one. You'll also find coins in chests, which may also contain other goodies like health potions and essential armor. Coins can be used to buy health, armor, ammo, and usable items. The one you might use the most may be a yellow super health potion, but you can also get a golden toilet that turns enemies into harmless objects or a landmine with legs that fires explosive grenades. There's even a tiki totem that's great for distracting the attention of your foes, including bosses. The shops are spread out everywhere so you're never too far from a health bump, which you'll almost always bee in need of. Armor behaves similarly to Doom, but comes in 15 and 40 point increments. It's also very handy to have. You'll encounter a rare currency in the later levels that starts out being the main hook for the factory, allowing you to purchase weapons, but it's also tradeable for the powerful uber-warrior summon or the Billycopter morph, which infuses you with the power overwhelming.

Mayhem Mansion kind of captures the weirdness of its inspiration. Honestly, I wouldn't have minded the grim opening, but dar wants to thrust you straight into the action, it seems. Granted, he does end up using this strange section as a major portion of the City. It also loses a bit from not being able to shoot at walls and things for random messages, but I don't know how you could even approximate that in ZDoom. Really, to me this total conversion feels like a takeoff of Ken's Labyrinth or some weird ass 90s adventure game, which it kind of is, barring the FPS trappings and some elements that seem more descended from Zelda or Metroid. You explore the mansion, solve puzzles by grabbing them and taking them to other places, and open up different sections. I will say that there are a few truly spooky sections, like in the original mansion when the lights go out and you're treated to spectral televisions and skullcrabs, or the cavernous sewer piping of the second level.

My original criticisms of MAYHEMM was that it wasn't very nuanced, so that it was good that the action was confined to a single level. Adding alt-fires and secondary weapons and developing the pickups goes a long way toward making things more... interesting, especially when they're dovetailed in with the new puzzles and problem-solving. The switch-ups that made the first level compelling are dribbled out over the rest of the environments. After making the run, though, I'm mayhem'd out, the same sort of exhaustion I had after finishing Eternal Doom III but adding in scripts and bosses with enormous health pools. Level 6 truly IS the "Nightmare Mansion", mayhem squared, so I hope you've got what it takes to bear it out. I'd pass on those golden skulls, though.

Mayhem Mansion remains more "janky early 90s adventure game" than "weirdo 90s FPS" but I appreciate the more robust weapon selection and action-RPG "weapons as tools" elements. I had a good time with it, and if this description appeals to you at all, go ahead and give it a shot. You could certainly do a lot worse.

by "darsycho"

The MansionMAYHEM
The opening level does a pretty good job of getting you situated to Mayhem Mansion's moon logic; it's got a bunch of crazy pickups and routes and gradually introduces you to all the monster and weapon types. The most memorable section to me involves backtracking through the mansion with dimmed lights while eyeballing all those creepy skullcrabs and battling spectral televisions and collecting the kings. Entering the city portion is a great major milestone; with strangeness like this, you'll either be completely bemused or chomping at the bit to see what happens next.

CITYThe City
Pretty grueling, even on NORMAL, thanks to the genesis of wonders like the toaster. Part of this is probably because the rifle makes its debut, but it trades speed and precision for damage, making the musket quite superior for any situation where you want to conserve ammo. And you will. Amid all the weird fake-outs, "City" has cool gimmicks like the spooky sewer area featuring a boss fight with a hideous fly beast that calls back to the opening of Exploding Lips, the outdoor shootout with the giant blue leader lips (also I think borrowing from EL), and wandering NPCs that offer some tidbits of info. It isn't quite as big on moon-logic as the mansion, but you still get token weirdness with the suddenly rising road.

The DungeonDUNG
If you hadn't figured out that your weapons have alt-fires, you will by the end of this one! "Dungeon" is an earthy level with some tricky navigation and a bit of Metroidvania flavor since the two main obstacles, lava and quicksand, are negated through a pickup and a weapon. I especially like freezing patches of sand with the ice anvil magic. Bombs are finally made a weapon, too, so that's even more Samus Mansion. The prisoner gimmick is cute (but it broke my game because I went exploring elsewhere instead of right under my nose) and the gimmicks like the moving spike wall and the big battle near the end were pretty cool. The boss fight had me crying mummy, but I eventually figured out that the spread of his spreading hand wave technique keeps you from just circle-strafing to victory.

ISLEIsle of the Volcano
"Volcano" takes a nice turn toward exterior environments. The first problem is that you're stuck with the sword and board for about 1/4 of the level. The second isn't so much a problem as the fact that the Isle is massive, containing a cavern complex, an underground town, a pirate-plundered ruins built into the side of a volcano, and the volcano itself, containing the enigmatic Mother. The last is the worst section, swaddled in the damage-floor ether and involving at least one big hint payoff with the banana teleporter that will otherwise drive you insane. The boss isn't nasty for itself, unless you find yourself getting swept with that wide-angle toxic grenade spam. I'd be more concerned about crawling through all the damage floor tunnels and one wizard ambush / trap with biting walls...

Secret FactoryFACT
On the surface, "Factory" appears to be a much more concise level, and while that's mostly true, it's got one complete motherfucker of an area lurking within the frozen produce. The pulsing haze, lethal water, and chin monsters belching forth the winds of Cocytus, plus the fan room, make for a frustrating and treacherous experience. I'm less peeved by all the goofy stuff going on with the cavernous conveyor belt chambers, making for interesting bits of verticality. The more scripted encounters, like the one before the northern atrium that sends periodic shadows while you fend off other threats, are actually pretty cool and feel as though Mayhem's quirky roster is being put toward a more purposeful end. The walking fortress boss, however, is an exercise in patience, the only viable strategy involving humping one of the green goo tanks as the two of you trade shots. You can't afford to be caught out in the open in the mid to late stages of the fight; you'll be annihilated.

EVILNightmare Mansion
On its face, it sort of looks like the original mansion, but things are not always as they seem. "Nightmare" is a harrowing, enormous, labyrinthine journey that will test everything, including your patience. It would take an entire article to encapsulate all of the craziness going on, but I'll point out a few of my favorite moments. I liked the bit with the airborne channel of water that you have to swim through like a bridge of flight and the auditorium's quest where you have to get rid of the fake dancers is quite a refreshing moment compared to the usual "sneak up behind a ferocious bag of sugar" stuff. The hearts encased in forcefields is a great instance of lateral thinking, as is that teleporter of death moment in the enormous factory area. The mega-secret involves deliberately hunting down Hellish boss arenas in search of Golden Skulls. If you thought fighting Mayhem's top lieutenants was a pain in the ass, just try taking on more than one at a time. Completely exhausting and absolutely flummoxing... but, for the most part, worth it.

The big showdown. The thematic bent of the level is unusually precise. You'll come to grips with the madman, but he pulls a Dr. Gold and disappears twice, leaving you to contend with the magic of Mayhem, those Zelda-esque red lazer balls, except this one is being constantly generated around your general vicinity and follows you until you pick up a certain artifact. It's quite the confounding factor, something that will definitely fuck you up. The big showdown involves multiple Mayhems. I think that they all share the same health pool, so it's probably one of the nastiest fights in the entire game since the health pool is so freakin' huge. I had some sort of exploit rolling with the lower doctors trying to take out my golden mercenary but even just standing there and plinking away seemed to take forever, even when blowing my full Billycopter morph. I can't imagine what a "normal" fight would look like.

Fun times in the proto-mansion, where you can even look at the boss monsters without getting trounced.



  1. Always loved this weirdo wad, although I haven't tried the latest version yet. I remember actually wanting to get Exploding Lips as a kid 'cos I didn't know any better.

    Incidentally, be careful with your youtube search for Exploding Lips. Some of the results are pretty gross.

    1. the expanded version is definitely worth it, though I still enjoy the original, stripped-down adventure.

  2. Literally the most "wtd did I just play WAD"

  3. Anyone having trouble getting the keyboard movement to work? It works on regular Doom II, so it isn't on my end...

    1. I have never had a problem getting keyboard movements to work, but the most recent edition might have some incompatibilities with older versions of zdoom? maybe? or perhaps you may have to rebind keys if Mayhem Mansion treats its keybinds as a brand new config. those are the only suggestions i have