Star Trek: 25th Anniversary on MS-DOS (7/10)

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I remember watching my housemate play this game quite a bit back when we were in college. I don’t think he had the CD-ROM version’which included voice acting from the original cast. Luckily this GOG.com version has all the recorded elements (and none of the weird DOS set up problems). Yup, there’s nothing like hearing an aged, breathy-voiced DeForest Kelley read mediocre video game dialogue!

The past few months I have been in a Star Trek state of mind as I have been streaming episodes of The Next Generation. This game really seems to capture the essence of the shows. This is despite the opening space battle which, to me, really doesn’t feel very Trekish. Space combat pops up a few more times, but, for the most part, the game is about beaming down to worlds, exploring and solving problems. It’s broken up into nice short episodes, each with their own flavor and challenges.

As for the adventure gaming, it is pretty good but there are a couple annoying moments about halfway through the game. The Harry Mudd episode is funny but lacks purpose. The “Feathered Serpent” episode has a couple of puzzles that rely on you having taken notes early on and having a knowledge of base-3 numbers. And the final episode has a game stopping bug that will leave you wandering around with nothing to do until you are finally killed when time runs out. I can’t imagine how infuriating this game was before the age of internet walk-throughs and hints.

Just like the original show, the plots leave nothing for Sulu, Chekov, Mr. Scott or Uhura to do but sit on the bridge and mope around. It was also severely lacking in Kirk mountain-punching. Seriously, what’s TOS without some Ponfarr ritual battles?

Eye of the Beholder on MS-DOS (7/10)

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Eye of the Beholder is a real-time RPG dungeon crawl that borrows heavily from the mechanics of Dungeon Master. It’s a completely mouse-driven experience in which the objects in the environment can all be used, picked up or thrown with a click. Combat is also real-time and is generally just a mad scramble backwards as you click your various party members’ weapon hands and hope for “good rolls”.

While the fights are frantic and fun, the real meat of the game-play is exploration, mapping, and puzzle solving. I went through a dozen sheets of graph paper drawing out each floor knowing full-well I could just grab the maps from the Web (the GOG.com version even includes a complete hint book). As tedious as it might sound to modern gamers, the act of plotting out the layout is oddly satisfying. I wish it could be done in-game ála  Etrian Odyssey, but, if it’s any consolation, I now have 11 floors worth of half-erased, taped together graph paper maps that are suitable for framing. Perfect for any lair!

In the end, I suppose there was a plot to follow too. Probably something about an evil wizard. dwarves and elves. None of that matters. You just need to keep going deeper and deeper. Eventually you’ll find the big boss monster and hope you have enough experience to hack it to death.

Shadow Warrior Classic on MS-DOS (6/10)

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This is a classic FPS from the same people who brought us Duke Nukem 3D. In this outing, the politically incorrect humor is based around the protagonist’s ridiculous Asian accent and culturally insensitive one-liners. It can be quite cringe-worthy at times, but inevitably it’s harmless. Especially when compared to the over-the-top gore and violence. Ah, the 90’s. If you can find your safe space, what remains is an exciting game that sticks to the usual run and gun formula of this era. There are a lot of crazy weapons, tough enemies and unique level designs (for the time). Modern gamers may scoff at the lack of narrative and primitive presentation, but I thought it was fast, offensive, silly fun.

Teenagent on MS-DOS (3/10)

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You can download and play Teenagent for free from GOG.com, and, because of my obsessive-compulsive nature when it comes to completing games I own, I felt obliged to give it a whirl. It took about 45 minutes of frustration for me to realize that this point-and-click adventure really wasn’t worth the logic-defying effort. This game commits all the puzzle design sins of 90’s adventure games. It’s the type of game design that pretty much killed the genre. The puzzles make absolutely no sense and I can’t believe anyone got very far with this without a walk-through. On the plus side the dialogue and humor isn’t bad for a game created by a bunch of non-English speakers. Also, even though the art design is crap, there is a ton of clever animation and sight gags to ogle, just don’t waste brain cells trying to figure the puzzles out.

King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow on MS-DOS (6/10)

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While this game was a pretty big improvement over KQV, it still was just too mired in Sierra adventure game brutality for me to really enjoy. There has been some attempt to make the puzzles a bit more forgiving here, including allowing for the player to take multiple paths to victory. I did alright through about the first third of the game then it just gets nasty. The worst offenses being several “walking dead” moments when I got to a puzzle and was unable to pass because of an item or interaction I missed hours beforehand. I gave up and just relied mostly on a walk-through for the rest of the game.

Although I long for the blocky graphics of the AGI games, the pixel graphics and animations in King’s Quest VI are pretty amazing, especially the background art. They also hired actual voice actors to add some life to the story. For a King’s Quest game, this had a pretty solid story despite several of the usual fairy tale tangents.

King’s Quest V – Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder on MS-DOS (5/10)

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Despite their flaws, I have enjoyed playing all the games in the King’s Quest series up until now (I ,II, III & IV). Unfortunately, I can’t say that I liked King’s Quest V.

King's Quest V - Warning

This is a game that I have apparently owned for Macintosh for years, but never knew it.  When I tried to install it on my ancient Mac Power PC it would not run and then promptly sold the game off on eBay (I think I got thirty bucks for it). I still wanted to the play the game, especially after finally completing King’s Quest IV. So, when it went on sale at GOG.com I promptly purchased it as part of a KQ 4-7 bundle for $3.99 (I’m still up $26.01!). As an aside, I love GOG.com, but this shopping experience was pretty bad. Firstly, their shopping cart froze when I entered my credit card info and tried to click the checkout button. I was forced to use PayPal for this purchase. Secondly, the game ran like crap within their DosBox shell. I tried tweaking everything but nothing helped the choppy sound and video. Fortunately, it also runs on ScummVM without any problems.

This is an SCI based Sierra adventure game which means improved graphical resolution and sound. The copy I bought was the CD-ROM version featuring recorded voice acting rather than text dialogs. I can’t say that it was an improvement. The voice acting is terrible. The voice of the narrator is okay, I guess, but the sound quality is on par with the garbled “Valkyre is about to die!” voice from the Guantlet arcade machine. The rest of the cast is just awkward and amateurish.

King's Quest V - Witch House

The one area where this game does shine is in its art and graphics. The images are all hand-drawn and have that lovely, blocky DOS-era look. There are no crappy 3D models or full-motion videos, just lush pixely environments and animations.

Unfortunately, the actual game play is frustrating and bad. The puzzles make no sense at all. Why is a cauldron powered by moldy cheese? Why does a tamborine make a snake slither away? I know, I know: spoiler alert! But believe me, by the time you decide eventually to play this, you will have filed these spoilers deep in your subconscious. When, forgetting you ever read this, you magically solve these puzzles, that will make two out of 260 points you didn’t need a walkthrough to achieve. Thank me later.

Also, I know dying is part of the fun of Sierra games, but the ways in which this game will kill your character are just plain unfair. There’s a desert maze which can only be passed by trial and error and dozens of deaths. There’s a boat that will sink if you don’t fix it, but nowhere in the description of the boat is there even a slight hint that it may not be seaworthy. Click the wrong spot on the screen and your character will walk off of a cliff and give you a “watch out” warning as you fall. Worst of all, it is possible to put the game in an unwinnable state very early on. These types of design decisions are what killed adventure gaming in the nineties.

Now, on to King’s Quest VI! I hear it fixes everything I just complained about above. We shall see.

Space Quest on MS-DOS (8/10)

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It’s been quite some time since I tackled a Sierra 3-D adventure game (See my reviews of Kings’s Quest III & III and Leisure Suit Larry). I’ve said it before, but I just love the unique pixelated artwork and animation of all these games.

I don’t think I ever finished this game as a kid, but I must have gotten pretty far since I was able to progress through most of the game this time without much trouble (if only I had a video game blog when I was 13 years old). These Sierra games are notoriously unfair. Exploration and experimentation will get you killed without warning. As infuriating as that could be, I usually don’t mind because half the fun of the game is finding all the strange and gruesome ways you can die. The only part of the game that is really sucks is that you need to gamble in order to earn money at one point. There is no way to get past that section without relying on game saves and constant restoring. This could be fun if the game-within-a-game relied on skill or strategy, but it’s just a simple luck-based slot machine (that can kill you). But still, you gotta love the cameos from The Blues Brothers and ZZ Top.

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards on MS-DOS (10/10)

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Leisure Suit Larry is one of my favorite adventure games of all time. Certainly the best of the Sierra 3-D games in my opinion. It may not the most challenging game or have the deepest storyline, but what it lacks in depth, it makes up for in humor. Leisure Suit Larry is essentially an 80s PG-13 sex comedy in pixelated form.

The graphics, crude as they may be, are completely appropriate for the mood of the game. By keeping the imagery minimal, Larry’s dirtiness attains a level of cuteness that never comes across as anything but good-natured fun. My favorite moment is the disco dance scene which borrows heavily from the movie, Airplane!

Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards Disco

This is one of the few Sierra games that I actually completed as a youngster, back before the days of the Internet. When I inevitably got stuck, I needed to use a hint book. I remember the hint book also included the setup to the dirty jokes’ punchlines that the barfly at Lefty’s keeps muttering (always followed by a “Har, har, har…”). Now that I do have access to walkthroughs and such, I may try to tackle the sequels. I got about halfway through Larry 2 before giving up.

Oh, and one last thing. The Lesuire Suit Larry theme song’what a great, catchy tune. You’ll be whistling it for days. I believe it was written by Al Lowe himself. I was very disappointed when, as a teenager, I saw Al Lowe on Name That Tune and there was no mention of his dirty-old-man video game designer career, just his musical background. Yawza, yawza, indeed.

Ultima 7: The Back Gate & Serpent Isle on MS-DOS (8/10)

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Considered by many to be the best games of the Ultima series, Ultima 7 is one of the most detailed and time-consuming RPGs I have ever attempted to tackle. You can pick up and interact with just about every object in the game and there are tons of dialog trees to navigate through. The story is intriguing and branches all over the place, with some of the main plot lines spanning both games. My biggest complaints with the game is the awful MIDI based sound effects, major Windows compatibility issues, and the fighting system lacks any strategy. The game makes up for these flaws in its depth. The game is less about building a character as it is about unraveling the mystery of a strange religion known as the Fellowship.

King’s Quest III – To Heir is Human on MS-DOS (8/10)

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Onward on my journey through the King’s Quest saga I go. Part III was the first in the series to really try to present a narrative. There are many more non-player characters to contend with, most notably Manannan the wizard, who has enslaved you to a life of household chores. These characters don’t just run on to the screen and steal your possessions (although there still is that in this game). There’s a genuine attempt to give them personality.

With all the new found attention to story telling, the designers seemed to not be paying much attention to game play. There are stretches of the game where you have to wait forever for a timed trigger event to occur. In the meantime you are stuck doing virtual dusting for fifteen minutes. Very boring.

Also, like most of these Sierra 3-D adventures, this game is really cruel when it comes to killing you off without a hint of advanced warning. These frustrating game play elements had me seeking out hints very early in the game. I found a website that was invaluable in getting me through the game. Universal Hint System guides you very gently through a invisiclues style hint system that does its best to avoid revealing to many spoilers.

Oh, and one more thing. The game requires you to have the manual to get anything important done. There is a section of the game when your mixing recipes for spells, following the manual, and, if you have one small typo during the tedious, drawn-out process, you die. As some consolation, they do take the time to show you a goofy animation of the spells going horribly wrong.

This was the last of the classic, mouse-free King’s Quest games. I think I am going to take a break from the series before attempting to tackle King’s Quest IV (which I got 75% through on my Apple ][gs back in the day).