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Video Game: Sanitarium

"If Jacob's Ladder was reality squared, this is reality cubed"
—J.C. Herz (The New York Times) on the game

Sanitarium is a 1998 Point-and-Click Adventure Game by ASC Games. It is set in a mental hospital, except when it isn't.

More clearly, it begins with the main character losing his memory and being instituted in a sanitarium. Occasionally, he is transported to strange, alternate worlds, sometimes changing his form, sometimes not. A constant feeling of bewilderment and fear follow you as the worlds you visit become stranger and stranger.

You need to figure out many things: Why have you lost your memory? Why are you in an insane asylum? Is the asylum the "real" world, or is it just another dream?

Not to be confused with the Slender Fan Sequel Sanatorium.


This game provides examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: See Mummies at the Dinner Table, below
  • Adult Fear: There's a strong theme running throughout the game of child endangerment. One of the first chapters takes place in an abandoned town where all of the adults have disappeared and left the children alone, who are slowly being turned into deformed abominations. That same chapter features the story of a young girl who was killed by her abusive father while the townspeople turned a blind eye. Another chapter has you play as a young girl in a Circus of Fear, and other chapters feature things like alien babies being thrown into a furnace. As the game progresses and you learn more about the main character, you find out that he and his wife had been searching for a cure for their unborn child, who is suffering from a fatal disease. This is compounded by the fact that the protagonist was severely traumatized by the death of his little sister when he was a boy.
  • Adventures In Coma Land
  • A Glitch in the Matrix: The "real world" starts becoming more and more unreal with each chapter.
  • All Just a Dream: Most of the game, except several cutscenes, is just Max's dreams while he was in coma.
  • All The Worlds Are A Stage: The next to last subchapter is a mishmash of all of the non-"real world" chapters. You also have to shapeshift between Max and all of his alter-egos.
  • Alternate Universe: It turns out that the Morgan from Max's past is not the same Morgan that he encounters throughout the game. The former exists in the real world. The latter exists in Max's dream world.
    • Two of the chapters have an alternate universe version of Max's wife as well.
    • Then there's a non-playable AU version of Max himself.
  • Ambition Is Evil
    • Played straight with Morgan
    • Averted with Max
  • Arc Words: "Seek the truth"
  • Babies Ever After: During the final cut scene, it is revealed that Max's wife was pregnant during the events of the game. The end credits/epilogue shows a picture of them with their new baby.
  • Back from the Dead: A dead woman comes back to life long enough to give Max some cryptic warnings.
  • Bandaged Face
  • Bedlam House: Well, of course.
  • Big Bad: Morgan. Interestingly, he is not the final boss. He gets defeated in the cut-scene after the boss is destroyed.
  • Big "NO!"
  • Black Bug Room: More like Black Bug Universe, but still...
  • Body Horror: You don't even know.
  • Booze Flamethrower: Sarah is taught how to do this by Inferno, which is then used to fight Iggy.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Billy, Jennifer, and Dennis.
  • Breather Episode: In chapter 3, the horror takes a backseat to...comedy?
  • Buried Alive: Happens to at least 3 characters
  • The Chessmaster: Morgan (both of him) and Gromna
  • Circus of Fear: Playing with. The circus is very unnerving, but only two of the staff members are dangerous and, of those two, only one is actually evil.
  • CloudCuckoolander: A non-comedic example. Don, Lenny, and Martin in the first chapter. See "Foreshadowing" below.
  • Combat Tentacles: Iggy
  • Cool Big Sis: Inferno to Sarah
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Morgan is much happier TREATING the deadly disease that's killing children world-wide, rather than helping Max develop the cure, because "treating the disease is more profitable than curing it".
  • Creepy Children
  • Creepy Circus Music
  • Creepy Twins
  • The Cuckoo Lander Was Right: See "Foreshadowing"
  • Cuckoo Nest
  • Daddy's Girl: Sarah and Eileen
  • Dead Man Writing: Carol's diary.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Max, when the situation calls for it.
  • Doppelgänger: Max's shadow and the two Morgans
  • The Dragon
    • Max's shadow to Dream World Morgan
    • Dream World Morgan is unwittingly this to Real World Morgan, due to him thinking they are the same person.
    • The scarecrow to Mother.
  • Dying Dream: Both Morgans try (and fail) to invoke this trope for Max while he's in a coma by keeping him confined and confused (Dream World Morgan) and slipping him poison (Real World Morgan).
  • Easter Egg: In Chapter 2, entering the empty hut with a fish painted on it and clicking a particular feather on the angel statue will transform Max into a bird, allowing him to fly. Flying to the bottom right corner of the area will reveal a picture of the game's producer.
  • Elvis Lives: One asylum patient thinks he's Elvis, anyway
  • Evil Laugh: Dream World Morgan and The Scarecrow.
  • Face-Heel Turn
  • False Widow: Played with. Inferno isn't exactly lying about her widowhood, but since she's a part of Max's dream, that means that her dead husband never actually existed in the first place, and her real-world self is Max's wife, and he's quite obviously very alive.
  • Final Boss: Max's Shadow.
  • Five-Man Band: Played with because all of them are one character, but they DO have to work together in the finale, and the others even (kind of) say goodbye to Max at the end.
  • Foreshadowing: The first chapter contains a room of babbling loons who each talk about different worlds...worlds that you will travel to throughout the rest of the game. Then there's the stained glass windows in each segment of the sanitarium, Zippy the Clown's predictions... really, a second playthrough of the game can be seen as a grand conga line of Fridge Brilliance.
  • Freudian Excuse
    • Hinted that this is at least part of Morgan's motivation.
    • Mother
    • Inverted with Max, who used his own past tragedy as motivation to become a doctor and help people.
  • Game-Breaking Bug: Although it has since been fixed, originally one could get permanently stuck in Chapter 2 due to a typo in the game's code relating to the animation of a particular crow taking off from and returning to its nest.
  • Ghost Town
  • Go Among Mad People: Most of the game. Except not really-turns out it's a Black Bug Room caused by Max being in a poison-induced fever dream.
  • Good Is Not Nice: Olmec (hoo boy).
  • Grave Humor
  • Greed
  • Happier Home Movie: Watching these comes into play in the "Mansion" sub-chapter.
  • Happy Ending
  • Haunted House
  • Hybrid Monster: Iggy, though it depends whether the human head and torso on top of his squid head is actually part of him or a body of a victim that somehow got stuck up there.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Vera
  • Infant Immortality: Nnnnope.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting
  • Ironic Nursery Tune: "Don't go into the pumpkin patch. 'Cause if you do, you won't come back. Mommy says to stay way...if you want to play another day."
  • Jerk Ass:
    • Dennis
    • Morgan's Father
    • Olmec
    • The Clown with the Balloons
  • Kid Hero: Sarah
  • Large Ham - Grimwall
    "Now that evil machine will be silent for a while!"
    "No More Genocide Today!"
    "Grap!"
    • Olmec
  • Little Miss Badass: Sarah (again)
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: It may be an Adventure Game, but it utterly averts the Beautiful Void trope.
  • Lotus-Eater Machine: after the Maze, Morgan attempts to trick Max into believing he's in the real world and just had a nasty bump on the head, and dreamt everything. Max breaks out of it when he realizes SARAH IS SUPPOSED TO BE DEAD, even though she's alive and living with him and his wife. Still a kid. And levitating. A very eerie scene, all in all.
  • Mad Scientist: Morgan, the dream world version. Given the real Morgan's personality, it isn't a stretch to see why Max thought of him this way.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident
  • Mama Bear: "Mother"
  • Man Child: Lenny
  • Manipulative Bastard: Morgan
  • Mental World
  • The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body: Multiple shape-shifting events
    • At its most extreme with Olmec, who is almost the exact opposite of the kind, compassionate Max.
  • Mind Screw: A good example is the pumpkin children. In fact, there's a lot of unexplained symbolism.
  • Mommy Issues: Lenny. Surprisingly averted in Max's case despite his banters with "Mother".
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Made extra disturbing by the fact that it's a kid.
  • Nice Guy: The Main Character and Timmy O'Toole.
  • Non-Identical Twins
  • The Nth Doctor: Max's shapeshifting (except for Grimwall, who sounds different but is still played by Max's actor).
  • One Bad Mother: "Mother"
  • One-Winged Angel: Morgan
  • Plant Aliens: "Mother"
  • Preacher Man: Preacher Bob takes himself seriously but is a comical instance of this trope. In addition, Chapter 2 makes mention of an influential small-town preacher.
  • Red Herring: Three literal red herrings. One is a red fish painted on the roof of a building. The main character even comments that he was sure he would find something inside.
  • The Reveal: A whole lot
    • "Mother" is an alien, chapter 2
    • Max was called by his parents because his sister was dying, chapter 3
    • Morgan is behind everything, chapter 4
    • Everything other than the opening and the flashbacks was a Dying Dream resulting from Morgan trying to kill Max; also, there are two Morgans; the one who sabotaged Max's car and the one who exists in the dream world and tries to prevent Max from making any progress, chapter 8
    • Max's wife is pregnant, chapter 9
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Vera
  • Romancing the Widow
  • Rule of Scary: Subverted near the end when it turns out it was All Just a Dream, which perfectly explains away all the outlandish stuff.
  • Scary Scarecrows
  • See You in Hell
  • Shapeshifter: Max (the main character) does this involuntarily throughout most of the game, and voluntarily in the second-to-last level. With one exception, each of his forms has a different voice actor.
  • Significant Anagram: Gromna/Morgan
  • Songs in the Key of Lock: One of the doors in the Hive has a lock with keypad buttons that produce individual musical tones.
  • Surreal Horror
  • Theme Naming: All of the cyclopses have names beginning with "GR."
  • Timed Mission: The final puzzle.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: Frank Schurter plays Adult Max while Paul Crocker plays him during his childhood flashbacks.
  • Token Evil Teammate:
    • While the other player characters tend to be on the nice (or at lease polite) side, Olmec really isn't, especially considering one of his puzzles is solved by threatening a grieving father.
    • Dennis in Chapter 2. Unlike the other children of Genet, he seems 100 % aware of what's really going on and has no problem with it.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The entirety of chapter 2.
  • Twist Ending
  • The Unseen: A big part of Max's arc. His face is covered in bandages. When he is seen in flashbacks, his face is always hidden. The one exception is a flashback from his childhood.
    • This is a rare case of the main character pulling off this trope.
  • The Unreveal: The Cure
  • Unusual Euphemism: Grimwall's favorite exclamation, "Grap".
  • Unwitting Pawn: Arguably Dream World Morgan. He believes that he and Real World Morgan are the same person and doesn't realize that his fighting Max and enabling the poison to work its way through his veins will actually kill him along with Max. The example has the oddity of both the pawn and the manipulator being unaware of the manipulation due to Real World Morgan being unaware of Dream World Morgan's existence.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Morgan and Gromna
  • Waking Up at the Morgue
  • Walking Spoiler: The player characters other than Max are difficult to talk about without revealing that Max starts shapeshifting in the middle of the game.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Morgan
  • Wicked Cultured: Morgan
  • Womb Level: The Hive is unpleasantly organic.

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alternative title(s): Sanitarium
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