Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Space Quest: Funny adventures...IN SPACE!!!

A device with the power to destroy entire planets has fallen into the hands of evil aliens. A vengeful scientist is plotting unspeakable revenge against a planet of peace, and will soon seek to dominate them. A sinister company is holding hostages and forcing them to do their bidding. A gang of deranged mutants is on the loose and threatens to mutate the entire galaxy. Someone is poised to kill anyone necessary to achieve immortality.

The fate of the entire universe will rest in the hands of one man...as soon as he puts down his broom. That man is the clumsy space janitor and airheaded accidental hero Roger Wilco!

...Pack your bags, kids. It's time to move to another universe.

I am, of course, talking about the Space Quest computer games from 1986-1995. Space Quest is a sci-fi adventure game series in the same vein as the King's Quest and Police Quest games, but with much more humor.

Throughout the plentiful puzzles and surprisingly engaging storyline, you'll encounter ridiculous situations, clever sight gags, humorous references, silly parodies, and a multitude of creative ways to die. Each Space Quest game is different, from the challenges to the graphics and sound to even the interface. 

Space Quest I-III were created in the era of text parsers, requiring the player to type in such commands as OPEN DOOR, PUNCH BARTENDER, and EAT LITTLE ALIEN to interact with anything, while Space Quest IV-6 (yes, "6," not "VI") instead use a point-and-click interface so that you can easily look at, pick up, and run your tongue over everything in sight.

As technology improved, so did the graphics and sound. You'll note a continual improvement in sound quality and visuals from SQI-III. SQIV-V and the VGA remake of SQI represent the apex of the Space Quest sensory experience, varying more in terms of style than anything else. SQ6 is different in that it includes some 3-D graphics but a cast of cartoonish characters that look like they belong more in MS Paint than anywhere else.

And let's not forget about the inclusion of voice acting in SQIV and SQ6, with the renowned Gary Owens as the narrator (who was the voice of the original Space Ghost and the announcer on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Garfield and Friends, and far too many other shows to list here).

As for the music, Space Quest's tunes can be forever memorable, instantly forgettable, swellingly epic, totally atmospheric, weird, ridiculous, upbeat, tense, and downright creepy. As far as I'm concerned, the main Space Quest theme is one of the greatest video game themes of all time; listen to it here, and if you don't like it, I'm donating your body to science. While you're still alive.

The challenges vary from game to game: Depending on which game you play, you might find yourself using inventory items creatively to safely traverse a trap-filled cave, navigating a dark and seemingly endless maze, outrunning an invisible assassin droid, assembling burgers on a conveyor belt, piloting a tiny ship with limited fuel and oxygen reserves, or solving a technology-themed logic puzzle.

The Space Quest games usually require a mix of exploration, quick reflexes, cunning, problem-solving, and whatever else the designers decide to require of you. The price for failure (or just plain stupidity) is most often a sadistically amusing death. Whether Roger gets vaporized, devoured, blown up, melted, sucked out an airlock, or trapped in green Jell-O, sarcastic postmortem commentary from the game usually adds that little bit of comedic punch that makes you simultaneously chuckle and feel like a moron for dying in such a foolish way.

Though Space Quest is hypothetically a series of "family" games, a few of the deaths here and there can be a little gruesome and pretty disturbing--Space Quest still gives me nightmares on rare occasion, and no amount of Animal Crossing will make them go away.

Still, if you enjoy a good laugh, enjoy adventure games, dig science fiction, like a good story, and don't mind the slight possibility of being scarred for life, Space Quest is worth your time.

Perhaps the best way to play them nowadays is to pick up Vivendi Universal's Space Quest Collection, which contains SQI (VGA), II, III, IV, V, and 6. There are a number of older compilations out there, but this one is the most complete and user-friendly for modern computers. Good luck finding a standalone copy of the original EGA version of SQI anywhere other than the Internet, though.

(Obviously, the biggest difference between these versions of SQI is Roger's hair color.)

If you can't get your hands on the original games, or if you've played them all and still want more, you're in luck. The faithful fan community has released a number of fangames that (in most cases) are of equal or near-equal quality to the official games. Happily, these games are free-for-download, allowing you to use your hard-earned buckazoids elsewhere.

While not necessarily comprehensive (as fangames can so easily be developed under everyone's nose), this list should be more than sufficient to satisfy your adventure gaming appetite:

- Space Quest 0: Replicated, a prequel to the series

- Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge (VGA), a VGA remake of SQII (as the name would suggest)

- Space Quest for Glory: Trial by Plunger, a simple combat minigame released during the development of SQII VGA to give fans something to do during the wait

- Space Quest: The Lost Chapter, an interquel set between SQII-III

- Space Quest IV.5: The Voyage Home, an interquel set between--you guessed it--SQIV-V

- Space Quest: Vohaul Strikes Back, a proper sequel to SQ6

Space Quest: Incinerations, a more action-oriented game set in an alternate future following SQ:VSB

If you're more interested in reading about the games than playing them right now, check out my reviews of SQ1, SQ2, SQ:TLC, SQ3, SQ4, SQ5, and SQ6. Also, be sure to check out these great resources:

- SpaceQuest.Net offers more info than anybody ever needed to know about the entire Space Quest series.

- The Space Quest Omnipedia is a comprehensive-yet-incomplete wiki of everything both officially and unofficially Space Quest. Good for most anything SpaceQuest.Net doesn't give you, which, admittedly, isn't much.

- Roger Wilco's Virtual Broomcloset tends a little more toward sheer entertainment than the previous two sites, and it's the place to go for quizzes, fan fiction, interviews, and more.

- The Many Deaths of Roger Wilco is exactly what it sounds like--a complete guide to virtually every death in SQI-6, plus the VGA remake of SQI and SQ:TLC. With pictures. Sicko.

[My challenge to you: Count how many times "Space Quest" or "SQ" appear in this post. You'll go dizzy.]

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