SQII: Vohaul's Revenge is back as a remake of the 1987 game; Vohaul Strikes Back is completely new.
March 14, 2012
You can't spell "sequel" without "S" and "Q." I know this because the fan-made follow-ups to Space Quest just keep coming. In fact, this article is a sequel of sorts to one I posted on JA awhile back, reviewing four earlier SQ fan-made games. I will refrain from regurgitating here any of that discussion other than to again marvel at how the independent game-makers of the world have focused on SQ to the relative exclusion of the other classic Sierra series, most notably King's Quest and Leisure Suit Larry. There must be something about that scamp of a space janitor Roger Wilco that appeals dearly to the hearts of programmers and animators everywhere. My guess is that the KQ series is a bit too strait-laced and the Larry series a bit too sexist. Roger, however, plays on the heartstrings of all slackers. He's all of us in a space custodial engineer's pressurized suit, screwing up everything he lays his mop on, but winning the day in the end nonetheless. He's the all-purpose anti-gravity anti-hero. I don't know if he'll live forever, but he's still going strong over a quarter century after his first digitized pratfalls. I will also remind you that I employed a special rating system in my earlier article, a scale of one to five golden mops, instead of the usual letter grade. And now, once again, let the fan-made games begin.Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge, AGS remake by Infamous AdventuresYou may already be familiar with Infamous Adventures for their nifty remake of Sierra's King's Quest III: To Heir Is Human. I'd have loved to play that great-looking game, except I'd recently played the equally swell KQIII remake from AGD Interactive (also responsible for excellent remakes of King's Quests I and II, as well as Quest For Glory II). Thanks largely to Chris Jones's freeware Adventure Game Studio, there has been a surprising, and welcome, number of Sierra classic remakes over the past decade. As far as I know, however, this is the first true remake of a Space Quest game. Most of the action till now has been in fan-made sequels or tribute games. The original SQII: Vohaul's Revenge was released in early 1987. Our hero Roger Wilco had defeated the evil Vohaul's simian army in SQI and now the big bad guy was itchin' for some payback. Once again Roger must confront his arch-nemesis while trying not to trip over his own feet. Roger is kidnapped off the space station he's currently custodianing, sent to a jungle prison planet from which he must escape, and then flies to Vohaul's asteroid fortress to track him down and stop his newest nefarious plans for destroying the galaxy. Does our hero succeed? Is Mr. Clean bald?So IA's SQII remake comes out in the original's 25th anniversary year. Let us travel briefly back to the halcyon days of 1987. How many of you were alive then? How many were already tapping away at their IBM XT clone or Commodore 64 or Amiga? In 1987 if you had a hard drive you were the envy of your peers. No CD drives, modems if you had 'em had a baud speed of about 9. Oh, and no internet to speak of. Back then one used to dial up literally, modem to modem. RAM over 512k was unheard of unless you had a Mac Plus. In that case you had maybe a meg of RAM but had to play games on a black-and-white screen smaller than the iPad's. And adventure games cost about fifty buckazoids a pop.Times have indeed changed, comrades. Thanks to those geniuses at DOSBox, you can still play the original on your smokin' Win7 or Lion Mac tower or laptop. If you can figure out how to transfer your original floppies onto virtual ones, that is. The original SQII came out in Sierra's old AGI game engine. There was no mouse, so typed commands and the arrow keys controlled Roger. These days this is referred to as Graphical Interactive Fiction. There are purists who still consider this the ideal adventure game platform, because the text parser permits a lot more freedom of expression. And cussin'.The brand new IA remake, in converting the game to AGS, has done away with the text parser and the old 4-bit graphics and the teensy-tiny screen size and the tinny MIDI beeps and boops. The game plays out in glorious full color, full-screen, with full voice-acting and a modern mouse interface. And the download is entirely free. In short, you no longer have any excuse not to play this game.What IA did not dispense with is the sometimes challenging, sometimes frustrating gameplay. If you have played nothing but recent adventures, you're in for a surprise. There's no hint button. The game will gladly allow you to wander into a dead end without uttering a peep of warning. You (as Roger) will die a bucketful of mostly wacky deaths before you save the universe from Vohaul's mechanical clutches. As far as I can tell, the plot, the action and the dialogue is the same as the original's. The one thing IA tweaked a bit is a few of the puzzle solutions. They've mercifully tossed in a couple of helpful clues lacking from the Sierra game. They also slapped on an entirely new intro cut scene that I thought was amusing but a bit too long. (One wants to start playing a game ASAP; save the gorgeous hilarious cut scene as a reward for finishing the game.) The sounds of the game are professional quality, as is the new soundtrack. The voice acting was, uh, not bad, but not great. Don't expect Gary Owens SQVI-level voice-overing. By now you've probably played at least one other AGS game (if not, you certainly should), and the installer is typical AGS. The download, even by 21st century standards is still a hefty one, about half a gig. (The Sierra original installs at roughly 700k, btw.)If you've never played the original, you're in for a retro blast with this remake. Unless you're the type who runs for the nearest walkthrough every time you get stuck. This game is in fact quite short. Backtracking to look for what you might have missed isn't agonizing. But save often, because you'll be meeting your maker on a regular basis. If you have played the original, recently or twenty-five years ago, you will be just as amused and frustrated replaying through this excellent remake.I award SQII: Vohaul's Revenge, the remake, a stellar 4 Golden Mops. The same score, not too surprisingly, I'd give the original game. SQII is a bit too short and the plot can't match the later games in the series, but it's still a gas to play. I wonder what the golden anniversary will bring? Space Quest II the neural implant? We'll just have to wait and see.Vohaul Strikes Back, another AGS game brought to you by . . . a bunch of folksNo, this is not the same game I just reviewed. Yes, Vohaul is seeking revenge here too, but it's much farther along in the SQ series. Where, I'm not exactly sure. Really, Vohaul is always seeking revenge. It's what he does. Don't worry about that.VSB also relies upon Adventure Game Studio to bring Space Quest fans everywhere a full-sized, full-screen, rip-roaring freeware adventure. Unlike the IA SQII remake, however, VSB is an entirely new game, with a bunch of new characters and situations. A few of the earlier SQ tribute games recycled some of Sierra's backgrounds as well as the animated sprites, but here even the sprites are fresh. This is a newly conceived, drawn and animated Roger. He's even got a fiance. She looks and talks at times like a long-haired truck driver but, hey, that's Roger's call.In fact, the plot of VSB commences with Roger and Beatrice arguing about getting married. Luckily for Roger, they're interrupted by a call to save the universe again, from a newly (again) reconstituted Sludge Vohaul. Before you can say "Astro Chicken!" the lovey-dovey pair are off on a wild adventure on an ice-encrusted brick of a planet inhabited by Vohaul's apemen and some Ewok-like furry creatures. Once again, our hero must employ the full extent of his custodial engineering skills to track down and then defeat his mortal enemy. Beatrice? Is that a reference to Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing? She's certainly combative enough. Roger's lucky she loves him because she'd make a far more formidable opponent than poor, deluded Sludge Vohaul. This time Sludge returns as a rickety poor relation to the Tin Man and his Sarien ape henchmen haven't evolved much either. Beatrice only puts in an appearance at the beginning and the end of the shenanigans, however. In the meantime, Roger must match wits with the usual array of witless guards and talking, walking quadrupeds and snippy automatons. At last, he makes his way once more to Vohaul's stronghold, where the fiend's mining some sort of super-dynamite, and saves the day. Except this time, you're given a choice of two ways to save the day. I don't want to give anything away, but one ending is brief while the other will take you several more hours to complete and contains some of the trickier puzzles in the game. The VSB website promises that a voice-track is coming, but for now it's onscreen text only. As usual, I didn't much mind. Unless a game has an outstanding voice cast, like SQVI, it makes not a vast difference. There are professional sound effects in VSB and the music score is mostly jaunty and usually scene-appropriate. The puzzles are the standard array of adventure game inventorying and dialogue-treeing. I thought the game's writers did a good job delivering adequately clued puzzles, with a few innovative twists. There's little to no pixel hunting. VSB also accomplishes the tricky task of "feeling" like a genuine Space Quest game. The plot, the characters and the writing all have that SQ zing. The game took me six evenings to complete, about 25 hours. (SQII, the remake, took about three evenings.) VSB, even voice-pack-less, is also a largish download of about half a gig. The only shortcoming in VSB worth mentioning is a tendency on the writers' part not to know when to quit. Some of the dialogues go on and on. And the pop-cultural references, mostly visual, at times threaten to swamp the main plot. A few can be fun; a boatload is annoying and occasionally distracting. Also, it's fine to break the fourth wall, but the detour had better be worth it. I'm also of two minds about the two endings. The short ending works fine, remaining true to the SQ ethos. The longer ending, while clever, rocks the SQ boat too much for my taste. Tech-wise, I had trouble getting the game to launch until I tossed the config file. None of this detracts from the overall enjoyment of the game. Sure, the animation of the sprites is a bit crude, but this is another excellent, professionally wrought AGS adventure that probably took thousands of man-woman-robot hours to lovingly complete. In fact, it reportedly was a decade in the making. Vohaul Strikes Back also earns a glistening 4 Golden Mops for their extraordinary efforts. But wait! There's more! The VSB website has links to yet another large download of an SQ-themed game. This one is, from what I can tell, an action game, with Roger blasting his enemies instead of outlasting them. Incinerations may be more to your taste than mine, however. It has always been the fans of creative works who really keep them alive for succeeding generations. That has been true of literature, music and art for centuries. I hope it will be true of classic adventure games far into the intergalactic future.