Monday, December 5, 2016

Mayhem Mansion (MAYHEMM*.PK3)

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

Mayhem Mansion had its first release back in 2013 as a single level drawing inspiration from the notorious and obscure FPS, Exploding Lips. The saga is complete in 2016 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 has a grand total of eight levels for ZDoom, the last two being the end 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 doubt whether 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 each factoid wrestled from the grounds of child-like imagination only raises more questions. Once you leave the estate you'll be able to investigate its surroundings including the adjacent city and its sewers; the dungeon beneath; the nearby volcanic island chain; a secret factory also located on said archipelago; 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 to trip me up was that I was still set on Doom (strict) my first game and Boom (strict) my second, which caused infinitely tall actors to mess 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 experience it again, though, then 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. The designer of Exploding Lips used such a feature to dispatch all sorts of wonderful information. Doors are almost always opening, usually as a result of grabbing an item. 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 that it'll raise up a ledge in order for you to jump through the hoop.

These scenarios only increase in complexity and strangeness as you proceed. The concept of teleporting bananas isn't a joke, it's a crucial piece of information and you will use it 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. The layout of the final normal level is 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 then dar is usually good about putting you in the general area.

Mayhem Mansion has monsters. There are weird, crawly biting things, static-shooting television screens, eyeball-lobbing desk lamps, the aforementioned lips, powdered toast men, angry books, wizard toys, Billycopters, vampire bats, floating ocular orbs, trolls, anvil-chucking chiroptera, and cacodemon lips that also spit explosives. The expanded edition adds even more weirdness including lightning lemons, Billytanks, tentacular shadow crawlers, enemy toasters, 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 are vulnerable to particular weapons, 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 one 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.

The weapon system has been sort of overhauled. While you're still limited to four slots each one contains two weapons and all have at least a single 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 launch a tight spread of explosives and it's usually a long time before you acquire spellcasting. The magic system has been completely retooled. Its original incarnation was a powerful piercing projectile; you could spam it quickly and plow through monsters. Now, the original spell is nowhere to be found except perhaps as the scepter, which has a significantly slower attack rate. The new abracadabra's alternate selects one of three different spells. You'll need to know when to use each one 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 you're probably better off using the original for the sake of efficiency. Its slot buddy is the rifle. Its rapid rate is great for stunlocking but again pales in comparison to the damage per bullet of the musket's normal attack. The alt-rifle fires faster but includes a zoom scope. The scepter's secondary deploys a Tesla mine sort of thing but it isn't good for much apart from 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 "shoot" 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 them in chests, which may contain other goodies like healing potions and donnable defense. Coins can be used to buy flasks, armor, ammo, and usable items. The one you might use the most may be a yellow super health potion but your other options include a golden toilet that turns enemies into harmless objects and a landmine with legs. The latter cavorts around and fires explosive grenades. There's even a tiki totem, which is 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 be 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. 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 the Zelda or Metroid-ish elements. You explore the mansion, solve puzzles by grabbing them and taking them to other places, and open up different sections. There are a few truly spooky segments, 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 map.

My original criticism of MAYHEMM was that it wasn't very nuanced but as a result the single-level trappings worked to its advantage. 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 subsequent to finishing Eternal Doom III but adding in scripts and horrendous ammo sponge bosses. Level 6 truly IS the "Nightmare Mansion" so I hope you've got what it takes to bear it out. I'd pass on those golden skulls, though.

This Exploding escapade remains more "janky early 90s adventure game" than "weirdo 90s FPS" but I appreciate the 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 then you should 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 the mod'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, battling spectral televisions, and collecting the kings. Entering the city portion is a great major milestone. When things are as strange as 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. 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 (a callback to the opening of Exploding Lips, featuring a boss fight against a hideous fly beast), 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. One road, for instance, suddenly positions itself at a vertical right angle to hinder your movement.

The DungeonDUNG
If you hadn't figured out the alt-fires of your weapons 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 by using 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 arc of his spreading hand wave technique keeps you from just circle-strafing to victory.

ISLEIsle of the Volcano
This level takes a nice turn toward exterior environments. Being stuck with the sword and board for about 1/4 of the level is a bit of a pain. The Isle is massive and contains a cavern complex, an underground town, a pirate-plundered ruins built into the side of a volcano, and the titular pyroclastic precipice, which contains the enigmatic Mother. The last is the worst section as it's swaddled in the damage-floor ether and involves at least one big hint payoff with the banana teleporter that will otherwise drive you insane. The boss isn't nasty in and of itself unless you find yourself getting strafed by the 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, the facility appears to be a much more concise level. 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 involves 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'd be annihilated.

EVILNightmare Mansion
It sort of looks like the original manor 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 an airborne channel of water;  you must swim through it like a bridge of flight. 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 then 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 on two separate occasions. This leaves you to master the magic of Mayhem, those Zelda-esque red lazer balls, except they are being constantly generated around your general vicinity and follows you until you pick up a certain artifact. It's quite the confounding factor and 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 combined hit point total feels so freakin' huge. I had some sort of exploit rolling with the lower doctors trying to kill my golden mercenary but even just standing there and plinking away seemed to take forever and that's after blowing my full Billycopter morph. I can't imagine what a "normal" fight would look like.

Fun times in the proto-mansion. You can even get a 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