Space Quest IV - Animated adventure classic gets a Cola Powered Gamer review

Space Quest IV marks a change in the Space Quest series, most notably in its presentation in both graphics and audio. Space Quest IV continues its tradition with self-referential humor and fourth-wall-breaking. Developed by Sierra and once again its duo Two Guys From Andromeda, unfortunately, their last game, that they worked on together. Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers or simply Space Quest IV, is the first Space Quest game to use an icon-based menu.

Instead of typing commands like in the previous games, in SQ IV to perform an action you simply select the corresponding icon to act. There are icons for walking, talking, hand icon (to interact with things, and pick stuff up), smell and taste icons (they serve no practical function in the game, other than to provide several jokes). Two Guys From Andromeda were against these changes and wanted to keep the parser system, but Sierra’s CEO Ken Williams insisted that they implement it, halfway through development. Space Quest IV also uses the SCI1, an engine first introduced in Kings Quest V, which uses 256 colors and icon-based interface. This new engine brings more detailed graphics, and better audio support, and also for the first time in Space Quest game, voice acting.

Space Quest IV follows Roger sometime after the end of the Space Quest III. Roger is in a bar, retelling his old stories when he’s approached by a policeman. They are soon identified as the “Sequel Police”, who are working for a resurrected Sludge Vohaul. Just as he is about to be executed, Roger is saved by a friendly mysterious figure, who tells him to jump in the rip of the space-time continuum. Roger finds himself in a post-apocalyptic future, and also as the title above would suggest “Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge”. It turns out that resurrected Sludge Vohaul from Space Quest XII hunts Roger through time in order to finally kill him. Roger must escape, and travels to both the future and the past, to finally defeat Sludge Volhaul.

The game has copy protection, but if you’re playing the CD-ROM version you can ignore the chart that comes with the manual. However, you still must pay attention, and actually write down the time codes. Yes, the game requires you to remember or write down the time codes, as they are the vital part of the game. So, the first time you are in the time pod you must write down the current time code, as you will need it later (also, try imputing the code in the reverse order).

So after escaping from the Space Quest XII, Roger finds himself in another sequel Space Quest X: Latex Babes of Estros (a parody of the Infocom game Leather Goddesses of Phobos), and is soon captured by the Babes. Their leader Zondra turns out to be Rogers ex, who he has broken up with at some time in the future. After being strapped to the chair, about to be tortured (by having his legs shaved), the Babes and Roger are attacked by a vicious sea slug, After defeating the sea slug, the Babes thank Roger and Zondra forgives him. The girls decide to go shopping, and they all go to the mall.

This part is where most of the games happen. Here Roger is continually hunted by the Sequel Police and must evade and ultimately escape them. Roger picks up an ATM card, that Zondra accidentally dropped, but in order to use it, he must disguise himself as Zondra. So after getting a job at Monolith Burger and after getting the amount needed to buy things, Roger will get fired. After disguising himself and using an ATM card, Roger must go and buy a Space Quest IV Hint Book. With nothing left to do, Roger switches back to his old clothes and heads for the Arcade.

Roger plays Miss AstroChicken (parody title of Ms. PacMan, but this game is a simple side-scrolling shooter), and soon enough the Sequel Police show up. This part is the hardest one in the game. So, in order to escape the Sequel Police, you must escape through Skate-O-Rama, at first sight, a simple arcade sequence. This arcade sequence actually plays differently in the Floppy and CD-ROM versions of the game. You basically have to move (and click) really fast in order to dodge the shots, and just exit the Skate-O-Rama. What may create a problem is that the game is tied to the processing power of the CPU, which means that some parts of the game are virtually unplayable, but you can slow the speed in DOSBox if need be.

After, escaping the Sequel Police, Roger steals another time pod and enters the codes found in the Space Quest IV Hint Book. He finds himself in Space Quest I, complete with EGA graphics. Roger visits the bar but soon is soon kicked out by the bike gang Monochrome Boys for being rendered in 256 colors. After knocking their bikes over, Roger takes what he needs and escapes back to Space Quest XII to finally stop Sludge Volhaul and save the day.

Space Quest IV, like all the other games in the series, is full of sci-fi references from various film and TV shows. You can spot, Luke’s speeder from Star Wars, the robots in the computer store are Imperial ProBots from Star Wars and of course numerous references to other Sierra games and staff. The game also parodies several games from other companies like BOOM (a parody of LOOM), Sim Sim (parody of Sim City), It Came from Dessert (a parody of Cinemaware’s It Came from Desert), among others.

Space Quest IV is the first game in the series to use voice acting. The narrator for the game is Gary Owens (an actor behind the voice of Space Ghost), while other voices were provided by the Sierra staff, to varying degrees. The voice for Sludge Volhaul is that of Mark Crow, and he does an okay job. The narrator is one of the best characters in the game, and will constantly narrate everything Roger does, and of course various deaths you may experience.

Like other games in the series the deaths are hilarious, but this time around amazingly narrated. There is also an Easter egg, where you can visit Space Quest III (precisely the planet Ortega), but if you exit the time pod, Roger will die because he doesn’t have his Thermoweave Underwear (although the game probably intentionally spells it “underware), followed by a hilarious narration. There is also a hidden room in the game files, with all of the references that Sierra had legal issues over the years.

The game’s plot is actually brilliant but is poorly designed in some areas. Fortunately, there are only a few of these areas, and the rest of the game is pretty much normal point-and-click gameplay. All of the mini-games were eventually included in a Sierra compilation called “Nick’s Picks”, as well as mini-games from other Sierra games. The game is ported to Windows, Amiga, Macintosh, and NEC PC-9801, and of course MS-DOS.

This was also the last game that the Two Guys From Andromeda worked together on. Later games were made, but Mark Crowe solely designed Space Quest V, while Space Quest VI was designed partially by Josh Mandel and Scott Murphy. The developer commentary can be found here.

Space Quest IV is a brilliant game, and does almost every time travel cliche, but puts a comedic flavor on it with amazing narration by Gary Owens. Give this one a try if you are looking for good sci-fi comedy, that’s self-referential and with amazing narration. The game is not long (about an hour, if you know what you’re doing), and will provide you with numerous laughs. You don’t necessarily need to play the previous games, but playing them will put things in context. All of the versions of the game sold on-line are CD-ROM version and are available on Steam and GOG.

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