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Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (FM-Towns) artwork

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (FM-Towns) review

"This isnít just the only version of Zak ever released on CD-ROM, but itís also the only one to feature 256-color VGA graphics. And donít think that means they must be little more than a slight update; all the graphics have been completely redrawn with totally awesome results, but they still remain extremely faithful to the original art style."

Any point & click fan worth his rubber chicken (with a pulley in the middle) should already know all about Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the outrageously excellent second entry in LucasArtsí universally beloved series of graphic adventures. Good thing too, because I donít want to bother explaining it. What you may not realize is that the house that SCUMM built also converted a bunch of their early games to the Japanese-only FM Towns computer, and that most of those ports are considerably superior to our PC originals! Oh, and since they were all handled in-house you can play them in Japanese or English.

This is by far the best known of the lot and rightfully so, as it represents the biggest leap over its corresponding source material: this isnít just the only version of Zak ever released on CD-ROM, but itís also the only one to feature 256-color VGA graphics. And donít think that means they must be little more than a slight update; all the graphics have been completely redrawn with totally awesome results, but they still remain extremely faithful to the original art style. Unless youíre playing on the Japanese setting for some reason, which actually uses alternate sprites for the main characters Ė they have giant, googly anime eyes. On a less googly and rather more beneficial note, the higher resolution also lets the screen display a lot more inventory items at once compared to the constant scrolling that resulted from the originalís measly four, making item management a much less painful process.

The conversion team didnít let that newfangled CD drive go to waste, either. Besides removing the frequent copy protection checks, they also added an exclusive redbook soundtrack paired with FM sound effects. Other than an energetic rendition of the main theme this new music is mostly ambient, but itís a huge improvement over the mostly silent original and meshes quite well in the context of the game. Naturally thereís a number of minor visual and audio tweaks as well, most notably the kazoo playing the Indiana Jones theme and that bizarre dream sequence now serving as the intro, presumably to warn tentacle-loving Japanese gamers what theyíre really in for.

But the differences arenít all cosmetic Ė this version is also a lot easier to complete thanks to some changes in those annoying mazes. The labyrinth on Mars is now completely lit (and pretty cool looking) instead of forcing you to navigate your way through with only a flashlightís tiny spot of illumination. Similarly, the sprawling Aztec temple and its ignitable torches are now only dark in the rooms that youíre supposed to go through, making it a lot easier to find the correct route. And youíll definitely want to complete this one, because the ending now includes a brief (text-based) epilogue revealing what happens to your lovable band of misfits. Unfortunately you still have to click on an object to know if itís a hotspot or use the What Is command; it would have been nice if theyíd upgraded the engine to let you simply run the mouse over it as in their later games.

The existence of this port really comes as little surprise, as Fujitsu threw wads of cash at several PC and Amiga developers to bring awesome western computer games over to Japanese audiences and showcase the power of their new platform. The real surprise, other than the horrible omission of completely skipping over Maniac Mansion, is that LucasArts went to all this trouble and yet never bothered to bring out a similarly enhanced DOS version for their principal user base. Granted, computers with CD-ROM drives were pretty rare at the time, but not even another floppy release with the new and greatly improved visuals? What, did unscrupulous monkeys sail off with the source code or something? Fortunately you donít even need to know the FM Towns from FM Synthesis in order to enjoy the fruits of their labor; today you can easily play this game (without any loading, no less) simply by using ScummVM. And if by some slim chance you somehow missed it the first time around, get ready: Zak McKracken is better than Spring Break on Mars.

Rating: 9/10

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Staff review by Sho (February 05, 2007)

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