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LucasArts' Secret History: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders: Okay, so screw that guy. What does everyone else think?

09 Mar, 2008

Mojo readers show what they really think.

Ingo Eisenhard

I still remember the day I first played Zak McKracken. A friend of my brother brought along his copy of the game on the C64 and I could hardly wait to play the follow up game to Maniac Mansion (which my two brothers and me, along with several kids from our neighborhood had played for months). First I was a bit dissapointed because I was expecting it to be more like MM but I was soon captured by the game and the adventure Zak stumbled into. Being able to travel all over the world gave the game a totally different feeling and sense of exploration I had not experienced in a game until then.

Back then when walkthroughs were only printed in magazines we had to keep trying and trying in order to finish the game. We even went as far as trying to figure out the yellow drawings for hours because we did not know how to solve these puzzles at first. These endless hours of trying to make our way through made me remember every puzzle of this game until this day.

I was even more psyched about the game when I realized that all the locations were based on actual locations, even the face on Mars.

To me this game is one of my fondest childhood memories along with Maniac Mansion. Definitely an all time classic that every point and click adventure fan should have played.

elTee

Zak McKracken & the Alien Mindbenders was actually the first LucasArts game I ever played. I didn't know it at the time - I was at a friend's house, and I was an adventure game virgin. It looked interesting enough - some dude on a plane, trying to take a photo of a two-headed squirrel - but it wasn't exactly Sonic the Hedgehog.

Two years later when my dad got a PC, he bought the brand new Sam and Max: Hit the Road CD-ROM, and got a free copy of The Secret of Monkey Island. The latter was the one I managed to figure out how to play whenever he was at work, and it started my whole love affair with the adventure genre.

From then on I always assumed the game I had seen my friend play, all those years ago, must have been by Sierra. It was contemporary American; a reporter, not a pirate or a tentacle or a hyperkinetic-rabbity thing. It must have been about 1999 when I finally got a copy of Zak McKracken on eBay and realised the truth.

Ever since then the romantic side of me has yearned to play that game again. But I just can't do it. I've got every damn version, and even in 256 colour mode I can't get into it. Why? It's not a bad game - it's actually, I think, really good. It just feels like they tried to expand upon Maniac Mansion, which was set entirely in one house, and create an entire world (literally) for the player to explore. And that's just too much.

It's interesting because you can really see the evolution of LucasArts games - that long line from Maniac Mansion, with its complicated single location, right through to The Secret of Monkey Island when they got the balance of it all just right.

So, even when Zak McKracken is accidentally your first LucasArts experience, playing those earlier games after playing Monkey Island is sometimes just too frustrating. But if there was any game I could go back in time and play when it was new and truly innovative, it would be this one.

MarioColbert

Cheers for the awesome articles. Looking forward to the Zak McKracken one, as I love that game, and hate my dad who built an effin Russian-English Word Matching Quiz that I had to solve before the game would actually start. He felt that the "educational value" of that game needed to be more than my 5 year old Russian essense, trying to play an American game in ENGLISH without knowing the meaning of the words, green verbs included. I guess he's the kind of a man for whom cocaine wouldn't be enough, and he would, against all odds, invent crack cocaine. Perhaps he did. I can't be sure. You might think that "SIERRA" is evil, but Zak is the only game I've ever "died" in by closing the window blinds. I couldn't even quit the game after that. I think I pressed "reset," but I don't remember. It was twenty years ago.

Shut up. I was FIVE.

P.S. I swear to god that my father did not invent crack. I swear to god that he DID invent a word matching thing. My favorite word was "credit card" because that was the only two-word aggregate on that list. Both my father and I are sending you warmest regards from United States.

Gabez

What a wonderful game! The gameplay can be frustrating as has been pointed out by others, but, really, nobody's forcing you to play through. The frustrating difficulty is part of the experience, like reading a foreign book when you don't know the language very well.

It's important that the game is original, which here is a word that means "bold storyline that is unique and lingers in the memory." Twenty years later (is it really that long?) we're still talking about this game, and remembering it, and some of us are even playing it as well. But even if you don't play it, the game is worthwhile and valued as a memory. And if you do play it, but don't complete it or get far at all, it's worthwhile as an experience.

Also I think it's massive in Germany for some reason.

Capel

I hate to be all negative again after the debacle with Maniac Mansion last month, but I just don't like Zak McKracken.

The money thing was the first point that annoyed me. So you're telling me that I have to know everywhere that I have to go and everything I have to do before I start buying all these plane tickets? If I run out of money, tough, restart the game and do better? The only way to get more money is to win the lottery by cheating? And you don't ever know how much money you have on your CashCard, so while Zak's ample amount isn't too bad the three-plane-ticket Annie's card could easily leave you stranded quickly.

The next point that earned the game more negativity points was the wackiness of it. I know, there a plenty of people who like that and I'm one of them - people accuse Telltale's Sam & Max series of being too wacky and I love those games. But Zak McKracken is just too silly. It was meant to be serious at first, but somewhere LucasArts made it less serious and went too far. The Mindbenders in particular are just Not Funny. There is a fine line between great humour and plain silliness and LucasArts almost always gets it right, but this one falls down in my view.

And finally, those stupid mazes really got on my nerves. Just clicking on random doors until you finally get the right one. That's not a puzzle, that's an exercise in tedium and button-clicking.

A good thing about this game? You can kill defenceless animals. But then you are made to wait a long time later on as punishment, forcing you to find ways to entertain yourself other than the game you were playing for entertainment anyway.

I fed a toucan.

Chris Tolworthy

I cannot emphasize enough how different Zak is. There has never been another game like it: so mind expanding, so big, so real, so upbeat. To me it's how all gamed should be made, but I guess I have weird tastes since obviously not everyone agrees! So many fun characters, so many locations, no violence, no stealing (well except for the oxygen tank, and I always figured that was lost luggage anyway), but more cool ideas per square inch than anything ever. Realistic player (mostly female), animals, aliens, different races, the whole world, the past, the future, outer space, saving the world - from stupidity! It inspired me to start a life as a game developer. A beautiful piece of work. And it all fits on one low density floppy disk - amazing!

Jennifer McMurray

Zak McKracken is not one of my favorite games by LucasArts, but it was worth playing. There are a few things that I didn't like about the game. It has a free-roaming atmosphere that lets you travel from airport to airport in any order that you wish. Unfortunately, this costs money, and it is possible to get yourself stuck in a dead end by doing this. I first played the game when I purchased the LucasArts Classic Adventures pack, and the copy protection used was one of the most annoying I've come across. You had to enter a code from the manual each time you used the terminal at the airport. Since air travel is such a huge part of this game, that quickly became a tiresome task. The game is also full of mazes. Some mazes, such as the forest mazes, were able to be navigated by blind clicking, but other mazes, such as those in Egypt and on Mars were real chores. I never liked mazes in adventure games, as they seemed to be more of a time waster than a puzzle. Those mazes and the annoying copy protection caused me to put down Zak McKracken quite a few times before I finally completed it. In fact, I never did finish the game until years later when I played it on ScummVM.

There are some positives about the game though. The game has quite a few references to Maniac Mansion, and since Maniac Mansion was my first taste of LucasArts adventure games, I got a huge kick out of those. The humor in the game is quite weird and funny, using Zak McKracken's career as a tabloid reporter to full advantage. The game takes quite a few jabs at tabloid reporting in general, and also plays around with the notion that most of the tabloid news that is reported is actually real news. I love the line where Zak complains that he wants to report meaningful news instead of reporting on stupid stories, and the boss tells Zak to "make up stories that aren't stupid". The game's theme song is also great, and it even sounded good on the old PC speaker.

All that being said, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders is a hard and frustrating game. But, I don't regret taking the time to complete it, since the strange but gripping story and the wacky humor made up for it's shortcomings in my opinion.

Alex Ashby

Zak is still an ace piece of software and any self-respecting adventurer should not be without it on his or her shelves. The humour, while obscure in places, is genuinely funny, giving a far lighter feel to the whole experience.

The explorable areas spanning across the Bermuda Triangle, the Incan Temples, and even Mars ensure that there is never a dull moment. This, coupled with the fascinating cross-section of mystical devotees, bums, and... er... living-dead broomsticks (don't ask), means that as long as you can see past the out-dated appearance and play it for its fun rather than as a demonstration in what we were depressingly amazed by 13 years ago, you will have an enjoyable game under your hands.

Zaarin

Ahh, yes, Zak. After procuring the FM Towns version, I played through it using a walkthrough. On autopilot. I remember something about Mars and aliens. Yes, yes, good times. Now where's my soup?

MrSneeze

Playing Zak McKracken was like wandering aimlessly in a maze without a map, purpose, or snacks. A walkthrough is mandatory.

Most certainly the only LucasArts adventure game I did not enjoy.

Darth-Phenom

I love Zak McKracken more than my children. I am also not Jason who is pretending to be Darth-Phenom in order to make it look like we had a lot of reader opinions submitted. Also, I might not have kids.

The real Darth-Phenom, who submitted his opinion late

Jack Daniels rules!

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