SummaryGet your mind bent with the FM Towns version
The GoodBefore I begin to dissect the best version of ZakMcKracken in existence, let us examine the game in general. Despite its relative lack of popularity (at least compared to later LucasArts adventures), there are plenty of things to love and admire in Zak.
First of all, it is a very large game. No other LucasArts or Sierra adventure game of its time came even close to Zak's titanic proportions. The only other true epic LucasArts ever made was Grim Fandango, which was created much later. With its abundance of locations, Zak became one of the first serious globe-trotting adventures with an epic feel of an Indiana Jones, but with much more goofy charm. It had cheesy sci-fi elements, archeology, ancient mysteries, and other cool stuff. After Maniac Mansion with its small word, Zak was a great step forward.
The game world offers much interactivity. Alone Zak's apartment is home for assorted items, puzzles, and some nice touches of realism such as turning lights on and off, listening to the messages on the answering machine, etc. Since you can't die as easily as in Sierra's adventures, exploring plays an important role in the game. There are loads of objects and items to fiddle with, quite a few puzzles that can be solved in different ways and amusing red herrings.
Zak is all about gameplay. It is a hardcore adventure game, more so than later LucasArts works with their highlighted objects and carefully planned, fully non-lethal solutions. You can get stuck in Zak; not often, but it can happen. Puzzles are tough and complex; every nook and cranny in the game world has to be explored; logic-defying, yet challenging and entertaining tasks are what this game is about. You won't be handed convenient dialogue lines to make your way through. This is inventory-based puzzle-solving adventuring at its peak.
There are really a lot of locations in Zak. Not only you get to explore many countries, you actually also travel to a different planet! Most of the locations are fairly small, but considering the year the game was released in, the scope of it is almost majestic. You can also travel to many locations almost since the very beginning of the game, and aren't required to visit different cities and countries in a particular order. This non-linearity and freedom of movement is something many later adventures lacked.
Zak may not be as funny as some of the more cherished LucasArts works, but it's still quite amusing in its own bizarre way. Barely using any dialogue, they managed to produce comedic effects and general goofy atmosphere with sparks of craziness here and there. Subtle, non-intrusive humorous scenes (such as a loaf of bread so stale that it cracks the pavement) prevail. And a story which involves yaks, gurus, Egyptian sphinxes, and going to Mars on a van cannot possibly be that bad after all.
Now we come to the FM-Towns version. Let me tell you right away that it is by far the best version of the game, something like an "ultimate edition" bordering on a remake. The reasons? Three of them, in fact. First, the 256-color graphics are gorgeous. If you thought the EGA version looked good, you'll be blown away by this one. The graphics are completely faithful to the original, yet are more detailed and breathe life into all those exotic locations. Second, the extremely annoying copy protection has been completely removed. That's right, no more stupid code-inputting when all you want to do is take a plane! And finally, the irritating mazes have been made simpler and easier to navigate.
Basically, they removed or at least reduced the game's biggest flaws, and made it look prettier. If this doesn't scream "definitive version", then I don't know what does. Oh, and fear not: it's completely in English, with the addition of a Japanese version that has big-eyed anime-like characters. I'm not joking.
The BadZak can get very difficult. When you are only in charge of the titular hero, the whole inventory-stuffing, objects-poking aspect is still interesting, and fumbling with all kinds of useless stuff you possess is amusing. However, when you start controlling three other characters and are free to visit many locations, the game gets really confusing. Zak is much less "streamlined" than LucasArts' later games. It is rarely obvious which goal you should be working towards, and the non-linearity takes its toll by letting you wander aimlessly until you finally get it right.
The game's humor is milder than in Maniac Mansion and most later LucasArts adventures. Without the mechanism of branching dialogues (and with very few dialogues in general), the game may seem somewhat dry and even impersonal at times. Much of the story and characterization has to be "filled in" by the player rather than manifest itself in conversations and cutscenes.
The Bottom LineThere is no way around it: if you are a true fan of LucasArts adventures, you can't ignore this astonishing version of one of their seminal games. Get it and savor it before aliens come and force you to distract flight attendants with illegal cooking or reporting strange zoological phenomena all across the globe.