A day of pleasing events for a change. At the end of last month, I was still struggling to get my money back from Microsoft's campaign from earlier this year. Today, the ordeal came to a close as I noticed my long-awaited fifty euros had been deposited back to my bank account. It took fourteen weeks rather than the promised ten and I still can't wrap my head around how how they managed to lose half the information written on a single piece of A4. Still, a happy ending to a minor issue, although despite decent-ish customer service, this is the last time I dabble in promotions like those; temporarily lending money to big corporations is just way too cumbersome and prone for mistakes.
Yesterday's Nintendo 3DS Direct broadcast was also a source of a couple of most wonderful and welcome surprises. Square Enix's exceptionally well-received Bravely Default: Flying Fairy, released in Japan some half a year ago, is heading to Europe this year. As the above trailer shows, it's "only" a traditional JRPG but then again, traditionality is exactly why I'm so excited about it! World map, airships, a pompous orchestral score, sappy drama, turn-based battles, massive special attacks... Yum!
Furthermore, after a wait of nearly 19 years, the SNES classic EarthBound has finally decided to bless Europe with its presence! This utterly endearing and original JRPG by Shigesato Itoi has earned a cult following and deservedly so. It's heading for the Wii U Virtual Console and I'm keeping my fingers earnestly crossed that it would also find its way to Wii as well. If that won't happen, no harm done. Just another inducement to invest on Nintendo's currently more than struggling piece of hardware.
While Sony is preparing to roll out the next console generation (tonight at 6PM EST, 11PM GMT), I have reversed back to year 1991 in order to continue pathetic, yet resilient attempts to charm the opposite sex. Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work kicks off with a dilemma. Someone is needed to scout out three potential hostesses for a new TV show, America's Sexiest Homevideos. The choice should be a woman so sexy and lusty that she'd get in between the sheets with even the most hopeless of nerds and losers imaginable. No points for guessing where the middle-aged, balding, prone-for-bizarre-accidents cocksman Larry Laffer fits in this equation.
Meanwhile the heroine of the previous game – or rather, the one before that – Passionate Patti, ends up working undercover for the FBI, trying to scavenge incriminating evidence against the mafia that has the country's music and porn industry tight in its grip. The premise is slightly confusing not just for Larry and Patti, but the player as well. No one, you see, can remember a darn thing about the fourth, never-released game in the series. Then again, perhaps journeying across America will shed some light into that particular oddity as well.
LSL5 represented the new, third generation of Sierra's adventures. The graphics shone in all of their 256-color glory, there was enough space for a handful of digitized sound effects, and the text parser used to type commands yielded in favor of mouse control and action icons. Uncharacteristically for Sierra, even sudden deaths were binned. Although the technical advancement in comparison to the third game was immense, progress didn't come with just bliss and happiness What the game won in grandeur, it lost in adventure. LSL5 is an overly short, overly easy, and overly straightforward act that takes less than four hours to complete with one of them spent watching cutscenes. Nicely animated cutscenes, sure, but still.
That's not to say the fifth (or fourth) installment wouldn't try hard to keep things eventful and fresh. The player is constantly juggled between the individual story branches of Larry and Patti, and new locations come in thick and fast. The progress blocking puzzles, however, are mostly strewn across areas of a pitiful two or three screen in size. Therefore figuring out their awkwardly simple solutions is practically never a brain-teasing challenge. The rowdy and sexist humor still flourishes as it used to but the actual playable content is inexcusably feeble this time around. After the particularly impressive third game, it feels like this was the turning point for Larry's escapades.
This retro Saturday has been all about putting on the moves. Gaming began with Sierra's 1987 release, Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. It (anti-)stars an inexperienced single nerd, Larry Laffer, age 38, who finally decides to do something with his life and, less than a hundred bucks in his wallet, rushes off into the sinful nights of Lost Wages to become a man. The journey starts in front of a seedy little bar and takes the unlucky, yet undaunted Larry on a grand adventure all about getting in between the sheets and, who knows, perhaps even finding true love.
At least for 80's adventure gamers, Al Lowe's and Mark Crowe's Larry is one of the most iconic characters in gaming history. A poor bloke who mostly thinks with his balls, pinballing from one catastrophe to another, is a surefire recipe for loads of obscene and naughty humor that could be considered wholeheartedly sexist but isn't, really. Life is so keen and imaginative on making Larry's life miserable that it's downright impossible not to feel sorry for him, even if his intentions aren't exactly pure and noble to begin with.
As with all first generation adventures by Sierra, Land of the Loung Lizards is, by modern standards, mostly coarse, although in an adorable manner. The rought EGA graphics, the beeper musics, the arrow key navigation, and a simple text parser are things that probably appeal to us nostalgics only. The same goes for the script, which is deliberately vague and stingy with hints. Different parts of the town can be visited via a quick taxi ride but what, when, and why needs to be done is all down to the player's observedness and imagination. Game overs are both frequent and amusing, and it's perfectly possible to hit a complete dead end after missing something crucially relevant.
Aided with shaky memories, the playthrough didn't last more than a couple of hours but the adventure was still obscure enough to warrant more.
It didn't take long for Larry to make a return. Released in 1988, Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places) represented a more modern Sierra. An improved game engine provided mouse and sound card support, as well as improved resolution. Larry's life, however, remained as-is. Even if he did charm a potential life-companion at the end of the previous game, she isn't exactly thrilled to move together with him and before he knows it, Larry has been dumped, kicked out, and left penniless.
After a series of extremely surprising and unlikely coincidences, Larry has a new chance for happiness by winning a million dollars and a one month luxury cruise. Unfortunately, a series of even more unlikely events soon get him tangled up with the world domination plans of a deranged scientist. As a result, our favorite skirt chasing casanova suddenly has to cope with not just bad luck and a receding hairline but KGB as well. Oh well, stuff happens.
Compared to its predecessor, Looking for Love is a major leap forward in more ways than just technically. The vast, merry, and wacky story follows Larry to a variety of exotic locations with a commendable amount of places to explore. The puzzles, though, are still so eccentric that making progress is mostly a very hit-and-miss affair. As well as sudden deaths, unknown time limits can bring the game to an over. Also, failing to pick up something could easily lead to a situation that forces an unfortunate player to resume from an earlier, perhaps even much earlier save. Then again, Sierra games have always been about the importance of saving often.
That might sound like not much fun but it was. The everyday, yet awfully absurd world of the series is captivating and after countless proficient heroes, it's a joy to play as someone who's always on the short end of the stick and in those rare cases that things seem to go right, the next disaster is usually just waiting around the corner. This one took a little over three hours, although it's hard to say how much the previous playthrough helped. That one was, after all, a couple of decades ago.
Gee whiz, the end of 80's truly was a golden era for adventure gamers! Once again, it didn't take more than a year for Larry's next escapades. Leisure Suit Larry 3: Passionate Patti in Pursuit of the Pulsating Pectorals (sheesh!) continues a few years later from where the previous game left off. Larry was left living a comfortable married life on a paradise island but it doesn't take long for things to get back to normal. His wife dumps him for a woman, his father-in-law fires him, and the comfy life has given him plenty of awkward extra weight. None of this brings Larry down, though, and he vows to make a return as the number one swinger of the island.
Although the game engine remained the same in this third part, hunting down pulsating pectorals is Larry at his finest! The developers made the best of the graphics available and not only is the game vaster than ever, it's better written as well. The adventure, taking place on that single island, is a solid adventure that strikes an excellent balance between aimless wandering around and adapting a bit of creative logical thinking. Sudden deaths are still there but they're easier to anticipate and overall, the game does a far better job in letting the player to think, discover, and fabricate everything there is to be done in order to make Larry's life better once more.
The game also deserves credit for its variety. Trimming a fat Larry back to shape might have been the first time in adventure gaming when the appearance of the hero changed during the journey. The same stands for eventually putting the player into someone else's shoes entirely. The game manual, disguised as a tourist guide, was also utilized in a neat fashion. Not only did it serve as copy protection, it held amusing and delightfully cryptic hints on what one might have to do in order to progress the story. Problem solutions are still decidedly exotic but they're rewarded with so much humor and feeling of accomplishment that the game hardly ever feels daunting.
This joy lasted for more than four hours, which is a commendable effort for adventures of that era. Even if Larry's eventual fate was to sink with the dwindling demand for adventures in general, this was a time when both the man and the genre were living the life. This could be just nostalgy speaking but if a 24 year old game still manages to make me grin like a lunatic, it did more than enough things spot on and then some!
It finally happened! The paradise for retro gamers, GOG.com, did the unthinkable and managed to add that last immemorial Sierra adventure series onto its virtual shelves. In other words, Leisure Suit Larry is back! This unorthodox sextet of five semi naughty adventures goes for a measly ten bucks, a sum I was more than happy to part with, especially because back in the 80's, being just a snotty teen with all the self-assertive knowledge of how the world runs, paying for entertainment was something entirely unthinkable.
Granted, growing older has the handicap of finding time to actually enjoy these. Gaming time is sparse as ever, coming weekend included, but I'll be darned if this harsh winter won't bless me with at least a single whole day of nothing but retro bliss in the vein of the same company's Space Quests back in October.
An ordinary work week is right behind the corner but what a comfy little vacation this was! The Ratchet & Clank Trilogy, or Ratchet & Clank to be precise, relinquished the 16th platinum of my PSN account almost as planned. The second playthrough was most notable for the intoxicating feeling of omnipotence. Since all the expensive weapons and health upgrades carried over to the second round, playing the game anew was more about leisure blasting than tight performing, even if there were still a number of cleverly hidden secrets to scavenge. It is kind of neat how the gameplay felt so strikingly different with such minor variations.
That's not to say the game would've turned too easy or repetitive, as various time and damage limited challenges kept things interesting. The only exception was the requirement to amass a million bolts. Even if the bolts in the second playthrough are worth twice as much as before, the game is still awfully stingy with them. Besides, purchasing and enhancing absolutely everything there is only takes about half or two thirds of that budget. Therefore the remaining bolts have to be grinded in a laborous fashion with no other incentive than to get the job done. Oh well, all done in 32 hours.
Retro gaming of late hasn't taken more than a couple of hours. Unfortunately Midway Arcade Origins didn't turn out to be quite as addictive as Sega's compilation. Arcade games simply don't possess the same depth and polish as 16-bit console classics. What's worse, many of the titles in the collection were originally played with a steering wheel or a trackball. Emulating them on the pad leaves a lot to be desired and so some of the games play like a dog.
Then again, my teenage self fed countless quarters into the likes of Super Off Road and Championship Sprint, so I have certainly gotten my nostalgic kicks out of the compilation already. Also, the 31 games on offer provide a good deal of variety, featuring a nice mixture of shooting, driving, action, and miscellaneous sports. Nearly every game also has a trophy up for grabs, usually by performing something not particularly cumbersome. Half of them were ridiculously easy and the other half probably just takes a while to get used to the finicky controls.
Still, based on first impressions this collection is disappointingly average, even if retro compilations in principle are the best thing ever.
On the other hand, the fun never stops with The Pinball Arcade. Downloadable content has already expanded the game to 14 tables and sessions on them are regular time sinks. I've already lost track of the time spent but I'd wager it to be around 13 hours at this point. The temptation of just one more go is very much present and as in real life, every now and then one's inner Tommy awakens and a baffling mixture of skill and luck keep a single ball in play for an incredible period of time for an insane amount of points. Usually the other balls of the same game go catastrophically down the drain in less than ten seconds, though, which is probably the universe's way to maintain balance...
As a pinball simulator, The Pinball Arcade is practically as close to perfection as possible, yet it is riddled with minor bugs from random post-game crashes or getting a ball so stuck that even a nudge, tilt, or calling an attendant won't pry it loose. I've also had a couple of tables where an expert set of challenges has activated before I've even completed all the basic ones. Still, everything works just fine 95% of the time, so these issues aren't that big a threat to enjoyment or massive scores.
The final two numbers for this week would be 17 (platinum) and 37 (hours) as I finally got around grabbing all the trophies of Vita's ever-wonderful Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F. The game was completed a long time ago but basic rhythm gaming and using the reward points for purchasing furniture and gifts for the characters has been a joy throughout Fall. Not even an accidental chance of improving, though; I think I'm not even up to ten Perfects on Hard and Extreme is still something I stay well clear off. Just the same, Project Diva F is a perfect drug for little gaming sessions on the go.
So much for the holiday in Motavia. Then again, Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium didn't confine its story to a single planet. After obtaining a spaceship, the heroes ended up traveling all around the solar system while hunting down a customary malevolent power with a thing for hate and destruction. The game managed to entertain for a solid 16 hours, even if I opted out of a handful of side quests and optional dungeons. Still, it was a grand adventure that pushed on with remarkable vigor.
The charm of PSIV stems mostly from its excellent tempo and higher than average difficulty. Dungeons leading to boss fights are rarely that large but when even an everyday foe in a random encounter can whack off half of any character's HP, none of the battles in the game can be fought with a nonchalant attitude. Having to flee back to the last city to heal wounds is a frequent occurence. Still, tenacity goes a long way and the maps are always full of useful treasures well worth scavenging.
As for the bosses, they're both massive and ruthless, especially as they are not preceded with handy save points. If they wipe the floor with the party, it's curtly back to the latest save at the dungeon's entrance, forcing the players to fight their way back to the boss, trying to keep the party in as good shape as possible. Sure, it's somewhat archaic and occasionally maybe a little too punishing but whenever the big jerks finally go down, the feeling of triumph is through the roof.
Although the story of PSIV is the usual kind of fantasy fluff about the good forces of light and the menacing evil of darkness, its characters are great. On top of Chaz and Alys, there are eight other characters interested in saving the world, almost all of them memorable personalities of their own. The game's writing is also delightfully terse. Dialogue is short and concise, and never really leaves the player guessing what needs to be done next, even if the open world maps are big and require exploring.
On whole, PSIV is a solid performer and one of the finest 16-bit representatives of its genre. If only developers would do something like this with modern day resources and hardware! Also, as a side comment, this was but one of the many classic JRPGs included in the Sega Mega Drive Ultimate Collection, many of which I'm definitely taking for a spin whenever I catch retro fever again.
What else? Well, PlayStation Plus, of course, got its monthly update and expanded to Vita with a most generous pile of offerings. Still, for the first time this year, I no longer even bothered to download anything. As I've probably said before, either I own the games already or, if not, simply can't find the inspiration to even try them out. Sony really goes all out with the service, there's no question about that, but I've decided not to renew my subscription, come 2013. Those "free" bits simply radiate none of the warmth of actual ownership. It's an excellent service for consumers but as for us collectors, even entertainment is something that can carry more meaning and value than just being able to consume it. Go figure.
As for trophiements, I recently found out that my PSN profile had somehow ended up on PSNProfiles. Somewhat baffling but then again, I've come to understand that Sony's trophy data is free for anyone to access and data mine. Besides, that site really refines that data in several convincing and diverse ways. Thus, I ended up registering an actual account there myself. My stance towards trophiements hasn't changed from early Fall but I still find myself oddly drawn to all sorts of numbers, statistics, and graphs. That site provides all of those with a pleasing layout and for free.
Good evening once again. It has been quiet but then again, not much has taken place in terms of entertainment anyway. Time has been sunk into the usual culprits, such as Gran Turismo 5. I'm still somewhat attracted to reaching driver level 40, collect a thousand car garage, or even drive for over 12,500 miles. It's just that it takes ages. After 168 hours, I'm still stuck at driver level 38 with 947 cars owned and 11,942 miles driven. The ordeal is truly beginning to test my tolerance but what the heck, it hasn't been even two years yet...
Leveling up would be faster, if I bothered to race on a daily basis. Playing on five days in a row is rewarded with double the amount of money and experience gained but I rarely find myself coming back to the game that frequently. As for cars, bumping into those not yet owned is becoming increasingly rare. The used car marketplace updates after every race but most often with vehicles already owned. Money used to be a problem whereas now it's the lack of cars to spend it on. Oh well, at least I'm on the home stretch by now.
Another veritable timesink has been Dead or Alive 5. According to the game, I've already clocked in 56 hours, although most of that time has gone waiting for it to find adversaries from around the world while I've been concentrating on something else. Whereas my skills seem to have regressed, my online rank has inexplicably improved. I'm having a real hard time understanding why it is now D when I have won only 30 of my 534 fights. At least the rank now seems to be practically set in stone, no matter what takes place.
Those statistics are quite ghastly and I admit that I could occasionally try a lot harder but the game is still jolly good fun even as-is. After a tiring workday, it's a real blessing to play something that doesn't really require focus and can be approached uncompetitively. It's a stress-free evening full of short, random fights, some of which I can even win once in a blue moon. Perhaps I'll go for a thousand matches before figuring out something more meaningful to pursue.
My forearms have allowed me to resume pinball as well. Last week's purchase, The Pinball Arcade, has managed to entertain for about seven hours so far and sure enough, it's very, very good. Even the tables familiar from Pinball Hall of Fame have been modeled again from scratch and they feel a tiny bit better than before, as great as they were to begin with. As well as hunting for high scores, it's once again possible to complete individual, predefined challenges (scoring extra balls, performing skill shots, etc.) but unlike in Pinball Hall of Fame, there are now two sets of them; a standard one and another that is a test for true pinball wizardry.
Those three titles are excellent examples of games that can also be enjoyed even in a relaxed, overly casual manner. When even that is too much, one can always just kick back and watch someone else play. There still isn't a better program for that than GameCenter CX, which I didn't stumble upon until last January. Shinya Arino and his escapades with extremely hard 8/16-bit classics is simply a riot, especially when a game started early in the morning lasts well into the wee hours of the next day. The series hasn't yet been licensed in the west but thankfully fansubs of random episodes are fairly plentiful. Many, many thanks to everyone involved – you truly are wonderful people!
That's pretty much an awkward summary of the past week filled with silence. Nothing new or exciting but that's the way life can be. Of course, broadening one's horizons is always an option, and perhaps that pile of hardware will help. I'm aiming for at least a semi-decent gaming rig but first I need to put all that together, preferably in a fashion that doesn't leave me with a puff of smoke and a gentle whiff of fried circuitry. Challenge accepted.
This was a busy weekend that only warranted time to bring closure to Sierra's space series, namely Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier. Sadly, it turned out to be not a very appropriate swan song to Roger Wilco's adventures. Released back in 1995, the game no longer has much in common with its more or less brilliant predecessors. Its resolution is now twice as high as before, all the dialogue is spoken, and the cutscenes even feature genuine 3D models. Still, everything else considered, it's the low point of Wilco's game appearance career.
Ah, speaking of his career. He emerged as a hero at the end of the fifth game but as StarCon loves bureaucracy and he broke most of their rules on the way, he quickly finds himself demoted back to Janitor Second Class and stationed on SCS DeepShip 86. That's the starting point of yet another royal mess that once again involves a villain holding a deep grudge against Wilco, and a journey that hapharzadly tosses him across space, cyberspace, and even the intestines of a fellow crew member ∑(O_O；)
This sixth adventure sports a great deal of renovation but what it manages to fix somewhere, it breaks elsewhere. The irritating sudden deaths are no longer nearly as frequent as they used to be but on the downside, making progress is pure agony. At no single point is there proper clarity on what to do, let alone why. Diligent fooling around might yield an answer for the former but even then, the what merely turns into a how.
The script is rather weak and renders playing into constant fumbling in the dark. After a few hours of aimless clicking and pointing, I finally resorted to a walkthrough and witnessed the travesty of the storyline. Even by following clear-cut advice, none of the individual actions seemed to make any sense until they finally triggered something more noteworthy. Even then, it wasn't so much about "damn, I really should have thought of that" than "oooh-kay, so that's what you had in mind." I'm all for absurdity in graphical adventures but Spinal Frontier really takes that to a ridiculous level.
Still, I'm actually happy to have condescended to rely on a walkthrough. While my digital purchase came with a scanned manual, it didn't sport scans of another magazine that originally came with the game and is crucial in solving a certain puzzle that would otherwise block progress. Tsk tsk tsk. Then again, use any walkthrough once, and the game experience goes down the drain that very same second. Thus, I saw the whole thing to its end just pointlessly following instructions.
That's not to say Spinal Frontier would be hopeless. It pokes decent fun at several sci-fi series and movies from Blade Runner and Aliens to Deep Space Nine and Wing Commander. It also features a pompous narrator who does an excellent, amusing job covering Wilco's observations and actions, even up to the point of ending up arguing with the hero himself. The character animations, too, are funny, detailed, and expressive. They're twice as impressive when considering they had to be hand drawn back in the day.
Yet, the overall experience is a disappointment. It might have been proficient tech-wise back in its time but it no longer features much of anything that once made the genre so endearing. If I had to order the entire series by entertainment value, it'd be something along the lines of 1, 2, 5, 3, 4, 6, although the later games tend to refer to their predecessors so much that the whole sextet should be experienced in chronological order, even if meant a bumpier ride quality-wise.
To boldly go where no janitor has gone before! My retro journey has now advanced to 1993, the year when Roger Wilco's epic adventures got continuation in Space Quest V: The Next Mutation. This time our not-so-brave antihero is doing notably better than usual. Sanitary work has given way to a scholarship in the StarCon academy and after a series of highly improbable coincidences, Wilco graduates top of his class and is assigned as the captain of SCS Eureka Σ(゜゜) Sure, it's practically just a space garbage scow with three crew members but what the heck, executive duties are nothing to scoff at.
Still, Wilco remains a veritable trouble magnet and it doesn't take long for him to stumble across a ravaging mutagenic disease that infects everything living and is backed up by a sinister stratagem. It's a sleazy mess to solve but then again, a perfect job for a commendable space janitor. Besides, there could be a hint of romance in the air as Wilco finally meets the mysterious woman his future self was married to, briefly revealed during his time travels in the previous game...
Technically the game has remained fairly unchanged. Its graphical style is a tad more cartoonish and the selection of action icons has been toned down a little but aside from those changes, it's roughly on the same level as the previous part. The story, though, has improved by leaps and bounds. Old sci-fi series, especially Star Trek, are still parodied wildly and freely but the overall goofiness now comes with a delightfully fluent, remarkably solid, and a suitably culminating adventure. It's great fun to experience and most of the puzzles are none too shabby, either. Wilco and his crew have a good chemistry going and pretty locations change often enough to keep up interest.
As for downsides, the series still seems to be awkwardly infatuated with annoying sudden deaths. I also got totally stuck for long periods of time due to insanely incoherent hints on how to proceed, and right before the end the game even served a slow, hideously boring, and mundane maze that only served to lengthen the story in an artificial manner. I admit to having Googled its solution and not feeling the least bit ashamed. Besides, saving the universe still managed to take a solid seven hours. The largest, funniest, and most comprehensive Space Quest so far and who knows, perhaps the last one improves still? Will see.
For a change of pace, entertainment from beyond a couple of decades :) This seemed like a moment as good as any to give a go at the Sierra collection I bought back in February. First up, Mark Crowe's and Scott Murphy's hilarious sci-fi series Space Quest, in which a lowly space janitor Roger Wilco ends up saving the universe quite a few times, usually reluctantly and by accident. Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter begins with him snoozing away in the janitor's closet of a deep space science vessel. The ship is attacked and its cargo, a highly crucial Star Generator, is stolen. Wilco's job is first to escape the ship, survive a nearby, hostile planet on which he crash lands, and eventually get even with the forces behind the attack. All in a day's work for a cleaner.
The adventure was originally released in 1986 and is still an adorable sight. The low resolution EGA graphics are crude but expressive, and although the PC speaker sounds aren't exactly soothing, they get the job done and beat silence. Gameplay, of course, is retro at its finest. Wilco moves with arrow keys and a text parser is used to convey what the player wants to do, e.g. "search body" or "take space suit." Hints on what to do are practically non-existent and modern gamers probably cringe at all the sudden deaths or the game happily moving on even if something crucial has already been irrevocably missed on the way.
As a kid, I found the game to be awfully vast and complicated but looks like my comprehension and mindset have both improved since then. I remembered very little about the puzzles after all these years but in the end, it only took a little over a couple of hours to see it through. Even if LucasArts eventually rose to become the number one company when it came to graphic adventures, many of these early Sierra games overflow with massive, inexplicable warmth. A small pixellated hero on a grand journey throughout the galaxy is just something that appeals to me even today.
Right after that, I checked out the 1987 Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge. In it, the mastermind behind the last game's foiled scheme understandably holds a major grudge against Wilco. The poor boy, having been promoted to a head janitor, is pummeled into submission and taken away to a secret mining planet. Not only does he have to escape, he also has to put an end to the villain's dastardly plans of dooming all humanity with an army of cloned door-to-door salesmen :D
One year wasn't enough for any major improvements so technically this adventure is practically equal to the first one. The puzzles to be solved feel a bit more vague, though, and I had to spend considerable time just meandering aimlessly around, collecting odd items, and trying to figure out what to do with them. Still, trying to reach that pompous malefactor was a concisive enough goal to shoot for. Persistence paid off and the end was reached in less than three hours. Funny how these adventures felt so much bigger as a youngster :)
And why stop there? Next up, Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon, which saw daylight in 1989 and vastly improved the overall quality. The new, sharp VGA graphics looked truly fantastic (back in the day) and the game was amongst the first ones to support such innovations as sound cards and a mouse :D At least the text parser was still there, although this time typing the sentences politely pauses the action. A most pleasant improvement, especially in situations that require fast reactions.
After making a complex escape from a space junk freighter, Wilco is free to explore the game's different locations in no particular order, another new feature when compared to the fairly straighforward approach of the earlier games. Sadly so much effort seemed to have gone to the better graphics and sounds that nobody paid much attention to the negligible storyline. Sure, after a number of twists and turns, Wilco eventually ends up saving the series' original designers from the clutches of space pirates but the story is flimsy and loose at best.
Although the first half of the adventure is pretty good-looking, many areas towards the end look only half-finished and the puzzles are sometimes almost perplexingly linear and weak. The playthrough took a little under two hours and as much as I had been enjoying nostalgy to this point, in this case I felt a little cheated. Still, a noble attempt, especially considering the budgets and team sizes of game developers back then.
The evening saw a fourth playthrough as well, Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers. Released in 1991, it introduced glorious 256-color MCGA graphics and, mostly thanks to Sound Blaster, even digital audio and speech. Whoa :D The fourth game is probably best remembered for its (once again, strictly back then) fantastic cinematics. Then again, it also sports the wackiest storyline of them all, sending Wilco on a wild journey through time and games such as Space Quest X, Space Quest XII, and even a truly hilarious return to the very first part.
The game finally ditched the text parser (snif) and featured a fully mouse-driven user interface based on a variety of modern action icons that are used to look at things, collect stuff, and interact with the sceneries. The approach is decent enough but as a result, the experience is no longer nearly as charming as it was with the three previous installments. Furthermore, the level of cheap sudden deaths is now over the top, rendering playing into a constant matter of reloading and trying to guess exactly how the developers wanted the game to be advanced.
The puzzles are a truly mixed bag of overly simple and utterly nonsensical ones. Once again, emphasis put in graphical splendor is away from storytelling and more often than not the player is totally lost trying to figure out what even needs to be done, let alone why. It didnd't stop me from seeing it through without resorting to a walkthrough but it took way over four hours, despite the game world not being that much larger compared to its predecessors.
Unfortunately the entertainment value seems to be vaning and the balance teetering as the series goes on but perhaps the last couple of parts will be able to surprise in a positive fashion. At least the genre itself is just as much fun today as it was all those years ago.