Thursday, May 1, 2014

Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge (Real Review)

When last we left Roger Wilco, he’d managed to pry the power of ultimate destruction from the hands of the ruthless Sarien mercenaries despite his status as a mere janitor and become the hero of his home planet of Xenon.

But before too long the furor over his heroics died down and Roger became yesterday’s news. His hard work did get him promoted to the spot of head janitor on one of Xenon’s space stations, which is small consolation as he’s the only member of the sanitation staff and most of the rest of the crew can’t stand him. Xenon has moved on.

But even if the rest of the universe no longer remembers what Roger did, one man hasn’t forgotten. Unfortunately that man is Sludge Vohaul, the mad scientist who hired the Sariens to steal the Star Generator and use it for evil. As arch-villains are wont to do, he not only cooks up another scheme to bring the galaxy to its knees (to turn the citizens of Xenon into jelly with an army of cloned life insurance salesmen). But also has his flunkies kidnap Roger to exact some payback for thwarting his previous scheme. Fortunately the bad guys forgot to gas up the hovercraft and Roger manages to escape onto the dangerous jungle planet Labion.

And I seem to be one of only a few people who consider this a step down from the previous installment. For one thing, perhaps the biggest one, the sense of humor isn’t nearly as strong as in the first game. Off the top of my head I can only think of two real jokes: when one of Vohaul’s guards insults another one by calling him “Gorf breath,” and when Roger passes out while hanging in a snare trap and dreams he’s Leisure Suit Larry. Maybe you’re willing to count the thing with the parody of Alien. I don’t know if I am. You walk one screen off where you start in the next game and you’ll see that many gags.

There’s also the villain’s evil scheme not being something that sounds like something out of a straight sci-fi premise, I guess.

But anyway, Roger finds himself stranded on a hostile jungle planet and needs to find some way off it. Kind of like Kerona, except it’s a jungle and not a desert. But again, the wit just doesn’t seem as prevalent even compared to the original version of the first game. Case in point, there’s not one but two of that easy fallback plan game designers use when they can’t think of anything else: mazes.

The first is actually the tendrils of some kind of plant monster that paralyze Roger if he touches them, and then it’s chow time for the monster. And you have go through it both ways to get something you need. I will admit that when the game got an icon-driven remake like its predecessor (a fan-made one, some twenty-four years later), they did include an alternate solution to make this part much less of a pain in the ass. Like with the magnet and the slot machine from the remake of the first Space Quest game.

The second one’s a little less frustrating, although that’s mainly because you don’t die if you touch the walls. Although you do die if you take too long to find the way out/wander into the wrong dead end; I never really found out which, but I think it’s the second one.

Besides two mazes in one game where mazes aren’t the whole point, the puzzles do seem a little more arbitrary than they did in the first game and approaching them with the same mindset I managed to adopt then (the hero’s a janitor who knows as much about surviving in a hostile environment as my flabby suburban ass) didn’t help that much.

Some are kind of obvious, though.
At one point you cross a swamp, and there’s a certain deep spot where you need to dive. If you just dive, though, and don’t specifically tell the game you’re holding your breath before you do, you run out of time and drown before you have any chance of finding out where it goes. Because you, who have intelligence to type well enough to use the text parser and operate a computer in the first place, wouldn’t automatically hold your breath before diving to the bottom of a body of water. And you need to do this because there’s, of course, an all-important item to be had.

That’s assuming you even walk across the swamp at the right part of the screen to find out there’s a deep spot at all and it’s not just there to make you figure out a way to keep from being eaten by a monster that hides underwater.

And I would of course be remiss if I didn’t point out how two later games make a point of killer robots coming after Roger because he didn’t pay for a FREE whistle he sends away for in this game.

It gets better when you end up back at Vohaul’s space base (not entirely by choice), as he like any cheesy villains has a number of death traps protecting him from meddling dogooders, and the proper solutions involve some fairly basic, if slightly cartoony, logic. Then again this is supposed to be a comedic adventure.

“Vohaul’s Revenge” doesn’t destroy the series, but it’s still something of a step back. That’s okay, though. The next little Space Quest odyssey more than makes up for it.