Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

aka: Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders
Moby ID: 305

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Critic Reviews add missing review

Average score: 83% (based on 15 ratings)

Player Reviews

Average score: 3.9 out of 5 (based on 88 ratings with 6 reviews)

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.

DOS · by Katakis | カタキス (43051) · 2010

The mother of all point-n-click adventures to come.

The Good
When I was around 12 and this game first made a splash on the scene, I pretty much became obsessed with it. It was nothing I've experienced before on my trusty C64: its breadth and atmosphere felt just surreal. I could submerge in it for entire weekends. Granted, I used to progress awfully slowly in adventure games, prone to savour and take in every new location for quite a while.
On a less personal note, this game was the first truly accomplished, epic point-n-click adventure game -- or 'arcade adventure' as we called them back then. It really gave Sierra a run for their money by taking to the next level everything the then-simplistic Quest franchise stood for.
It had heartfelt dialogs, an intricate if goofy plot, plenty of good ideas and in-jokes, loads of locations, and even a catchy theme song. In other words, it was a cut above the Quest series it was designed to challenge.
Significantly, it also directly paved the way for the more sophisticated Monkey Island duo by boldly experimenting with the SCUMM design system.

The Bad
The maze scenes; these were obvious fillers in a game that didn't need filler material.

Also, if you're much older than 12 or 13 -- which I think was my age at the height of my Zak fandom --, you might find the plot and the characters a tad too juvenile.

The Bottom Line
Lucasfilm's adventure department evolved in leaps and bounds after this game, releasing a classic a year, so in retrospect their 1988 effort may not look much.
But as the first Lucasfilm adventure game that requires more than just a casual approach, Zak McKracken's spot is forever secured in the annals as an important release.

DOS · by András Gregorik (59) · 2014

Hard call... Zak is solid in many aspects, and lackluster in many others.

The Good
A much closer view of what is normally regarded nowadays as the "Classic" adventure game than it's predecessor and forefather, Maniac Mansion, Zak McK. is your archetypical semi-linear adventure game with a globe-hopping, epic storyline, multiple characters, light npc interaction, "the-weird-item-that-you-get-at-the-beggining-and-use-only-at-the-end" cliche, and heavy-duty inventory and deduction puzzles. Nothing wrong with that, uh?

As far as plots go, Zak's pretty bizarre, it's far more surreal and humoristically appealing than Maniac Mansion, mostly because of the lack of Ron Gilbert as head honcho (whose sarcastic edge is always recognizable in the games he helms), so it's weird and funny but in far more "mainstream" way than Maniac Mansion. That's not to say that there isn't weirdness to be found here, mind you! As a tabloid journalist whose usual assignments include taking pictures of two-headed squirrels, you find yourself in the way of a world-threathening plot to stupidify the human race with copies of Final Fantasy 8 and Metal Gear Solid!! .... uh, that wasn't it... though it makes sense to me!

Anyway, as Zak and his main love interest Annie, you'll enlist the help of a couple of coeds by the name of Leslie and Melissa who can Commander-Keen their way to Mars with a mini-van (!!??) and somehow try to make heads and tails of a plot so sinister and evil that it could only be crafted by the most phalic-headed aliens of the universe. Very entertaining stuff and quite interesting indeed!

Technically speaking the game takes some major leaps from MM, mainly in the graphic front, with characters far better proportioned, and much more detail and items as well as NPCs to interact with. Most of the improvements come courtesy of the grander scope of the game, but the technology itself is pushed way past the edge seen on Maniac Mansion.

There are also a small amount of non-linear elements included in the game, such as money management and multiple solutions to some puzzles to add some flavor to the game, which makes it far more open-ended than the usual adventures but falls in the pitfalls of making the game unsolvable or incredibly hard to beat at times.

The Bad
As long as we remember this was the first "super-production" of Lucasarts in which the concept of adventuring is moved closer to the accepted ideal of being an epic game, chockful of characters and locations, we can forget some issues. But the fact is that I think Lucas wasn't yet ready for something so big, and it shows in the game. Kind of like a shoe that is just one size too small for your foot, the narrative cohesiveness for a game like this just isn't "there" and you feel quite lost in a game that is pretty hard by itself, with long stretches of seemingly inconnected adventures that never seem to truly aim for the jackpot (or anything for that matter). It takes quite a bit of patience aside from the usual neuronal work associated with adventure games to survive in Zak, and the addition of money-management elements and several dead ends don't help it either.

Furthermore, the code-system sucks. Since it forces you to use it constantly as you travel from location to location, while on MM you only had to open the door to the upper floor once, in here you'll be checking the manual eeeeevery time you want to travel to another destination and believe me, that happens a LOT in this game. More than it's funny, I'm affraid.

In fact so much more than the comedy aspects seem rather dull and forced, and the whole ordeal starts to reek of the "click-on-stuff-until-some-shit-happens" with alarming ease, not just from the difficulty but from the lack of interest you'll soon be experiencing... "Oh yeah, the aliens just brainwashed my character.. ho-hum.. cute. Next!!"

Oh, and before I forget: THE ENDING SUCKS ASS!!!!!!!!!!! Sorry for that, but quite frankly after wrestling with one of the hardest adventure games ever for months, wading through innane Martian mazes, and bashing the monitor in frustration for countless times (I beated this game back in the days Before handy-dandy internet and it's collection of game faqs and tips) all your reward happens to be a text-epilogue that scrolls by as the two leads gaze in idyllic joy!!! F@#K YOU ZAK!!!!! Even Maniac Mansion had a little animated cutscene!!!!! Heck, even SNK fighting games have more rewarding endings!!!

The Bottom Line
Solid adventure game, but on the face of other games (both before and after) Zak has more of an historical signification than actual value. Yeah it's got a good story and lots of killer stuff on it, but there are many pitfalls that detract from it. For hard-boiled adventurers only though... This game means bussines! But then again, I've always been screwy with difficulties. I can breeze past what most people consider challenging and get stuck in the most retarded situations for many games, so you probably shouldn't listen to me there.

DOS · by Zovni (10502) · 2003

Excellent- in its day.

The Good
It's a giant leap from the cozy Maniac Mansion, and therefore gives you a lot of freedom to move around. The graphics are in the same style as MM, though slightly improved. And there's just something magical about being able to control a tabloid reporter.

The Bad
Sadly, there's a lot. LucasFilm Games (now LucasArts) tried too hard to make a game that was bigger and bolder than Maniac Mansion, and they mostly failed. It must have been fun and groundbreaking to travel the world in a game, but in this modern age, it's the flaws that are more noticeable. The game just gives you to much of a load, and is too unrewarding for all your work. It's too complicated, and that gets in the way of the fun. It's also a shame that there was never a sequel, since I would have been anxious to see what a new Zak title, made by a more seasoned LucasArts, would be like.

The Bottom Line
This is the game where LucasArts started to get the rhythm of adventuring, realizing that you can't be stuck in a house for a whole game, and you need to move around outside. They were a bit overzealous when they went for the complete opposite, and made this game take place in locations all over the Earth. It's an interesting play, but don't expect to get very much enjoyment out of it, as it's just too overwhelming and confusing. Noteworthy today only historically, as it was the prototype for all LucasAdventures to come.

DOS · by zoinknoise (80) · 2005

The first (and best) game I ever played. LOVE IT.

The Good
1. Funny 2. Educational (sort of! - see below) 3. Non-violent 4. Great female characters 5. Suitable for slower players as well. My young kids have trouble with games like Monkey Island (because the sword fighting routines require a lot of reading) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (because it requires skill in boxing) but this game can be taken as slow as you like. Only the egg on the plane and the blue crystal have any time limit, and these are not too difficult to master. 6. Incredibly efficient coding. The whole thing fits uncompressed on one low density floppy. 7. Versions for all major platforms (at the time) and almost any speed of machine. Good use of the inbuilt sound card.

The Bad
1. A couple of the puzzles are hard for non-Americans (e.g. the waste disposal unit and mailbox are not familiar items in Britain), but this is probably true for any game. 2. The codes and all the travelling can be a little tedious (but not much) - like any adventure game, much of your time is spent travelling back and forth to try different ideas. 3. If you have an old game and have lost the printed codes, you cannot travel to most of the destinations.

The Bottom Line
Fun, hard to get killed, and easy to like.

DOS · by Chris Tolworthy (18) · 2000

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

Contributors to this Entry

Critic reviews added by Patrick Bregger, mo , Scaryfun, Jeanne, Riemann80, Wizo, Zeppin, Jo ST, LordFeder, Big John WV.