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Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (DOS)

82
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.8
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  *Katakis* (37691)
Written on  :  Oct 22, 2004
Platform  :  DOS
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

Look behind you, a two-headed squirrel!

The Good

Zak is a newspaper journalist who works for the daily tabloid, The National Inquisitor. His boss asks him to write up two articles: one about campers being attacked by a two-headed squirrel, and the other about an UFO sighting that happened on Mt. Rainier 50 years ago. That night, Zak has a dream involving a girl, a map, and a machine. Back in his apartment, Zak agrees to draw the map from his dreams and finds out that some aliens known as the Caponians have beamed down to Earth to transmit 60-cycle hums through the phone lines, capable of reducing people's intelligence. Later on he finds out that he must build the same machine from his dreams, with the help from three other people, which will stop the Caponian's plans from going ahead.

Zak McKracken uses the same SCUMM interface seen in Maniac Mansion, so anyone who has already played that game is already familiar with it. The game can be played with the joystick, keyboard, or mouse; but I prefer to use the mouse since it is so much easier to control Zak. It is the second game that allows you to switch between three other characters throughout the game. Teamwork is essential, and death for one of them means that you'll get nowhere.

Maniac Mansion has the player exploring a limited environment, but this is not the case wth Zak. You may begin the game in San Francisco, but as soon as you have the opportunity to switch between three girls, you'll spend most of your time traveling to places like Seattle, London, Kathmandu, Cairo, Lima, Kinshasa, Bermuda Triangle. (You even get to explore the Caponian spaceship where you meet The King himself!), and Mars itself. It is also a nice touch to take control of other things and decide when it performs an action.

Now traveling outside the United States require you to input the code listed on a certain page in the manual. Normally, entering the wrong code in most games would cause them to exit to DOS. However, Lucasfilm has a knack of punishing people instead, more likely resulting in the ending of the current game. This already happened in Maniac Mansion when said mansion suffered a meltdown. Here, the player just gets thrown inside a Nepalese jail while you get to sit and hear a lecture about piracy, with no chance of escape.

Zak is often known for bringing humor to adventure games. You can almost do anything in this game and Zak will more often than not say something funny. There are two things in the game that made me laugh. One is when you use the broom alien twice, it will wake up and complain about the hard work. But the highlight is getting captured by the Caponians and placed inside a cage. Then you get to watch the commands disappear one by one, and you never see them again until you're released.

The game had about three releases. I still own the PC version with the enhanced graphics, which is much more colorful than a previous version released for the C64 and PC. I have yet to play the FM-Towns version, which has 256-color art as well as a digital soundtrack. It's a real shame that the 256-color version wasn't made available on PC.

Since Lucasfilm released Zak in 1988, and sound cards were not invented then, all of the game's sound comes through PC Speaker. However, the theme music is well composed and I enjoyed the background music when you arrive at the airport and explore the tribal village.

The Bad

There are too many mazes in the game. It was fairly easy to go around in circles and keep going back to the same location.

Also, when you get to a certain point in the game and you realize that you made a mistake, you just can't go back and rectify it. For instance, you have to get everyone on board a tram that takes you to a different section on Mars by feeding a coin into a machine, but if you happen to forgot someone, you can't go back and get them as the coin slot on the machine on the other end has been ripped out. For situations like these, you have no choice but to restore a previously saved game.

Speaking of saved games, the game can be saved but only in a numbered slot, meaning that you can't give meaningful descriptions.

The Bottom Line

Zak has all the aspects that were found in Maniac Mansion: multiple characters and a good amount of humor. As I mentioned earlier, three versions were released, with the enhanced version much more common. The ability to go around the world is neat, since you are not restricted to exploring one, bigger environment such as a mansion. Although the sound is through the PC speaker, most of the music in the game, as well as the sound effects, is excellent and beats the sound in other games around its time any day. So in conclusion, any adventure fan who loves a mix of exploration and comedy should get a copy of this game.