Aug 17, 2007

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers

1991. 16 years ago. The members of the rock band Nirvana are starting their mainstream career and people are still gaming on Amigas. Sierra On-Line is probably the most powerful game publisher for the PC, and the graphic adventure genre reins supreme. First-person shooters and RTS games haven't even been imagined. A 256-color VGA card is considered cutting-edge. Playing a game in any resolution over 320x200 is preposterous. Sierra releases Space Quest IV for PC, Amiga and Macintosh. Fast forward to 2007, where I, a lowly gnome, get to review said game. But what's the point, I hear you ask?

No particular point to be honest. I simply felt like looking back at one of the first adventures I ever played. See if it retains its charm. Provide you with the sweet and fuzzy nostalgia feeling every retro review tends to evoke. Perhaps even teach the younger readers of the Lair a small history lesson that has nothing to do with Lenin. The fact, of course, that Space Quest IV was the last Space Quest game to be designed by the Two Guys from Andromeda (Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy; Wikipedia entry), the first Space Quest to feature VGA graphics and the first Sierra adventure with scrolling screens in it, did help me a bit in selecting it.

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (hence SQ4), as its title subtly suggests, is all about time travel. Roger Wilco the titular space janitor, occasional world-saving hero, and Space Quest frontman, travels from the lush 256 color VGA landscapes of Space Quest IV, to the 16 color EGA Space Quest I ones, while having fun at a few more eras, namely Space Quests X and XII. In a pretty cute twist of gaming design logic, you don't get to actually play in Space Quest IV, but simply experience it through amazing (for the time) hand-drawn cut-scenes. The plot is pretty basic: fight an old enemy, save your son, avoid one of the dozens of possible and fully animated deaths and save the galaxy. It's as simple -and almost cliched- as that.

Well, maybe not so cliched after all. You do have to accomplish standard superhero goals, but there is a twist. You see, Roger Wilco right after saving the two game designers known as the Two Guys from Andromeda in Space Quest III, and while vacationing through the Galaxy's space bars, gets attacked by the aptly named Sequel Police, who are apparently operating under the commands of arch-enemy Sludge Vohaul. Roger's yet unborn son comes to the rescue, transports him to Space Quest XII, where Roger promptly hands control over to the player, who must now save the Galaxy. Not a groundbreaking story, but nice nonetheless and quite an appropriate setting for some silly gags..

This, you see, is no serious sci-fi dystopian epic. From the moment you look at the cover of the game's box (which in typical 90s fashion includes lots of diskettes, a manual, a Sierra catalog, and the amazingly funny Space Piston Magazine; have a look here) you'll get the silly attitude that prevails throughout SQ4. The game pokes fun at Sierra, Space Quest games, adventure games in general, Star Wars, sci-fi movies, contemporary society, life, universe, fish (not) and apparently the player. Most of the jokes and one-liners actually work, thus crowning SQ4 the funniest (non-text) adventure of the early nineties, if for whatever criminal reason we choose to ignore Monkey Island. Or Day of the Tentacle. Ok, to be frank, SQ4 isn't the funniest game ever. Big deal! Its humor is much better than your average Larry Laffer, Broken Sword, or Quake-Doom humor.

SQ4 is polished too. The production values of Space Quest IV are, even by today's standards, impressive. There are buckets of animation, lots of detailed screens, full and rather funny descriptions for everything you could wish to click on, a great soundtrack, an optional shoot-em-up styled mini-game (Ms. Astro Chicken), an irritating hamburger making sequence, lush animated sequences, easter eggs, cameo appearances and enough Star Wars jokes to bore you to death. All this in the shortest Space Quest game in the series, as you shouldn't need more than a few hours to reach the (almost touching) finale, but only using a walkthrough. Or some sort of invincibility cheat.

Try finishing SQ4 without any external help and you will loose your precious time, your precious temper or even both, for this is a bloody difficult game. Unfairly and excruciatingly so. Hint book sales were after-all a major income source for Sierra during the long forgotten era of the early nineties, when the Web was just a Swiss scientist's thought and walkthroughs hard to find. Timed sequences, arcade bits, a variety of frequent and unexpected deaths, mazes, dead ends, obscure riddles and every twisted anti-player trick the designers could conjure is there to make your life miserable and your adventuring quest a descent to paranoia. On the plus side this is an adventure game with a point system, meaning that even if you manage to reach the end, you should probably replay it in order to achieve full-points glory. Talk about value for money. Hah. Those were the days.

Today, where walkthroughs and porn are readily available on the web, SQ4 is still good fun. Graphics and music have aged well, the interface is one of the first point-and-click ones (just don't hope for hotspots), the story is still great, and the puzzles tough as always. Download DOSbox and VDMSound and experience this classic in Windows XP (better yet try this link). It will be worth it. And as Sierra put it: "It's not just an adventure, it's a convoluted mass of obstacles only the designers could ever hope to unravel. This 10 pound box of fun is sure to confound even the most dedicated computer game masochist".

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Space Quest IV Easter Eggs, SQIV walkthrough, The Lurking Horror by Infocom, reviews archive

29 comments:

  1. That makes the Space Quest Collection sound a lot better. It's nice that Sierra decided to sell collections of their old games.

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  2. Indeed dear ithmeer. It could have been so much better though (including extras, interviews etc) and not some compilation running using the standard freeware DOSbox version...

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  3. Quest for Glory used the point system as well.

    It was good for replay because you are going EVERYWHERE trying to find out where you missed those points.

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  4. Uhm, well, yes. I was quite fond of this sick little fetish too y'know...

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  5. The Space Quest series is one of my favorites... I think SQ2 was my first one ;)
    SQ4 was nice, but i still think SQ3 and SQ5 are the best parts of the series.

    - Ben

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  6. Hey Ben, nice of you to drop a comment mate. Thanks. As for me, well didn't really enjoy SQ5, but I must admit the parser games -especially SQ3- were quite excellent. Probably funnier too, but they had the unfair advantage of text ;)

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  7. A good read. I'm really impressed with your output, Gnome. There's text everywhere. I just fake it and put in lots of pictures... Well. Kudos.

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  8. slackogamer8/18/07, 4:00 PM

    Space Quest. Those were the good old days.
    King's Quest is great too !!


    slackogamer.blogspot.com

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  9. Maybe I should pick up one of these collections one day. But only if Gnome approves...

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  10. never heard of it till now, quite excellent and captivating review and game now added to my must play b4idie list.

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  11. Hey Gnome!

    Enjoying your blog - tripped over it as I Googled for System Shock 2 updates.

    Wanted to see if you might be interested in joining us over at Gamehelper.com? We just relaunched and you can learn more about our mission here: http://gamehelper.com/site/staff

    Hit me up if you're interested - joe at gamehelper dot com

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  12. Thanks a ton David. Appreciate the kind words mate. Never knew you faked pics (!). Hehe

    Yes, slackogamer, King's Quest is great too, and KQ 6 the best of said series...

    I approve Ross, but only if you haven't played the games before. Wouldn't suggest said compilations for collectors.

    Wow, what a huge play-list Elderly. Surely the ladies will love it. Oh, and thanks for another set of undeserved kind words my friend.

    Pachoey, I'll have a look and mail you asap mate.

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  13. Oh, I'll fake anything... ;)

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  14. (disguises himself as Gnome... heads over to Gamehelper.com....)

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  15. psst.. what's the plan?

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  16. Wow stunning and in depth review! Top marks Mr.Gnome

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  17. (arrives back....) well that went down like a bloody led balloon... (tosses fascimile Gnome hat in corner...)

    well they never spotted the disguise, would have taken me for Gnome straight away... except I'm virtual aint' I? don't exist do I... (passes hand through rib cage...) seems I only exist on internet and I'm completely invisible in real life... well thats a great bloody surprise....

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  18. Thank you very much fatherly Mr. Krishna.

    Surprise maybe Elderly but I'm not sure I actually got the plan. All I managed is to find out you're a trans-dimensional invisible being.

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  19. ...oooh i don't like the sound of that,.. multi dimensional sounds better.. trans.. carries wrong connotations... hope you understand...

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  20. Why yes, of course. Can't see how I let that slip... Wish I had a proper legal to post an appropriate disclaimer.

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  21. they're so costly... and they say blooger is free huh!.. pah!...

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  22. Perhaps we could abduct a lawyer or too...

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  23. ...we could... why thats a capital idea.... and probably a capital offence too.... still it would liven things up... we can keep him in Fk's house...

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  24. The one in Wales or the Manchunian?

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  25. ..hmmmmm! manchuria... they have prettier jail cells....

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  26. But are the cockroaches big enough?

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  27. While SQ3 was probably the best in the series, SQ4 fails in all fronts except presentation. There's practically no puzzles, it's completely linear, the storyline just pales in comparison to any of the contemporary LucasArts' releases, or even to older entries in the SQ-saga.
    Most likely they figured out in the marketing department that the graphics is what sells the game; and while the writing is what makes the game memorable, it does not help to ship the units.

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  28. I'll generally have to disagree with you dear anonymous, though I can definitely see your points. And I'm pretty sure you're correct on them marketing choices...

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