Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders

Take the shy journalist of a famous tabloid magazine (the National Inquisitor), a girl named Annie who appears in her dreams, her two friends Leslie and Melissa, a strange story of aliens who want to make mankind “stupid”, and you will be in the presence of Zak McKracken, for friends and aficionados, Zak.

Said like this it seems the maximum of banality, but in truth Zak is one of those games that can hardly be forgotten, at least for a man who is back “true” like me, who with the Commodore also took a shower.

Zak, our protagonist, is a shy, embarrassed, annoyed and almost delirious honest citizen of San Francisco, who one night, in his house, has a crazy and incredible dream: after his boss orders him to go and look for a squirrel with two heads and to write an article, our hero sees things out of the world in a dream: Mars, chasing aliens, strange masks in the shape of a cowboy hat and glasses with mustaches, and she, Annie, the girl of her dreams . Yes, because Zak still doesn’t know that Annie will be the key to solving the riddle of the aliens. The famous Mindbenders of the title, lanky aliens and somewhat strange disguised as carnivals, who took possession of the local telephone company, put into operation a machine to make humans stupid. To our hero, together with his friends, the task of preventing this tragedy.

The genius of the game, by the then “Lucasfilm Games”, was in the control system, the famous SCUMM (script creation utility for maniac mansion), which through the use of the joystick allowed to make the characters interact with the objects, the environment, to “make him do” everything in the game (the famous point and click). Inherited from Lucas’ first success, Maniac Mansion, this system was extremely innovative. He selected the object and the action to make him do it, and tac !! Unthinkable for 1988 !!! A real revolution for those games with outdated schemes. This was the era of graphic adventures.

But Zak wasn’t just that. Lucas searched to give, again, an exhilarating tone to its product. And you couldn’t ask for better. At each new loading we were in front of a strange character (eg Hare Krishna), to an action so stupid to do that it was impossible not to do it (how to empty the fish, or rather the “sushi in the bowl” in the sink, with Zak’s phrase “ciao ciao sushi”). And the delirium continues for the whole game. Nice to play but also hilarious. And also incredibly complicated. Yes, because the puzzles, as they proceed, begin to be really complicated, and all the objects in your possession become so many that you have to keep them in mind, or write them down!

I admit that at the time I used the solution. I was not a game-solver or one of those that was afternoons or nights attached to the TV. I preferred to play outdoors. But I have to say that in retrospect, and now reviewing the longplay of the game, in short almost three hours of 1988 were so long. And fortunately Lucas introduced the rescue of the data, something else almost unthinkable for the time. In short, a game that for gameplay and realization has nothing to envy to so many noble titles by now.

In Zak I must say that you find them at least brilliant in many cases, and you had to have an excellent mind to solve the puzzles. I mention for example the use of the Kazoo to wake up the bus driver below Zak’s house. Who would have thought of that today? Or, taken directly from Maniac Mansion, the petrol canister for chainsaws, where, however, the chainsaw is in the other game, therefore unusable. Now I wonder, how many we / you have searched in vain for the whole game?

The interaction of the 4 characters is the icing on the cake. Of course Zak carries on the game for about 90% of the time, but in the end it’s just the team game (as in Maniac Mansion) that allows you to solve all the puzzles and carry out the mission. And unlike “Mansion”, where it was possible to solve the game with different combinations of characters, in Zak if a character dies, it becomes virtually impossible to go on. And the money on the credit card or the hilarious deeds of the character are not enough to scrape together some money, it’s up to start all over again.

And to raise the bar for Lucas they inserted a system of coded (paper) codes that allowed, ad example, to move from one continent to another when using the plane. So you could copy the game, but not finish it. Luckily at the time already Hackers existed (ahahhaha).

An excerpt of the contents of the Italian C64 package: the first page of the codes useful for traveling in the game, and the cover of the “National Inquisitor”, the magazine for which Zak works.

As a last note I point out one of the fish of April of the universe, for those who remember it. The well-known magazine Zzap, at the time reviewed an alleged sequel, known as “The Mindbenders are back” giving it a nice 98%. But in reality, Zak has never had a sequel.

Finally, I talk about the “technical” side of the game. It wasn’t miraculous in terms of graphics and they are, but gameplay and longevity have made it a must for the 80’s and us Commodore 64 chewers. Simply superlative.

The spectacular review of the Zzap magazine.

Il mitico fake (forse uno dei primi della storia videoludica)…la recensione di un gioco che non ha mai visto la luce, se non tra le pagine della rivista. Il pesce d’Aprile del secolo!

Di seguito alcuni link utili: il gameplay, la bellissima intro, e per finire una bellissima pagina con il contenuto della scatola (in italiano)

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