Review by Flashman85

Reviewed: 08/20/08

If it's not the best Space Quest game ever, it's darn close.

If you ask any Space Quest fan to rank from least favorite to favorite the games in the Space Quest series, chances are excellent that Space Quest IV will be somewhere at the very top of the list. Released in 1991, the game comes in two flavors: the floppy disk version, which came first, and the CD-ROM version, which came not too long thereafter and primarily featured added voiceovers and some altered graphics. Regardless of the version, Space Quest IV showcases some of the best (if not the best) graphics, music, challenges, plot, and humor that the series has to offer.

The game opens as Roger Wilco, everyone's favorite clumsy space janitor and accidental hero, is just starting to unwind in a bar after the events of Space Quest III. He soon discovers that Sludge Vohaul, his supposedly-deceased nemesis, is still alive, and has sent his goons to do away with Roger. Roger narrowly escapes death by jumping through a sort of portal that sends him into the future--specifically, he’s sent into Space Quest XII, where his home planet of Xenon is in ruins. It’s up to you to help Roger to survive long enough through this time-traveling adventure to figure out what’s going on and to defeat Sludge Vohaul once and for all.

If you couldn't tell from the description above, this Space Quest is somewhat more plot-intensive than the ones before it. The plot development is well-paced; the introduction sets everything up nicely, and subsequent cutscenes are seamlessly blended with normal gameplay, never disrupting the flow. Time travel opens up a lot of interesting possibilities for a story, and SQIV makes great use of it.

Actually, SQIV makes great use of basically everything it has to offer. For starters, there are the graphics: The 256 colors available allow for vibrant and detailed hand-painted graphics that make the characters and locations come alive. Each location has a unique and memorable atmosphere, from the dreary streets of Xenon to Vohaul’s ominous and Giger-esque fortress. It’s a pleasure to look at all the locations, but there’s more to do than just look.

Interacting with your surroundings in each location is easier than in the previous three Space Quest installments thanks to the point-and-click interface, a distinct change from the text parsers of old. I have no preference about which interface an adventure game uses as long as it is implemented well, but SQIV leaves no doubt that a point-and-click interface is the best choice for this adventure; you can do plenty of things that would be hard to do effectively or efficiently with a text parser, and there are more than enough unique responses from interacting with your environment to make up for the fact that you can’t type in obscure commands such as SCREAM or DRINK FLIGHT SUIT. You are given a Walk cursor to get you from place to place, a Hand cursor to pick up and use things, an Eye cursor to look at what’s around you and find out more about everything, a Talk cursor to make conversation, and even a Nose and a Tongue cursor that serve no real purpose but provide frequent laughs (and I might add that they return far more responses than they do in the VGA version of SQI). And, as usual, you can try to use all of your inventory items on each other and on your surroundings.

An interesting thing about the inventory items is that there are fewer of them than in any other Space Quest game (15 items, to be precise), and almost half of them are unnecessary for completing the game. As you might guess from this, SQIV does not rely heavily on inventory items for its puzzles, unlike many other adventure games. In addition to the few situations where you need to use the right item in the right place, you’ll hide from a floating Droid-O-Death, outrun Vohaul’s goons, piece together a time code to take a time machine to another era, and even assemble burgers on an ever-quickening conveyor belt.

The challenges are varied and require patience, logic, memory, skillful movement, keen observation, interaction with your environment, and/or good reflexes--basically, a little of everything. This diversity of challenges offers something for everyone and keeps the game from traversing too far into action territory like SQIII does or degrading into an item hunt like SQ:TLC. Very few puzzles offer more than one solution, though, so there’s a bit of potential for further replay value that wasn’t realized; also, a few sequences are especially tricky to survive, so you’ll probably do more saving and reloading than you’d like, even once you know what you’re supposed to do.

Yet, this is a Space Quest game, and saving and reloading is a must if you want to have the full Space Quest experience. I am, of course, referring to the many deaths of Roger Wilco. SQIV offers 47 comical ways to die, and regardless of whether you’re trying to get Roger killed or not, you’ll probably chuckle when you get scooped up by a sewer slime, impaled by a spear hurled by an angry woman, electrocuted by an obvious but invisible force field, or run over by a speedy sand bike. Truth be told, fans of the creative and exotic deaths seen in other Space Quest games might be disappointed because most of the time, Roger just gets shot. It’s not like I’m trying to be weird and sadistic here; if you’re reading this, you’re probably already familiar with Space Quest and know that the death sequences and subsequent messages help to give the series its character and provide a great deal of humor.

And humor abounds! The game is hilarious throughout, and even when there’s nothing overtly funny in sight you can start clicking on everything with the many icons at your disposal for some great laughs. Looking at Roger’s own head at one point with the Eye icon gives you the message, “That’s your head, Roger. Now, USE IT FOR SOMETHING!” Click on the mustard, buns, and other burger parts in the aforementioned burger assembly arcade sequence to have them actually talk to you with statements like this one, from when you smell the lettuce: “Get yer nose off me! What do I look like, a nostril mat?” There’s enough humor packed into the game that you’re likely to discover at least a few new jokes every time you play through, and the laughs range from brief chuckles to some truly gut-busting guffaws.

SQIV delivers its comedy through witty remarks, rampant sarcasm, sight gags, and parodies of and references to such things as Star Wars (as always), Get Smart, Leisure Suit Larry, and scads of other computer games of the time, not to mention the old Sierra hint books. Adding to this humor, if you’re playing the CD version, is the presentation of the jokes by the voice actors.

That’s right: voice acting! Virtually all of the voice actors are Sierra employees (read: not professional voice actors), and yet they do a much better job than some of the voice acting I’ve heard (Mega Man 8 comes immediately to mind). Regardless, everybody sounds as you would expect them to, or they at least come very close. Roger is appropriately dense, Vohaul is repulsive and sinister, and the narrator, well... The narrator is none other than Gary Owens; you may remember him as the announcer from Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, Garfield and Friends, and a multitude of other shows, or perhaps as the voice of Blue Falcon and the original Space Ghost. I have one word concerning this casting choice: perfect. If I had to have a narrator describing everything I touch, smell, taste, and look at, I’d want someone who speaks with eloquence, varied inflection, and gusto. Roger Wilco has such a narrator, and his life, and deaths, are better for it.

Everything else there is to listen to is perfect or nearly perfect as well. I don’t usually have much to say about sound effects unless they’re atrocious or extremely unique, so I’ll just say that the sound effects are good, and I’ll leave it at that. The music, though, is where I take a special interest, and I feel that SQIV has one of the most solid soundtracks in the series. The music lends great ambiance to each location, and many of the tunes are ones that you’ll be humming or whistling long after you’ve stopped playing. The bar music from the introduction is energetic and extremely catchy. The music for the burger assembly game isn’t terribly noteworthy, but it gradually speeds up to make the experience as frantic as possible. The music for the showdown against Vohaul sounds exactly like facing off against your old nemesis should. And I don’t know about anybody else, but the hold-me-mommy-I’m-about-to-wet-my-pants music of Xenon’s streets and sewer are downright creepy, especially when you know (or don’t know) what’s lurking just around the corner. You might also notice the return of the Monolith Burger and Astro Chicken themes from SQIII and that Vohaul's theme from SQII is subtly worked in here and there. The entire soundtrack is very enjoyable, and even at it’s worst it’s merely unremarkable.

I only have two complaints about the sound, but they're fairly minor. First, one area of the game has no music whatsoever, and no ambient sound effects such as wind blowing or birds calling to fill the noticeable void. Second, there's an arcade with overlapping and clashing sound effects that really do capture the feel of an arcade... but they become grating before too long.

Honestly, SQIV really doesn’t have many flaws. Its biggest problem isn’t with the content of the game but with the program itself: on modern computers, it can be very difficult to get SQIV running properly. The CD version has numerous timer issues that make the action sequences impossible, and getting the sound to work correctly can be tricky. There is a patch available that addresses these and other issues, but even with it the game can be tougher to get running optimally than most other games its age.

Anything else wrong with the game is more a matter of preference than anything else. The disk version is slightly different from the CD version, so you might find, for example, that you prefer the way Vohaul’s fortress looks at a distance in one version but you prefer some of the dialogue in the other version. Moreover, SQIV offers a greater degree of freedom to explore than almost any other Space Quest game, so if you prefer more linear adventure games, you might be bothered by having no clear idea of where to go next at times, and you might also be bothered by the backtracking you have to do once you’ve figured it out.

Overall, SQIV has very few problems and many great successes. The plot, challenges, humor, graphics, and sound are among the best in the series, if not the best in the series. The voice acting in the CD version is a wonderful addition that really brings the game to life. The fairly freeform nature of the game and the fact that there are items and countless jokes that you might miss the first time around add to the replay value. No matter which Space Quest is your absolute favorite, the polish and solid execution of SQIV should make it a strong contender for that coveted top spot on your list.

Rating: 9

Product Release: Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (US, 12/31/91)

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