Zak McKraken And The Alien Mindbenders
By Lucasfilm
Commodore 64/128

Published in Computer & Video Games #87

Zak McKraken And The Alien Mindbenders

US Gold has just signed a deal with Lucasfilm Games to distribute its top quality software over here. The first of the disk-only products in an absolutely hilarious little number that goes by the unassuming title of Zak McKraken And The Alien Mindbenders.

Zak is a small-time newspaper journo, working for the National Inquisitor. As a newspaper, The Inquisitor is about as much use as the Sunday Sport. It doesn't carry any real stories - the editor sits down, thinks of something exciting, and then gets one of the journos to write it up.

At the start of the game (although interactive movie would be a much more apt description), we see our hero deep in conversation with the editor. It's in this short and funny scene that Zak is given his first appalling task: to write up the tale of the terrible two-headed squirrel that's been frightening all the locals and tourists in Seattle. He collects his ticket and goes home to get some rest before his flight the next day. While in bed, he has a dream, and it's in this dream that we pick up a few clues to the game. But I won't tell you what they are.

Zak McKracken & The Alien Mindbenders

What Zak has to do is save the Earth from aliens that are slowly but surely turning everybody stupid. To do this, they have penetrated every phone line on the planet with a 60 Hertz hum which is slowly making everybody as thick as, well, something that's really thick.

The control system is along the same lines as Lucasfilm's earlier effort, Maniac Mansion. A group of verbs at the bottom of the screen tell you what Zak is capable of doing, and a list of objects below tell you what he can do it with. You control a cursor on-screen with which you guide Mr. McKraken to places, point out objects (to open a door, click on the verb 'open' and then click the pointer over the door). The cursor can identify most objects and you are given quite a bit of leeway as to how you operate them.

There's also quite a bit of artificial intelligence built into the program. For example, you can work about three steps ahead of yourself. Just say you want to lever the plastic card out from under the desk with the phone bill. Click on the verb 'use', then click on the phonebill in the drawer, and then click on the plastic card. The computer will then work out that you have to walk over the bill, pick it up, walk over to the card, and then level it out. It's with this kind of thinking ahead that the action doesn't become tedious.

Zak McKracken & The Alien Mindbenders

The game is very, very funny. Every now and again, the scene changes to a completely different one, giving the impression of watching a film. The extra scenes are put in to let you know what else is going on in the world. For example, the action switches to the alien watching over the Stupid Machine. This alien gets dimmer and dimmer as you go through the game, and he gets funnier and funnier; his Elvis impression had me rolling about. As for getting Zak to go to the toilet on the plane - this has to be seen.

The puzzles are well thought out; never too difficult as to oppress, but hard enough to keep you thinking.

Zak McKraken And The Alien Mindbenders is definitely worth keeping an eye out for. The only thing that mars it is the large amount of disk access, but maybe that can't be helped. Shame it's disk only - all your cassette owners are going to miss out.

Now where was I? Oh, yes, I'm just a hound dogging, meat tendering, sheep worrying son of a lonely gun...

Tony Dillon

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