Like Alice in Wonderland, you are a child jumping into a magical world filled with fantastical places and peculiar characters. The world can be navigated screen by screen, by clicking the mouse where you want to go. Many objects on each screen can be clicked to find hidden animations and sounds. Exploring the completely open world, you can listen to and have educational conversations with Mr. Rabbit, Mr. Dragon, and others.
The Manhole is aimed at children, and focuses on exploration and experimentation. There is no progress to be made, no goal to be reached, and the player can not fail. The entire world is accessible from the start.
The original Macintosh version consists of six black-and-white stacks for the Macintosh's HyperCard software. Ports to other systems added color graphics. Also, the Macintosh floppy and CD versions are the same except for the cd version adding audio enhancements like voice-overs for the dialogue. This enhancement should not be confused with the remake of this game titled The Manhole: CD-ROM Masterpiece Edition.
The Manhole was the first computer game to appear on the CD-ROM format. It was also the first game made by Rand and Robyn Miller, who would later become famous as the co-creators of Myst.
References to the Game
At the end of the fourth episode in the anime about otaku lifestyle Genshiken (1st season, 2004), when Saki asks her boyfriend Kousaka "What was your first time like?", he misunderstands the question and, being an otaku, starts naming the first anime series and games he tried. Among the games he first played, Manhole is briefly mentioned, alongside Ultima (without specifying which one) and Life & Death. Usually however, both in the anime and the original manga, all the titles of popular entertainment products are altered to avoid copyright problems (e.g. The Chanp of Fighters 95 instead of The King of Fighters '95, Berserker instead of the popular manga Berserk). Other notable exceptions to this are the Puyo Puyo and Guilty Gear game series.