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Video Game / Sanitarium

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"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:

  • Accomplice by Inaction: The reason why Mother killed the adults of Genet. One of them, Jeddah, abused his daughter so much that she died while all the adults of the town turned a blind eye to his actions.
  • Adventures In Coma Land: Nearly the entire game.
  • 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 game has the penultimate subchapter called "The Gauntlet", right before the final Puzzle Boss subchapter with Dr. Morgan. In it, you find yourself in a mishmash of elements of all of the earlier non-"real world" chapters. Not only that, but to solve various puzzles you have to switch between Max and all of his alter-egos as well.
  • 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
  • Amnesiac Hero: Max, but he gradually regains his memories as the player progresses in the game.
  • 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.
  • Big Bad: Morgan. Interestingly, he is not the final boss. He gets defeated in the cut-scene after the boss is destroyed.
  • Big "NO!":
    • At the end of Chapter 5, when Morgan straps Max to an operating table to experiment on him, Max lets out two short ones, then a longer "Nooooo!" as he seemingly turns into Grimwall.
    • Reused at the start of Chapter 7 when Max wakes up in a morgue drawer.
  • Black Bug Room: More like Black Bug Universe, but still...
  • Daddy's Girl: Sarah and Eileen
  • Dark World: While many levels are explicitly surreal, others look almost normal, but there's still something wrong about them (especially the "real world", which gets increasingly unreal with every chapter).
  • Dead Man Writing: Carol's diary.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Max, when the situation calls for it.
  • Death of a Child: 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.
  • 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 Gloating: Morgan in all of his forms is quite fond of these.
  • Evil Laugh: Dream World Morgan and The Scarecrow.
  • 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.
  • Find the Cure!: Max works with Morgan at MERCY corporation in order to find the cure for the DNAV that is deforming and killing the children of the world, after numerous failures he finally discovers a working cure. MERCY also develops a cure - HOPE, but it turns out it kills children instead of curing them.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Kid Hero: Sarah
  • Large Ham - Grimwall
    "Now that evil machine will be silent for a while!"
    "No More Genocide Today!"
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Monster Clown: Averted, shockingly. Some of the clowns are unfriendly, but none of them are dangerous. The scariest one is a living measuring pole, and it's helpful to the player.
  • Mummies at the Dinner Table: Made extra disturbing by the fact that it's a kid.
  • Mundane Horror: The more realistic levels feature tons of this. A seemingly normal American town which has no adults and is full of disfigured children, a mental asylum with friendly guards and patients, with one of them cheerfully telling you that she "ate her husband with carrots and rice", etc.
  • Nice Guy: The Main Character and Timmy O'Toole. Mr. Baldini is also very accomodating towards Sarah, who has no money to spend in his circus.
  • The Nth Doctor: Max's shapeshifting (except for Grimwall, who sounds different but is still played by Max's actor).
  • One Bad Mother: Mother, who certainly thinks she's helping her children.
  • Only Sane Man: Maria Santiago among the children in Chapter 2. The reason she's considered the most rebellious child by Mother, with being continuously punished, is because it's more or less clear she knows what's really going on with them. She's also the only one willing enough to give Max useful information, and she's the only one who doesn't get mad at Max for warning them about Mother's intentions, to the point Mother possesses her mind into submission.
  • Plant Aliens: "Mother".
  • The Paragon Always Rebels: Seems to be a running theme with Morgan/Gromna/Quetzalcoatl.
  • The Plague: The DNAV which deforms, cripples and eventually kills it's victims, which are exclusively newborns.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 least 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 completely aware of what's really going on and has no problem with it.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Genet, the setting of chapter 2.
  • 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.
  • 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: The 7th chapter begins this way, with the air turned lethally cold.
  • 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.
  • Withholding the Cure: Morgan cuts the funding to Max's department, sabotages his department and even tries to poison Max who is in coma in order to stop any possibility of development a cure for DNAV.
  • Womb Level: The Hive is unpleasantly organic.
  • You Are Number 6: In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cutscene, Max's patient number is "8675309".