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Video Game / Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

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See Ya.

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.
— Cover blurb

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is an Adventure Game by LucasArts, released in 1988. It is the second SCUMM adventure game, preceded by Maniac Mansion. Originally released for the Commodore 64, it was ported to the IBM Personal Computer, Amiga, 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:

  • All Myths Are True: Or rather, all whacked-out theories about aliens are true.
  • Artistic License Geography: Stonehenge is not located in Londonnote . Nor is there a 13th Avenue in San Francisco (because 13 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.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The flight tour to Bermuda Triangle is provided to you by Divine Wind Tours. "Divine wind" translates to Japanese as "kamikaze". (The official hint book for the game includes a walkthrough narrated by Zak in which he remembers the Japanese translation of "divine wind"... but only after they're already in flight and it's too late to go back.)
  • 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. Or hang around in his chambers doing nothing for a while. After a certain time, he'll announce you've burned off the bad karma and proceed to teach you how to use the Blue Crystal. This only works if you don't pause the game and don't leave the room (it's best not to move Zak from that spot).
  • Cerebus Syndrome: Once you unlock Annie, Melissa, and Leslie, the game basically turns off its Silliness Switch. For the most part.
  • Catchphrase: 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."
  • Competitive Balance: Certain characters have certain abilities only they have access to (Zak starts off with an obscene amount of money, allowing him more freedom to travel around, and only he's allowed to use the powers of the alien crystals, while Annie is a Cunning Linguist who can read any language) or certain actions they'll refuse to perform that others will (Annie refuses to vandalize the hair salon display to get the giant bobby pin, while Melissa refuses to handle the dead broom alien as it grosses her out too much.)
  • 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.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: You have to make the stewardess's life a living hell to continue. 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.
  • Darkest Africa: Shaman Slicinmon in Kinshasa, Zaire (now the Congo).
  • Developer's Foresight: You can avoid being apprehended for using the Blue Crystal by being disguised, but the Caponian will still take your crystal. In that case, you'll have to get it back from the locker in the mindbender room back in San Francisco.
  • Elvis Has Left the Planet: Parodied, the Caponians are led by an Elvis impersonator named "The King".
  • Evil Lawyer Joke: "The King" considers gluing Money to Zak and tossing him into a pit full of lawyers.
  • Fan Sequel: At least three sets of fans have set about creating a sequel: 1) Zak McKracken: Between Time and Space, 2) Zak McKracken and the Alien Rockstars, and 3) The New Adventures of Zak McKracken
  • Guide Dang It!: The Lucas adventure with the most illogical and inescrutable puzzles, by far. A lot of actions have little to no in-story indication as to why they should be done in that particular way. The tabloid included with the game has clues to a number of puzzles, such as a story about a man whose broken eyeglasses were miraculously fixed perfectly by a lightning strike hinting you towards how to fuse a broken crystal back together.
  • 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.
  • Improvised Lockpick: At one point, the heroes need to access a particular chamber to acquire the crystal that powers their device. The alien who gives them this assignment provides them with the key to open the door, but it disintegrates upon being picked up. The heroes make do by going to a hair salon and cutting down the giant bobby pin hanging outside, then using it to pick the lock.
  • Informing the Fourth Wall: "That doesn't seem to work."
  • Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: If Zak is caught twice picking up the flag, he gets a life sentence for crimes against the Nepalese flag.
  • 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.
  • Leg Cling: Subverted. Despite the Boris Vallejo pastiche on the cover, that woman shows no signs of interest in grabbing a leg.
  • 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.
  • No Off Button: The titular Mindbender only has a big ON/ON switch; throwing it seemingly does something (reverses the polarity?), but turning it off is impossible. Given that it's designed to induce stupidity, this is a perfectly sensible design choice. Fortunately, it can be destroyed by the Skolarian Device.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: In the maze in Egypt, there's a room that's completely dark but you can hear the snoring of the monster that guards the maze. If you go back in, it wakes up, and your character panics until it cuts away to a message saying they were killed by...whatever that was.
  • Not the Intended Use: The blue crystal will either knock you unconscious or allow you to communicate with animals. It will also alarm the Caponians, who will warp in to capture you. That last part, while bad (but otherwise easy to escape), can help give you a free trip back to San Francisco, saving you the cost of a flight.
  • Oddball in the Series: Apart from the humour, this game is pretty much this to the rest of LucasArts games. It's a lot more unforgiving, since there are only a handful of ways to beat the game, and a lot more ways to die or screw up. It's much much longer and less straight-forward than its predecessor (Maniac Mansion). No Dialogue Tree there too, but while you can die in Maniac Mansion (Since this was before they brought up their "No die" and "Can't screw up" policies), there are multiple ways to beat that other game. Gameplay wise, definitely. Writing-wise? Far from it.
  • 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.
  • Phlebotinum-Induced Stupidity: The plot revolves around aliens who took over the phone company and are sending out a signal that makes people stupid.
  • A Pig Named "Porkchop": Zak's pet goldfish is named Sushi.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: In the DOS release, Zak plays "Pop Goes the Weasel" on his kazoo (otherwise it's the first few bars of the Indiana Jones theme song).
  • Punny Name: There is a hair salon named Bob E. Pinz ("bobby pins").
  • 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."
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Leslie and Melissa somehow managed to convert a VW minibus into a single stage to Mars and return to Earth spacecraft. Somewhat justified because it's a comedy game which involves aliens wearing Groucho glasses and new age science fiction tropes.
  • 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 Lampoon's 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.
    • Zak can play the Indiana Jones riff in his kazoo. Posters of Maniac Mansion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the Adventure Game and Rescue on Fractalus! can also be seen.
  • Shown Their Work: At the beginning of the game Zak's boss sends him to Seattle to write a fluff piece about the 50th anniversary of the first UFO sighting. The first widely publicized UFO sighting did indeed happen near Mount Rainier in Washington state in 1947.
  • Space Suits Are Scuba Gear: Zak literally builds a space suit of a set of SCUBA gear (and a fishbowl). The apparent lack of hand protection is hand-waved by the suit having transparent gloves; due to technical limitations, Zak's hands had to use his skin color.
  • Teleporter's Visualization Clause: Zig-Zagged. When Zak learns how to use the Yellow Crystal and draws the map from his dream, he can teleport to the Mars Face even though he hadn't been there yet. Atlantis and the Mars Pyramid also appear on the map, but Zak can't teleport to either location because the pads are broken there.
  • That Came Out Wrong: When meeting Annie in person for the first time, Zak describes her as "the girl I saw in my dream." Annie momentarily takes this to be a particularly corny chat-up line, but quickly realises that Zak's speaking literally, and that she also saw him in her own dream.
  • 20 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.
  • Truth in Television: Eggs actually do explode in the microwave.
  • Unwinnable by Design: There are only certain courses one can take to save the world, so if a previous action has 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 is 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? Then you can't beat the game.
    • If Melissa or Leslie die before Zak gets the white crystal (by lingering too long in an area with no oxygen while not wearing their helmets), the game will be unwinnable. The same happens if Zak or Annie die at any point, as the final action requires both of them. However, you are directly warned of this:
    "Be careful! If one of us dies, it will be impossible to complete our mission!"
    • The game designers do try and make it easier to get money aside from the lottery. You can pawn various things, or you can have one character buy a ticket and give it to the other character, who can cash it in for a refund. And before you learn that the Blue Crystal only works on animals, Zak can use it on anything, wait for the aliens to show up and get a free ride home to San Francisco.
    • If you forget to put the tree branch in the fire pit (ensuring the fire will burn indefinitely), the nests can burn away. If this happens before you draw the ankh and open the alien door to the Blue Crystal, the cave will forever remain in darkness and Zak won't be able to draw the symbol, even by using the lighter.
    • You can also have Leslie and Melissa get back in their VW minibus-turned-spacecraft, turn the key and launch into space. Once you do this, they will effectively be out of the game for good (and will make a comment about it taking months to get back to Earth).
    • Melissa and/or Leslie can buy each one a token and travel to the Martian pyramid. The token dispenser of that side is out of order and they can't get back to the Face. The game will be brought to a dead end if they haven't finished all necessary tasks there.
    • Near the beginning, you pick up a scrap of wallpaper, which you eventually need in order to draw a map. Some time before this, you have to light a bonfire, and can, if you choose, use the wallpaper as kindling. The game doesn't try to dissuade you, and you can continue unhampered until you realise what you were supposed to hang on to the paper for... (You could also have used the crayon on the phone bill, but you could lose that too later on in the game.)
    • It's possible to slide things you need into the slot at Annie's office before you have the item that motivates her to contact you; since the door doesn't open, you can't get them back, so you're screwed.
  • 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, putting Sushi in the lamp and turning it on).
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: According to the game, the Caponians left Earth in search of other stupid life forms, the phone company went bankrupt after the public stopped trusting it and started communicating by telepathy and dream-sharing instead, Melissa and Leslie became film stars, Zak finally won his coveted Pulitzer after writing a book about his experience saving the world (which also netted him a Nobel Peace Prize), and Zak and Annie fell in love.