Video Game: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
Can one hack writer, two Yale coeds, and a stale loaf of french bread save the world from a galactic conspiracy? Not without your help.Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders
— Cover blurb
is an Adventure Game
, released in 1988. It was the second SCUMM adventure game, preceded by Maniac Mansion
. Originally released for the Commodore 64
, it was ported to the IBM Personal Computer
, Atari ST
and FM Towns
The game tells the story of a tabloid journalist named Zak, who has a dream about space aliens on Mars, who wear ten-gallon hats and Groucho Marx
nose glasses. When he awakens, he finds himself uncovering a conspiracy by the alien Caponians, who are using the Phone Company in a not very hidden plot
to try and Take Over the World
.Yeah, it's that kind of story
. It is also very inspired by New Age
themes such as Atlantis, Aliens, Crystals, Telepathy, and the Giant Face on Mars
, as well as the outrageous tabloid the Weekly World News
The game featured many technical improvements on its predecessor
, including a storyline that takes Zak all the way around the world, and an interesting system whereby the various characters have adventures independent of each other (two of the playable characters are introduced as space adventurers on Mars, literally a world away from the bits with Zak).
Tropes Used In This Game Include:
- Artistic License – Geography: Stonehenge is not located in London. Nor is there a 13th Avenue in San Francisco (because Thirteen Is Unlucky, the street in between 12th and 14th Avenues is called Funston).
- Baguette Beatdown: You could use the stale baguette from the Bakery next door to kill the two-headed squirrel.
- The Bermuda Triangle: You simply fly here whenever you want to get abducted by the aliens. This is actually very convenient.
- Britain Is Only London: See the Stonehenge example above.
- But Thou Must: the mind-bending machine has a big switch with two positions that are both labeled "on"...
- Call It Karma: The Guru will not help you if you killed Sushi or the Squirrel. Unless you bribe him.
- Catch Phrase: See Ya.
- Chainsaw Good: You find a can of gas ("For chainsaw use only!") in a locker on Mars as an in-joke, with the player character refusing to pick it up because "It's for another game."
- Copy Protection: A symbol dialing screen, accessed every time Zak or Annie book a flight arriving outside of the United States. If you fail this, the character is transported to jail, with the Jailor turning towards the camera lecturing you not to pirate the game.
- This was removed for the 1991 FM Towns port of the game.
- Darkest Africa: Shaman Slicinmon in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Congo).
- Elvis Has Left the Planet: Parodied, the Caponians are led by an Elvis impersonator named "The King".
- Fan Sequel: At least three sets of fans have set about creating a sequel: 1) Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space and 2) Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars, and 3) The New Adventures of Zak McKracken
- Feelies: The game came with a free issue of The Daily Inquisitor, the tabloid the protagonist works for. Several of the articles provide vital hints, such as how lightning can mend crystals.
- Homemade Inventions: Zak makes a space suit out of a wetsuit, a fish bowl (leaving his fish in the kitchen) and copious amounts of duct tape. However, he'll also need an air tank or he will suffocate.
- I Can't Use These Things Together: "That doesn't seem to work."
- Kaleidoscope Hair: Leslie's hair color changes every time she takes her helmet off. Word of God (David Fox) says that this is an in-joke to the real Leslie, a girlfriend of designer Matthew Alan Kane.
- Mars Needs Women: Parodied with Melissa and Leslie who star in a film entitled Mars Needs Men.
- The Maze: The game has several mazes, most of which are easily mappable, and certain others that are random, but that you automatically get out of after three rooms.
- Money to Throw Away: If you make use of The King's lottery number prediction machine, that is! But even then, Zak is doing awfully well for himself despite being a tabloid reporter, if his CashCard balance is to be believed.
- No Knees: The humans have knees. The Caponians do not, making rapid steps as they move.
- The Noseless: Again, the Caponians. This is why they need nose glasses.
- Painting the Medium: The game represents the eponymous character's eponymous treatment by emptying his set of commands and having them gradually return as he recovers.
- Paper-Thin Disguise: The Caponians in their hats and Groucho glasses, who also get fooled by the same disguise that Zak later wears. They only see through it in two cases.
- The Pennyfarthing Effect: You won't get an item's name when you mouse over it unless you're using the "What Is" verb. This makes it very hard to distinguish that some of the background objects are usable.
- Phlebotinum Induced Stupidity: The plot revolves around aliens who took over the phone company and are sending out a signal that makes people stupid.
- Road Apples: If Zak mind-links with the yak in Katmandu, he will only have the option to "chew" at first. After clicking "chew" 20 times, the yak will now also have the option to "poop," producing a "yak pie."
- Shout-Out: A Hare Krishna sells Zak a book on how to find enlightenment in life. The book costs a whopping $42.
- The entire city of Miami, Florida is closed for repairs. This might be a reference to National Lampoons Vacation, in which Clark Griswold explains a hypothetical situation in which the entire state of Florida is closed for repairs.
- Melissa has $1138 on her bank account and Zak owes the exact same amount to the Phone Company.
- On Mars there is a black monolith... which is actually a vending machine.
- Space Suits Are Scuba Gear: Zak literally builds a space suit of a set of SCUBA gear (and a fishbowl).
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: Downplayed. The game takes place in 1997, with two visible technological "advances": People exclusively use "Cash Cards" instead of actual cash, and TVs no longer seem to have buttons on them.
- Unwinnable by Design / Unwinnable by Mistake: There were only certain courses one could take to save the world, so if a previous action made them impossible...I for one will welcome our new Caponian overlords. The game was released early in LucasArts history, when they were still in the process of figuring out their design philosophy. Zak was much more unforgiving than the previous Maniac Mansion where Ron Gilbert, designer of the gentler philosophy, played a larger role than in this game.
- Washed the bread crumbs down the drain? Spent your money and got stuck at a place where you can't win the lottery to gain more money? Accidentally killed someone by removing their helmet on Mars? Got Zak and Annie stuck in jail? Then you can't beat the game
- Videogame Cruelty Potential: Leaving aside what Zak has to do to the stewardess, he can also kill animals in inventive ways (e.g., bludgeoning the two-headed squirrel, running his goldfish Sushi through the garbage disposal). '
- To elaborate, during a regular flight, Zak floods the toilet, uses the distraction to explode an egg in the microwave, then uses that as a distraction to steal a seat cushion, an oxygen tank, and a lighter. The stewardess has to clean up both messes.
- "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue