Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

aka: Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders
Moby ID: 305
Amiga Specs
Buy on Windows
$5.99 new on Steam

Description official descriptions

Zak McKracken is a tabloid reporter (and not a very good one at that). After having a psychedelic dream one day, Zak realizes that something is wrong -- space aliens are dumbifying the general public through the telephone system. Zak must stop this, but he can't do it alone. After finding a strange crystal, Zak manages to get the help of the anthropologist Annie and her friends, Melissa and Leslie. The four unlikely heroes must now figure out a way to destroy the dumbifying devices and save the Earth.

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is a third-person puzzle-solving adventure similar in gameplay to Maniac Mansion. The player chooses verb commands (Open, Pick Up, Give, etc.; there are no Look or Talk commands) to interact with the game world. The game features up to four controllable protagonists; it is possible to switch between them at any time after they have been introduced, and also exchange inventory items if the characters are in the same location. The game can be described as a "globe-trotting" adventure, since the heroes are required to travel to different exotic countries and even leave the Earth for a while in order to complete it. Some of the puzzles are optional or can be solved in different ways.

The FM Towns version has VGA graphics with 256 colors and higher-quality music and sound effects.

GOG release comes with two versions of the game that install simultaneously. One is FM Towns version with updated graphics, while the other is marked as Floppy version which is the old DOS version of a game.

Spellings

  • Zak McKracken and the Alien Mind Benders - Alternate spelling
  • ザックマックラッケン - Japanese spelling

Groups +

Screenshots

Promos

Credits (Amiga version)

28 People (27 developers, 1 thanks) · View all

Created and Designed by
Scripted and Programmed by
"SCUMM" Story System by
Background Art by
Character Animation by
Sound Effect by
Original Music by
Amiga Version By
Creative and Technical Support by
Project Directed by
Lucasfilm Games General Manager
Production Management
Marketing Management
[ full credits ]

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 82% (based on 37 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.9 out of 5 (based on 181 ratings with 10 reviews)

A truly great game. Very well done.

The Good
The story was hilarious. This game will make you laugh -- guaranteed.

The adventure part is well done, too. It is somewhat like a RPG, in the sense that it is a bit non-linear and that there are multiple solutions or workarounds to puzzles (i.e. you can either pay your phone bill or use the computer to fix it).

The Bad
If you're not careful, you can get yourself into an unwinable state. And you'd never know, because you can keep on playing forever. So save your game!

The Bottom Line
Under-rated and almost totally forgotten, but I guarantee you'll like it.

DOS · by Mirrorshades2k (274) · 2000

Ahead of its time.. or not

The Good
First impression for me was that, wow, this adventure is quite sophisticated. Seems like it's ahead of its time. You can freely switch between protagonists, you must take care of your financial resources when travelling to not end up in dead-end. But it's not overly-difficult, puzzles are hard but not insane, all of them have some rationale. Then I realized, no, it's not ahead of its time, it's that just adventures later became more flat (for the sake of targeting broader audience).

This difficulty is also main good point for me. The game is more deeper and more sophisticated than later adventure hits. To the point it's refreshing. And it's not frustrating (like e.g. KQ3) with repetitiveness. Really good adventure cocktail. It's worth to play, even if you end-up looking to walkthrough here and there as there are not much similar adventure experiences.

The Bad
Really not much, can't think of anything worth mentioning. Maybe pyramid mazes were bit repetitive but it was still ok. Compared to all adventures released prior to this game (90% were Sierra), this is clean winner for me. Only tiny tiny bad point is that yes, I ended up also looking to walkthrough at few points in the game (and I consider myself quite seasoned adventure player). Difficulty was quite high, but it was standard in those times, and I reckon, game is worth playing still, even with occasional peek to walkthrough.

The Bottom Line
Very important game in its genre. GK/DOTT level of importance. If there's some adventure player who not played it yet, I recommend it. It's easy to purchase and run it out of the box, there's also FM Towns version (with better gfx and sounds) of the game on one great game distribution platform ( which I'm not going to name ;) ). Go and get it.

DOS · by Vladimir Dienes · 2024

Let's discover ancient artifacts!

The Good
First and most, this is a freaking Lucasfilm (later LucasArts) adventure game, with all its complexities. For that, it's a small wonder it could get made on the humble old Commodore 64 at all.

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is Lucasfilm's second point & click adventure game released after Maniac Mansion. Story wise it's not a sequel, but there are many similarities and even references to it. The main similarity is that both use the SCUMM engine and interface, but the list of action verbs has changed. Beside that, shortcut keys were introduced, to help out the fiddly joystick cursor. The dialog output field is now two rows tall, thus conversations are easier to read (too bad talking only happens at the occasional scripted event in this game, as the interactive dialog tree was not invented yet).

The audio-visuals... I have to say, this is one of the worst looking best games ever, haha! As for me seeing the enhanced DOS version first, the C64 version was ridiculously ugly afterwards. Maniac Mansion was more stylized, with the characters having big heads, that went better with the "Lego brick" graphics of the C64. Here, the developers wanted to do more, and they just barely could make it to work. But it IS functional, so I don't mind it! All that, paired with those ridiculously awesome, more-powerful-than-necessary sound effects happening for every little mundane task, it adds up as a surreal experience. When the game starts and the intro cutscene plays, and get I hit by this brick of a graphics, then an excessive rendition of the intro theme starts to play on top of it, it gives me such a weird feeling that is unlike anything else.

Speaking of the intro, Zack McKracken has one of the most memorable game intro cutscenes ever!

Hmm, lets say something about the rest of the game quickly.

-There is the whole World to travel, famous landmarks to visit, many ancient mysteries to solve. (At least in the technological constraints of the system and era. But hey, Maniac Mansion was confined to a single house, so it's quite an expansion of scope!)

-Aside from Zak, there are three other playable characters (after reaching a certain point). Some complex puzzles require the orchestrated cooperation of multiple characters trough multiple remote locations or planets.

-Zak gains supernatural powers as you collect the artifacts.

-Travelling to Mars never has been cozier.

-It is very forgiving about the mistakes you make. Even if you get caught by aliens, the punishment in the brain washing chamber has just temporary effects. (Granted, not as failsafe as the later ones, but definitely better comapred to Sierra adventures.)

-It almost rivals Monkey Island in how many memorable gags it has.

The Bad
Technical wise:

-Lots of loading from the slowly Commodore floppy drive, and lots of disk swapping to be done too.

-For being a point & click interface, on an Atari-style joystick, it can be tiring on the long run. There is no support for mice in the Commodore version (neither the Neos nor the 1351). (There are the keyboard shortcuts though.)

Engine wise:

-As an early SCUMM engine game, the interface still has some jankyness to it. Instead of the expected features from the later games, there are many redundant verbs, while there is no "Look at", no "Talk to".

-There is manual "What is" exploration, as the cursor doesn't highlight interactable objects in the playfield to you.

-You have to construct the command sentence first, then have to do another click on the command line to confirm and make it happen.

-The inventory items have no pictures. Just the item names in a short text, that are often vague. The inventory list has been shrunk to just two visible lines (as a side effect of the increased dialog field).

Gameplay wise:

-It's probably the hardest LucasArts adventure, many difficult puzzles (it was designed to sell hintbooks after all).

-It definitely does not hold your hand. Most of the world is accessible from the get-go and it's easy to get overwhelmed at first. There are no chapters and not many clearly explained goals.

-There are still some possible dead end situation, or even the characters dying (granted, these only happen if you are excessively careless, but I mention).

-Lots of awkward sideview mazes to keep track in, some even in the dark (spells a cheap way of padding to me).

-The extra unnecessary jungle mazes. They're not even puzzles, you just have to wander aimlessly until the program decides you have arrived to your destination.

The Bottom Line
Oh LucasArts, where are you now... Back in the 80's, Lucasfilm/LucasArts was at the top of their game. It wasn't just all about riding the Star Wars success, at the time they really rocked the world! First, they did magic to the movie industry. And if that wasn't enough, they got into the fledling gaming industry and treated it just as good. It wasn't about doing the obvious movie tie-ins, instead they did a lot of innovation with original concepts: simulators with fractal generated terrain (e.g. Rescue on Fractalus), a proto first-person-shooter (Eidolon), the first graphical online MMO (Habitat), also re-shaped how graphical adventures are played and told their story (Maniac Mansion). Then LucasArts made a lot of adventure games, that were cherished for their smart writing/humor/and puzzles, the overall charm and quality of them. Until everything got to be Star Wars.

So, I have encountered the DOS version of Zack McKracken first, which is the better version. But I write this review about the Commodore 64 version, because that's more impressive one. Let me explain. Back in the mid 2000s, when I have discovered the old adventure games and got into the genre. "There is a Commodore 64 version? How could it possibly even work on that garbage?" Up until that point I only knew primitive little arcade games on this system, as the one C64 I have seen/played at my classmate's only had a datasette. So this game and Maniac Mansion were something on a new level, and it reignited my interest in the C64, wanted to see more, what else it is capable of. Since then, I did play both games on the real thing.

Commodore 64 · by 1xWertzui (1135) · 2024

[ View all 10 player reviews ]

Discussion

Subject By Date
US version VS UK Version Edwin Drost (9719) Mar 10, 2017
A new Zak McKracken Remake Project Joey DiPerla Mar 3, 2008

Trivia

1001 Video Games

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders appears in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by General Editor Tony Mott.

Copy protection

All versions of Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, except for the FM Towns release, require the player to enter copy protection codes when leaving the USA, but not when re-entering it or when at an airport in another country. After entering five incorrect entries in a row, Zak is put into Pirate Jail and the game is automatically over. The codes were printed on dark red paper in order to make it harder to copy them.

Concept and inspirations

David Fox wanted the game to have a "New Age" concepts like spirituality, Karma, alien history and he spent a few days brainstorming with a spiritual author - David Spangler. They came up with a list of every thing that might fit into the game and tried to get it all in, including the Face on Mars, Mt. Ranier, Mayan ruins. Names of the female characters came from designer's wives and girlfriends while Zak's name was taken from the Seattle's phone book. "No, there wasn't a Zak McKraken listed - we just pulled a first and last name that worked." - said David Fox in the interview for Retro Gamer 27.

The game took only nine months to complete from initial design to the final version.

Fangames

The first fan project to enter development was "Zak McKracken 2", later renamed Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars, which was started in 1996. Because a lot of people joined and left the team over the course of its development, the game progressed slowly, to the point where it disappeared completely in 2001. In 2005 it was re-announced as a new project, being re-developed from scratch. The project was eventually cancelled in 2008, however, as the developers felt that Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space, a fangame that had been released in the meantime, was good enough to warrant abandoning their own project. One of the game's official websites has been archived, allowing players to download the project's original German tech-demo, however their other, zak2.de, was lost due to the use of a robots.txt file, which actively prevented its archival. The New Adventures of Zak McKracken is an Adventure Game Studio remake developed by LucasFan Games.

Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space was started in 2001 by fans who thought that the Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars project detailed above was dead. It was ultimately released in 2008

Zak Mckracken and the Lonely Sea Monster, an Adventure Game Studio remake was first announced for a July 2007 release, however it was subsequently delayed until 2008. After several years the project was confirmed to be abandoned in 2010. As of December of 2012, however, the original developer has resumed development.

Platform differences

The game was made with three different styles of graphics: the Commodore 64 multicolor style (low resolution using 256 characters and 16 colors), the higher resolution 16 color version that uses bitmaps and finally the 256 color version (same style as Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure) which seems to have only been released in Japan on the Fujitsu FM Towns system.

References

A poster of one of LucasFilm's early games, Rescue on Fractalus!, can be seen in the machine room next to a map of Earth. Like Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, it was also designed by David Fox. In the FM Towns version the Rescue on Fractalus! poster was replaced by a poster for Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure, another game David Fox was involved with alongside Ron Gilbert.

During the scene on Mars, the tune heard when playing the music cassette in the radio is by "Razor and the Scumettes". Razor is one of the original characters in Maniac Mansion, a LucasArts adventure game released the previous year.

There's a can of gasoline to be found on Mars. If the player tries to pick it up the character says it's for a different game. This is a nod to the red herring in Maniac Mansion, where there's a chainsaw in the kitchen but it's out of gas... and there is no gas in that game.

When reading the telephone inside the The Phone Company's office, it will show a four digit telephone number. This number can be called from Zak's house and a sales representative will pick up. He'll think that it is Edna again, a reference to the player calling Edna in Maniac Mansion.

Awards

  • Commodore Format
    • July 1991 (Issue 10) - listed in the A to Z of Classic Games article (Great)
  • Power Play
    • Issue 01/1989 - Best Graphics Adventure in 1988
    • Issue 04/1989 - Game of the Year 1988 (Readers' Vote)
  • ST Format
    • January 1990 (issue #06) - Included in the list 50 Games of the Year
    • January 1991 (issue #18) – #5 Best Adventure Game in 1990 (Atari ST)

Information also contributed by Daniel Albu, Kevin Carnes, MAT, Mirrorshades2k, Scott G, and Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe.

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Related Sites +

  • HighLand Productions
    Contains MIDI versions of themes from some LucasArts games, including Zak McCracken.
  • LucasArts' Secret History
    A multi-article feature about the game by the LucasArts news site, The International House of Mojo. The feature article includes an unscored review, short responses written by members of the site's community, trivia, and a transcription of the original hint book.
  • ScummVM
    Get "Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders", as well as many other adventure games, to run on modern systems by using ScummVM, a legal and free program.
  • The Adventure Games Hall of Fame
    Short review, walkthrough and screenshots.
  • The Zak McKracken Archive
    The world's largest collection of Zak McKracken materials

Identifiers +

  • MobyGames ID: 305
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Contribute

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Olivier Masse.

Amiga added by POMAH. Commodore 64 added by Rebound Boy. Linux, Windows, Macintosh added by click here to win an iPhone9SSSS. FM Towns added by Terok Nor. Atari ST added by Belboz.

Additional contributors: Trixter, MAT, Apogee IV, HeX-Omen, formercontrib, Chris Tolworthy, Zeppin, Cantillon, Lance Boyle, Patrick Bregger, mailmanppa, Jo ST, FatherJack.

Game added October 5, 1999. Last modified March 29, 2024.