Space Quest II review

So, the new MCU movie, Captain Marvel, is on cinemas right now and as far as I remember, Carol Danvers isn’t in any video game whatsoever, so I decided to just review a classic sci-fi game set in space. And why not Space Quest II?

Space Quest II: Chapter II – Vohaul’s Revenge is a graphic adventure made by Sierra and originally released in 1987 for the Apple II, Atari ST and DOS. It was re-released the following year for Amiga, Apple IIgs and Macintosh.

But as always, let’s first look at the cover:

242965-space-quest-ii-chapter-ii-vohaul-s-revenge-dos-front-coverAs you can see, the cover is reminiscent of the previous game’s cover, but now featuring an asteroid and some guys in suits inside tubes floating in space (it makes sense when playing the game). And again it features the cool title from the previous game’s cover. It’s not a great cover, but at least the guys in suits do stand out.

But it’s time to boot this space sludge:

The game starts with the now familiar Space Quest theme and a text depicting what happened to our protagonist since the events of the first game, namely, he reaped all the fame he could until he was forgotten by the public and forced to work again as a janitor, but this time, in a space station orbiting his home planet, Xenon. When starting a new game, you can name the main character just like in the previous game. And again, if you leave it blank, the protagonist will be named Roger Wilco (which as we all know, became the protagonist’s canon name).

If you’re played any Sierra AGI graphic adventure, then you know how to play this one. You can use the directional buttons to move Roger and write any commands in the prompt below the main screen. It’s quite simple to use as long you don’t misspell any command. And also don’t forget to write GET OBJECT to grab the several objects you’ll find stashed in certain places or people (an easy mistake to make if you’re not used to this type of graphic adventures).

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At the beginning of the game.

The difficulty, however, was rammed all the way up. What do I mean by this? Well, to solve most of the puzzles (some of which are traps BTW), you need to die first in order to figure out what to do, load a previous save state and then use a specific object before encountering said puzzle. For example, you can enter a screen and meet an enemy or a trap that’ll kill you, but you use a determined object before entering that screen, then you can avoid that enemy or trap, but there aren’t any hints before that. But even with this trial-and-error method, the puzzles aren’t too hard to figure out the solution (but you still need to die to figure it out, though). Well, there are two sections, however, that’ll really test your patience.

The reason for this increased difficulty might have been the fact that the game isn’t actually very long with just two major acts. And the story is quite simple but still effective with the trademark humour common to this series with several references and winks to popular sci-fi classics, and even some parodies here and there (although I think the game missed some great opportunities for it near the end).

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Man, five minutes in and your boss is already calling you.

The graphics are okay for an AGI title, nothing special but more or less colourful. The animation is also pretty average although the sprites do look a bit more detailed than in the previous game. The music is spectacular, especially if you’re playing the game on a Tandy computer (or emulating its sound system), although there aren’t many tracks throughout the game. The sound effects, however, are also average. The control system is okay and the directional buttons are responsive.

In conclusion, Space Quest II not might be the worst game in the series but it isn’t the best one either, due to its increased difficulty, trial-and-error puzzles and small length but it also has the same solid gameplay and humour that made the series a classic. So I recommend it, especially for fans of the series or the genre. You can get it here on Steam along with the rest of series, or here on GOG.com along with the first and third titles of the series.

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Better not to ask…

As far as other versions go, the Amiga version is just like the DOS version but the Apple IIgs version has superior sound effects (as in all AGI Sierra titles). And there’s even a VGA fan-made remake, made by Infamous Studios, that features a point-and-click mouse interface, voice over and extra content. You can download it for free here.

Well, I’ve hoped you’ve enjoyed the review. And I know it’s not related to the Captain Marvel movie in anyway (or any other movie for that matter), but I just wanted an excuse to replay this game. Also, I would like to apologize for not making any references to the International Women’s Day. I promise next year to write a special article or review dedicated to it. And for the next review, let’s keep it a bit down to Earth, shall we? Until then, keep on shooting the stars and playing.

The Secret of Monkey Island review

Welcome one and welcome all to the second anniversary of Retro Freak Reviews! It’s hard to believe that two years have already passed since I started rumbling about retro computer games. And to celebrate such magnanimous occasion, let’s take a look of one the best graphic adventures ever made (and a personal favorite): The Secret of Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island is a graphic adventure made by Lucasfilm Games (before changing its name to Lucasarts). It was originally released in 1990 for the Amiga and DOS (both the EGA and the VGA versions). It was re-released the next year for the Atari ST and in 1992 it was ported to the FM Towns, Macintosh and the SEGA CD/MEGA CD. Also in 1992 it was re-released in CD-ROM format for DOS.

Both the FM Towns and the CD-ROM versions featured an updated interface and CD Audio quality music tracks but no speech whatsoever.

And as always, let’s first look at the cover:

43341-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-front-coverThis is probably one of the most famous video game covers of all times and I can see why. It’s colorful, full of great imagery (that actually appears in the game) and it could perfectly be a book cover or a movie poster. It’s that good! The only nitpick I might have is that someone might get the idea of this being a serious game. But a closer look at the use of bright colors at least give the impression of a light-hearted game, in my opinion.

But it’s time to boot this scallywag:

As you can see in the video, you take the role of Guybrush Threepwood (not the weirdest name you’ll find throughout the game), a wannabe pirate who travels to Mêlée Island (somewhere in Caribbean Sea) in order to become a full fledged pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy. And during that particular quest, he finds himself embroiled in a ghost story that will take him to the eponymous Monkey Island.

The gameplay is just like all the other Lucasarts’ SCUMM graphic adventures: the main screen where the action occurs and the bottom screen where you can find all the action commands and the inventory. To perform any action, you simply click in a command, then click in any object on the main screen and/or in your inventory. If you’re familiar with any point-and-click graphic adventure, this interface is quite intuitive and the mechanics are just like in any other such game: grab whatever object isn’t nailed down to the ground (or if it is, find a way to unnail it) and use the objects with people or other objects in order to solve the puzzles or to get more objects (to solve other puzzles).

The FM Towns and CD-ROM version feature a graphic inventory with icons instead of words that would later be used in the Special Edition of the game.

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The very first line in the game and our hero’s initial motivation.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing (apart from the graphics and the excellent music) is the tongue-in-cheek humour. From puns to anagrams to physical humour, The Secret of Monkey Island is widely famous for his irreverent comedy. And using a sea pirates theme, somehow makes it more funny (and no, this isn’t a parody of Sid Meier’s Pirates, although I understand the confusion since both games were inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean park ride). My favorite part of the game is the sword fighting, which instead of programming simple fighting mechanics, introduces a witty insult system where you have to not only learn insults but also the correct responses to each specific insult (I still remember most of the insults and respective replies to this day).

The puzzles can be slightly tricky (especially the ones involving puns) but with some trial and error, you shouldn’t have much trouble solving them because it’s impossible to get stuck in any situation where you can’t backtrack for a necessary object to progress. Everytime you start a new act, you should already have some of the objects needed and the rest are located in that specific act. Which brings us to next thing you’ll notice: there’s also virtually no game over! And apart from a very specific situation (in which you’ll have to actively pursuit it in order to happen), it’s impossible to kill Guybrush. Ron Gilbert (the game’s main designer) said that he wanted The Secret of Monkey Island to be more focused on the story, characters and exploration than in the gameplay or the puzzles. And although this practice was originally introduced in Loom, it become a common feature in most Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

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The SCUMM Bar.

Another feature that was originally introduced in this game is the ability to select several different responses (that range from common to funny) during dialogues. And each different response will elicit a different reply with whoever Guybrush is talking to (most of the time at least). It makes the game a bit more varied and replayable as most players tend to choose different responses in subsequent playthroughs just to see all the different reactions from the characters.

The humour, like I said, is the true highlight of the game. From the dialogue, to the physical humour, to the puns, to the references to other Lucasarts’ titles, to the zaniness; The Secret of Monkey Island oozes with comedy throughout and I challenge anyone to play this game with a serious face. It’s impossible, I tell you! The comedic gameplay is also another Lucasarts’ trademark since Maniac Mansion and most, if not all, Lucasarts’ graphic adventures would continue that tradition.

3166-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-screenshot-important-looking

Guybrush meeting some seemingly important-looking pirates.

Now with the technical aspects. The graphics, whether you’re playing in EGA or VGA, are gorgeous and very well detailed and the animation is extremely fluid. And the character sprites, especially during the closeups are incredible (although both me and Ron Gilbert prefer the original EGA closeups over the realistic VGA ones. They mesh better with the rest of the game). The first two acts might not look very colourful (that’s because they occur during nighttime) but the rest of the game (especially the second half of the game) it’s more colourful. The music is another great highlight of the game, whether you’re playing it with an Adlib or MT-32 soundcards, or even with a PC-Speaker, the music is simply memorable. My personal favorite tracks are the title theme and the SCUMM Bar theme. The sound effects are also quite good, especially if you’re playing the CD-ROM version with a Soundblaster soundcard.

Like I said before, the point-and-click mouse interface is very easy to use and intuitive. Even if you’ve never played a graphic adventure before, it’s extremely easy to pick it up and understand its mechanics and interface. With five acts, the game is more or less long (it depends on well you play it), although I personally think that the last two acts are a bit short by comparison.

62801-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-screenshot-the-best-part-of

Sword fighting!

In conclusion, I’m going to join the masses and proclaim The Secret of Monkey Island one of the best graphic adventures af all times! From the humour, the memorable characters and dialogue lines (“Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!”), the graphics, the incredible music, the puzzles, etc. The Secret of Monkey Island is a true classic that is not only a great introduction to the genre but it’s still a very influential game. Lucasarts stroke pure gold with this one and cemented their position as a powerhouse among videogame developers. Needless to say that I highly recommend it.

The Amiga version has better music and sound effects, although it doesn’t look quite as colorful as the VGA DOS version and the Macintosh version adds a filter that smooths the rough edges around the sprites. Still I think the DOS CD-ROM version is the ultimate original version of the game (Monkey Island fans still argue to this day which is the best version).

740775-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-screenshot-act-iii-takes-place

Finally arriving at Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island was remade in 2009 for Windows, iPhone and Xbox 360 and the following year for Playstation 3, iPad, Browser and Macintosh as a Special Edition. You can buy it here in Steam. It simply updates the interface and the graphics, adding speech and new sprites while maintaining the gameplay and everything else. Some fans don’t like the new art direction but I personally think that it meshes well with the game’s humour. And if you want to play with the original VGA graphics you can simply press F10 anytime during the game to switch to those graphics. Or you can go here to download a program that allows you to play the original VGA version with the speech from the Special Edition (A great shoutout to my friend Florin who told me about this).

This game spawned a quite popular series that peaked with the second title, Lechuck’s Revenge, despite a small controversy (which we’ll tackle on when we’ll review it).

So, what did you think of the anniversary so far? I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and please share your thoughts in the comment section below or on our social media. Until then, keep on buccaneering and playing!

I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream review

Last June 28th, renowned sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison passed away at the age of 84. Ellison is considered one of the most prolific and influential sci-fi writers of the 20th century and today we’re going to take a look at the video game adaptation of one of his most famous short-stories: I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream.

I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream is a graphic adventure developed by The Dreamers Guild and published by Cyberdreams and Acclaim. It was originally released in 1995 for DOS and Macintosh. In 2013, it was re-released by Night Dive Studios for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. And in 2016, it was again re-released for Android and iOS.

The original short-story was published in 1967 and it quickly became one of Ellison’s most famous works, winning several awards, including the Hugo Award. And Cyberdreams, famous for their adult-themed sci-fi, fantasy and horror games, decided to adapt Ellison’s short-story into a graphic adventure game. But unlike other video game adaptations, Ellison was actively involved from the start, from co-writing the game’s script to voice AM, the game’s main antagonist.

But before we take a look at the game, let’s first look at the covers, shall we?

837-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-front-cover

I think I’m starting to understand the title of the game…

The original cover features a central image of Ellison himself with his mouth covered by what it looks like computer circuitry, hinting at the game’s plot. In some editions of the game, the central image was in fact a 3D mouse pad that was shipped along with the game. It’s a very eerie image that conveys oppression by technology, which is one of the game’s main themes.

But the re-released version brings a slightly different cover:

271594-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-linux-front-coverNow, this version expands upon the computer circuitry imagery, which I personally  adore! While the red and black background in the original cover might look more menacing, the blue highlights in this one makes it look more logical and cold, which still works within the game’s context.

But enough about imagery and let’s boot this sucker, shall we?

The game’s intro doesn’t show a lot of backstory, so reading the manual before playing the game is highly recommended. The backstory is basically this: an omnipotent computer called AM, after a nuclear apocalypse (which AM might have provoked), saves the last five humans from said apocalypse, but when reaching the height of his omnipotence, AM found a great hate for Humanity and for more than 100 years, dedicates itself in torturing the last humans, preventing their deaths by torture or even old age by granting them immortality.

AM then decides to put the humans through tests and scenarios, both for its own entertainment as well to prove to itself all the failings in human nature. And it’s here that the game starts, in which you have to choose between our five protagonists: Gorrister, a former trucker with guilt-ridden suicidal tendencies; Benny, a former soldier who was the most tortured by AM to the point of being modified into an ape-like creature; Ellen, a former computer engineer with an inexplicable phobia for the colour yellow; Nimdok, an extremely old German scientist and Ted, a paranoid and vain con artist.

10593-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-screenshot

The beginning of the game.

After choosing your character, AM then sends him or her to a scenario where each character must find out the objective of said scenario and fulfill it to escape. However, they must also confront their past, their fears and their own shortcomings in order to succeed in their respective scenarios. However, there are different ways to solve the puzzles and each character has the option to follow their basic instincts or learn the human qualities that evaded their past lives in order to raise their karma level.

The karma level is measured by each character’s background colour in their respective portrait, located in the bottom-left corner of the screen. It ranges from black to white, going through several colours. It gets lighter for every “good” action and darker for every “bad” action, including reading each character’s Psych Profile, which provides clues to solve the puzzles. The reason for the karma level is only revealed during the final part of the game, but believe me, it helps to try and finish each scenario with the highest possible karma.

10596-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-screenshot

Gorrister’s scenario.

The screen is divided in two sections: the main section, where the action occurs and the bottom section, where the character portrait, the action menu and the inventory are located. The interface is very reminiscent of the SCUMM engine by Lucasarts, although it’s lacking some common action verbs, like “open” or “pull”. But you can use “use” for such actions.

The graphics are very detailed and quite good, although not very colourful (with some exceptions). But then again, in such a dark-themed game, a dark colour palette for most makes sense. The sprites are also quite detailed, albeit a bit small. The animation is equally good. The sound is great, be it the sound effects or the voice quality; although the voice acting ranges from great (Ellison’s AM is deliciously hammy!) to bad (I’m not a big fan of using actual children to voice kid characters); and the soundtrack, which is also quite good in providing a proper atmosphere.

The puzzles, however, can be quite hard (especially in the final part) with a lot of pixel-hunting and backtracking. In fact, for almost every puzzle solved, you need to backtrack to previous screens to look for new objects, situations or characters to interact in order to move the story along. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to use a walkthrough several times, especially at the end, since reading the Psych Profile for clues lowers the karma level.

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I wasn’t kidding when I said there was a lot of symbolism in this game!

But I do like the freedom given to the nature of your characters, because your karma level influences the type of ending you can get, ranging from terrible (the canon ending in the original short-story) to the best ending. All of this gives the game some replay value, something that’s quite rare in graphic adventures.

But for me, the best part of the game is the story and the characterisation. Due to the nature of graphic adventures, Ellison had the opportunity to expand all the characters’ backstories and the story’s themes, not just adding extra endings. The story is quite dark and bleak, exploring themes of human nature and condition, especially redemption, mixed with a lot of symbolism and ethical dilemmas. And apart from the best ending, the endings can also be very dark and depressive. You won’t find any comedy or humour whatsoever throughout the game (although the violence isn’t as gory as I expected).

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“Walk like an Egyptian…”

Also, the characters were substantially changed from the original short-story and given a deeper characterisation, making them really fleshed out when you find out their backstory. Of course, there was a little controversy when Benny’s backstory was also drastically changed, but there are still some hints of the original characterisation here and there when playing his scenario.

In conclusion, I Have No Mouth… isn’t a perfect graphic adventure from a puzzle solving perspective, but the premise, the story, the themes and the characters more than tip the balance to its favour. Regardless to say that I recommend it, although it might be hard for newcomers to the genre.

10597-harlan-ellison-i-have-no-mouth-and-i-must-scream-dos-screenshot

No, this isn’t King’s Quest, not even close…

I Have No Mouth… was very acclaimed by most critics, even winning some awards, but it sold poorly. Most of its success come in more recent years, becoming a cult classic and increasing Ellison’s fame as a writer, although he personally prefered to stick to writing short-stories, novellas and screenplays.

You can buy it here on GOG.com, here on Steam, here on Google Play or here on the Apple Store for iPhone and iPad. Both the GOG and Steam versions come bundled with the original short-story in PDF format and the game’s soundtrack.

So, I hope you’ve enjoyed this review dedicated to the memory of Harlan Ellison. Next time, we’ll take a look at a more upbeat game. Till then, be good and keep on playing.