Fame is such a fickle thing!
I’m afraid to say that I’m going to rip through Space Quest II very quickly. After a two and a half hour session, I’ve already collated 119 points out of a possible 250. I plan to continue with the game as soon as I finish this post, so there’s every chance I’ll finish it in a single day. Of course this sort of progress would not be possible if I hadn’t already played the game previously. I can’t remember exactly when I played through Space Quest II and III, but it would have to be within the last five years. It hasn’t been completely smooth going (more on that soon), but in most cases I’ve been reminded of the challenges I faced on my first play through, but remembered enough to avoid them this time around. That being said, it can be quite difficult for me to think about how a player might handle certain situations if they didn’t already know the solution, so I’m going to need you guys to pull me up if you think I’m underplaying the difficulty of certain sections.
Roger generously took time out from escaping Labion to write in his journal for our reading pleasure
As I mentioned in my introduction, Space Quest II starts off with Roger being transferred to Orbital Station 4, which orbits the planet Xenon. The opening scene very quickly establishes the tone of the game, with Roger letting go of his broom to respond to his beeping watch, and subsequently watching the broom float off into space. It’s clear that Roger is still the bumbling antihero, which is a characterisation that Sierra repeated for a lot of their classic games, including Leisure Suit Larry. The first scene also makes good use of gravity (or lack of it), and requires Roger to walk up the wall and onto the ceiling to reach the platform that takes him “down” into the station. It’s a shame the developers didn’t make use of gravity elsewhere in the game as the possibilities are almost endless.
I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.
It’s really quite surprising how quickly the plot is pushed along in Space Quest II. On entering the shuttle bay to clean up some tourist’s vomit (hence the beeping watch), Roger is captured by Vohaul’s goons and taken to his asteroid fortress called Labion (sounds a bit sexual if you ask me). So the game hasn’t even really started (I had a total of 10 points), and Vohaul was close to exacting his revenge for my exploits in the first game. Vohaul himself is introduced as a wretched individual: “a sagging mass of flesh that appears to have been human at one time” and his new plan to “infest your planet with thousands of genetically engineered door-to-door life insurance salesmen” sounds hysterically horrifying. It’s all funny stuff, but the plot seems to be moving along very quickly with little to no interaction from the player at all.
Villain lesson one: Let the hero live long enough to understand and put a stop to your deadly plan
Things change once I hit the ground on Labion and the usual Sierra style exploration began. This involves moving from screen to screen, seeing what items I can pick up, and then looking to utilise those items on obstacles that stand in the way of my progress. Interestingly you’re given the option of saving a little creature tied up in a tree right at the start, and I can only assume that if you choose not to, the game becomes unfinishable later on when you require his peoples’ assistance. That might be the first possible dead end to note in Space Quest II, but it could hardly be considered a criticism given how unlikely a player is to just ignore him. As usual, there are plenty of ways to die, and the majority of them are worth experiencing for the humour alone. Whether it’s being eaten by giant mushrooms, devoured by carnivorous ants or roasted over a fire on a stick, it’s all handled in a graphic yet inoffensive way.
Sierra always had a knack for making horribly gory deaths hilarious
A couple of people have commented on how annoying the vine growth is that forms a maze that Roger needs to manoeuvre his way through. The difficulty is not in figuring out a way to get through (that’s obvious to anyone that ever tried to solve one of those paper mazes where there’s one entrance and one exit), it’s in actually achieving it given the limitations of Sierra’s AGI three-dimensional depth perspective. I’ve mentioned plenty of times how challenging it can be to do things like climb stairs in these old Sierra games, so the fact Space Quest II purposely puts obstacles in your path that take advantage of a flaw in the engine hardly seems fair. I dealt with this section the same way I have with all the other mini games and obstacle challenges in the Quest games to date. I changed the speed to slow and crept my way a step at a time, saving whenever I made decent progress. Cheating? Maybe! But it’s better than dying a hundred times, particularly when the game makes you come back through the maze once you collect the berries on the other side.
Looks easy doesn't it!
The first big challenge in the game comes when you reach the swamp. Walking in results in an underwater creature quickly pulling you under and eating you, but with no other pathways left to explore, it becomes obvious that you need to find a way across. I specifically remember having trouble figuring this puzzle out when I first played it, but this time I knew to rub the berries all over my body before going in (the creature apparently is put off by the highly noxious aroma). I wouldn’t be surprised if a few others got stuck here, as I don’t recall the game giving you much of a hint other than the fact the berries smell bad. Trial and error would have got you through if typing “use berries” had worked, but you’re required to type “rub berries on body” or something similar, meaning you have to be very specific.
Was there anything to tell the player to do this?
Those of you that have played the game will know that this isn’t the only difficult thing to get through in the swamp, and this is where my memory failed me. When walking through the water, you come to a point where you can no longer stand and are forced to swim. I decided to dive and found a tunnel leading down into the ground beneath the swamp. Strangely, any attempt to swim down through it resulted in me running out of breath and dying. I couldn’t see that I had any items on me that would assist, so I figured I’d probably come across something later that I could bring back. I also figured, given you have to be walking in a very specific part of the swamp to even come across it, that whatever was down there probably wasn’t required to complete the game. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to get every point in these games, especially as I have hundreds of games to get through, so I moved on.
Don't look to the game for encouragement
I continued on through the luscious Labion environment, climbing a tree that subsequently breaks to form a bridge connecting two cliffs, and then being captured by a “large oaf” and put in a cage. Escaping at first seems impossible, but as long as you picked up a stink pod earlier and are willing to persevere in getting the creature’s attention, finding the solution is only a matter of time. I took his rope and used it to climb down to a cave (avoiding a gorilla by swinging on the rope on the way), and this is where things got nasty. The cave was pitch black and any attempts to find my way without a light-source resulted in a killer Cave Beaver eating me in the darkness. I vaguely recalled having some form of light to get through this section the first time I played the game, so immediately assumed whatever I needed was at the bottom of the swamp tunnel.
I just had to put this in for BacklogKiller's enjoyment
Instead of going back to the swamp, I assumed I’d missed an item earlier on in the game that would allow me to breath underwater somehow, so went hunting. I came up empty-handed, so eventually entered the swamp again for another go at it. As soon as I thought to myself “what would I do if I needed to go a long way underwater”, I had a “eureka” moment. I’m pretty sure I had exactly the same “eureka” moment years back on my first play-through, but the memory had made way for other things (it probably made way for nappy changing and pram unfolding techniques). I typed “take a breath” and was then able to dive down and swim through the tunnel to an underwater cave. Did anyone else get stuck here? It seems a little harsh to expect the player to “take a breath”. After all, we’re not expected to command Roger to complete other basic bodily tasks. Still, I guess I’ve figured it out twice now, so it’s by no means impossible.
Gosh it's nice to leave CGA behind...at least temporarily
In the cave is a glowing gem, which of course can be used in the pitch black cave later on as a light-source. Strangely if you have the gem, the killer Cave Beaver isn’t even there, which is not explained in any way. Regardless, exiting the cave put me in the company of the little race of beings whose companion I saved earlier. They offered me shelter, but all they’re really needed for is to show you the way forward, which is straight into another pitch black cave. This cave is a bit annoying it has to be said, as it’s a rather complex maze of tunnels and ladders. Roger can only fit in the tunnel on his knees, so I had to figure out how he could crawl and still hold the glowing gem (“put gem in mouth”). I got through the maze by continually going down and right wherever I could, correctly guessing that the exit would be in that direction.
It's so nice to be able to see that there is in fact no killer Cave Beaver after all
Once through the maze, you eventually come to an opening with nowhere to go. This is one of the main criticisms I have for Space Quest II so far. There are quite a few times where the player is left to try using certain items, not because their use is logically required, but because there’s simply nothing else to do. I couldn’t know that a Labion Terror Beast was situated to the north, but using the Labion Terror Beast whistle that I got mail order early in the game resulted in one crashing through the rocks and forming an exit. I couldn’t get to the exit without the beast ripping me apart, so I was once again forced to try using items in hope that one would do something. Throwing the Cubic’s Rube (an obvious piss-take of the Rubic’s Cube) at the Labion Terror Beast makes him stop and try to solve the puzzle, which is just plain ridiculous. I really dislike this sort of puzzle and will undoubtedly mention it in the final rating post.
I'm quite perplexed at the preposterously peculiar puzzle
This is where I’m currently up to in the game. I successfully avoided a guard to make my way onto a shuttle platform and hopped in a vacant shuttle. Surprised at how quickly I was getting through the game, I decided this was a pretty good place to stop and get a post out before finishing it. Apart from some illogical puzzles and a few too many maze-style obstacles, Space Quest II has been fast paced and filled with funny details. It’s difficult not to enjoy it, particularly when your progress is only occasionally halted due to memory failure. I can’t really remember what happens next, although I know there’s an alien just waiting to kiss me somewhere in a corridor not too far from here (you’ll see when I get there). I’m off to (hopefully) complete the game and will report back once Vohaul has been defeated, this time for good.
Let's get the frak out of here!
Session Time: 2 hour 30 minutesTotal Time: 2 hours 30 minutes