Game 54: Space Quest IV - Roger Wilco’s Bogus Journey

By Joe Pranevich

Roger Wilco’s Janitorial Log #1 - Time: the final frontier. These are the thoughts that were running through my head as I jumped through a “rip” in time to flee some murderous-looking robots. Who was that handsome young lad that pushed me into the rip? I have no idea, but some day I will have to thank him. I landed back home, Xenon, but not the Xenon I remember. This one has been destroyed by an evil AI hidden inside a copy of Leisure Suit Larry. Judging by the subtitle, this must be the work of my arch nemesis, Sludge Vohaul. With a bit of can-do Wilco attitude, I snuck into a patrol ship and nicked my very own time pod. Time to begin my long voyage home.

Reminds me of a certain cantina I could name.

We begin our story right where Space Quest III left off, albeit with better music and a more expansive color pallet. Roger dropped the Two Guys from Andromeda off on Earth to design adventure games for Sierra On-Line and now he’s returning to Xenon. Of course, there’s no hurry right? He has plenty of time to stop off at a neighborhood space-bar and throw back a few. What Roger doesn’t realize is that we’ve now started Space Quest IV and a group of unknown villains are tracking his whereabouts. They have found him at his dive bar and are ordered by their mysterious boss to go after Wilco

Is that space-Gandalf in the corner?

Of course, Roger is oblivious. He’s relaxing and telling the tales of his exploits from previous games to anyone that will listen, just as long as he pays for the drinks. The villains enter the bar, heavily armored and possibly robotic police officers. They identify Wilco and lead him outside at gunpoint.

So this isn’t about those parking tickets?

But Roger is not alone! Looking over the situation is a group of rag-tag freedom fighter-looking people. Because villains are required by contract to monologue before killing their prey, the police officers show Roger a hologram of Sludge Vohaul who reveals that he a) survived Space Quest II and b) still wants to kill him. Before the police can execute Roger, the rag-tag freedom fighter-looking people attack, rescuing Roger… at least for now. One of the men is sent away as a distraction while the other takes Roger away with him.

Excuse me... What are you doing with that hairdryer?

But there is no time to explain what is going on as the police robots have caught back up already. The stranger creates a “time rift” for Roger and tells him to jump in. Roger does as he is told and is soon flying through a technicolor vortex.

It was red and yellow and green and brown, and scarlet and black and ochre and peach...

When Roger emerges, he is no longer in Space Quest IV. Rather, he has jumped ahead eight installments to Space Quest XII: Vohaul’s Revenge II. It’s a dismal post-apocalyptic world with orange skies and imposing architecture. Most importantly, the opening sequence is over and I can play the game!

How dismal. Wait, isn’t this game supposed to be a comedy?

Wow. This breaks back memories! Or parts of memories, anyway. The interface is immediately familiar to me from my Sierra days and only slightly different from what we just saw in Kings Quest V: walk, look use, talk, smell, and taste. There is also an icon to let me access my inventory (a buckazoid!) and another slot where I can manipulate an inventory item on the screen. It’s all very straight-forward and familiar, like putting on a comfortable pair of shoes. I walk around a few screens just to get my bearings and… surprise!... Roger is approached by none other than the Energizer bunny. A few neurons fire in my brain and I vaguely remember that I need its battery for something, so there must be a way to catch it. I try to chase the thing, but the game helpfully lets me know that it “won’t go anywhere near you”. Something to figure out as I continue exploring.

Are they still making Energizer Bunny commercials?

The path to the big fortress in the background is blocked by rubble, as is any travel to the south. I really just have access to the area around one intersection. On the eastern side, there is a grate next to some dried sludge of some kind. I click just to see if something is down there, but Roger opens it up instead and I find myself in a room underground. There is no way back up, so I’ll keep exploring for now, but I am pretty sure I did not explore the whole area above. I have been playing so many older games lately that I forgot one of the key difficulties of these graphical interfaces: a lack of verbs. Click somewhere and see what it does! It makes the game much more accessible to new players and you do not have to spend time trying to guess what word the author wants you to use, but it leads to cases like this one where you do something by accident.

This grate leads you down to…

… a secret room!

The underground room seems to be an office of some kind, with a pad (transporter?), a secured door, and a table. On the table is an empty jar (which I pocket) and a blotter. I have no idea what a blotter is, but when I move it I find a button. Pressing that button reveals that the “transporter” pad is actually a hologram projector. It proceeds to give me a ton of exposition:

In the future, the people of Xenon build a supercomputer but accidentily infect it with a virus hidden in a copy of Leisure Suit Larry that they found floating in space. The virus takes over, announces that “Wilco Must Die!”, and proceeded to conquer the world, leaving only a few cyborgs and rag-tag resistance movements. Now the computer has mastered the art of time travel, but two resistance fighters were able to steal the tech and use it to go fetch you. You are Xenon’s only hope, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. This leaves me with two important querstions:

  1. First, why did Sludge need to go after Roger from the past? Was he already dead in Space Quest XII? That would make a pretty boring game.
  2. Second, why would the resistance fighters go after Roger at all? Sure, Sludge was after him and all, but he’s just a savior-janitor three-times over. Surely, there were others more qualified to defeat an evil super computer? By this point, King Graham and his family had saved their respective games five times. There was also a Hero I could name that would have appreciated the 256-color upgrade.

I suppose it’s good that those things happened as they did because otherwise we wouldn’t have a game.

The only exit from the room leads into the sewers and the door locks behind me, so I have to press forward. I am just starting to explore when I am chased by some seemingly-intelligent sewer-slime.

Well-camoflagued sewer slime.

I’m not sure whether my 36-year old self figured this out or if he was channeling the memories of his 16-year old self, but I get the brilliant idea to capture some of the slime in the bottle that I picked up. I select the bottle in my inventory, click on some slime, and presto! I have some slime in a bottle. Now, back to exploring.

The sewers are not much to explore, just a bunch of straight lines making a 2x2 grid with the entrance on the far east and a ladder in the far west. I make sure to hit each of the rooms individually, but before I can explore them all another batch of slime manages to catch up to me and dissolves my flesh. Game over!

I’ll stop the world and melt with you!

I restore back to the hologram room and retrace my steps, capturing the slime in the bottle again. But this time around, I guess my timing wasn’t as good because rather than capturing the slime, all I manage to do is get myself melted again. That’s death #2.

The third time, I am able both to get the slime and get to the ladder. I peek my head out of a manhole to see a ship landing not far away.

The Manhole (1988) is a game I’d like to do a Missed Classic for someday...

As I watch, four people exit the ship. Once they are away, I click on the “walk” icon and emerge into a part of the city that I did not explore before, a side street with a damaged tank. I poke my head out to explore my surroundings, but moments later some of those police officers from the intro arrive and shoot me. That makes death #3.

Barely get enough time to snap this picture before..

Dead again!

I restore back a few screens and replay, but I quickly die again for the same reason (#4). I see a hole in the side of the tank and try to check that out, but I get shot before I get there (#5). I quickly go north, but there’s a policeman waiting for me. Dead again (#6). South? There’s a broken down speeder… but also a policeman. That makes death #7. If I go east immediately, I can find the ship that the police arrived in. I get momentarily excited, that I figured out the trick, but that ends quickly as I am once again shot by quickly arriving policemen (#8).

It really seemed like I was getting somewhere...

I’m not going to make any more progress this way, so rather than die a few more times, I restart the game back to the beginning. This time around, I will explore more thoroughly before going through the grate and I hope I will find something to let me defeat the policemen. I probably just missed an item, right?

Well, it’s that or be shot at, so… yes.

After I get dumped back on the post-apocalyptic pavement again, I explore to the west and am relieved to see that the broken down speeder and the tank are connected to the area that I started in. I really did a poor job of exploring before I sent myself down that grate the last time, but no matter. My first stop is the crashed speeder in the southwest corner.

I hope they had insurance

Looking at the ship reveals a glove compartment containing a “pocket pal laptop”. The thing is huge! I guess in the future, laptops will become bigger and heavier as a means of treating the obesity epidemic. Makes sense, I suppose. I try to use it, but am told that it is “just a dumb terminal”, whatever that means. The side of the laptop has a slot which triggers one of my childhood memories: this is where the bunny’s battery goes! All the more reason to capture the bunny… if I could only remember (or figure out) how. Next stop is one screen to the north: the wrecked tank. When I peer into the hole in the side that I found earlier, I see some “unstable ordnance” and I pick that up too. I explore the rest of the screens as well, but the only other item immediately visible is a battered piece of rope in the southeast corner. Every good adventure game needs a piece of rope, right?

While I am exploring, I come across two new obstacles but thankfully they are less aggressive than the policemen: zombies and robots.

Need braiiiiinns… but youuu will doooo...

Nomad, is that you?

Fortunately, the only thing you need to deal with these annoyances are to walk very slowly and deliberately away from them. Not to compare Roger with a certain Hero I could name, but this game could really use a “run” option. A leisurely stroll away from man-eating zombies just doesn’t seem to be the best approach. Before I finish and head back into the sewers (with no obvious means of defeating the policemen found), I check if there is any way that I can interact with either of the monsters. I try the zombies first.

Uncle Zombie wants YOU to donate your brain.

When I approach the zombie, I get a brilliant close up. But before I can do anything, he screams and alerts the robot guards who come and shoot me. That’s #9, but at least this time I was pretty sure I knew what I was getting into. I also try to interact with the robot, including blowing it up with the unstable ordnance, but that line of thought just wins me deaths #10 and #11. Oh well. Time to go back to the sewers!

I confidently march to the sewer entrance and descend through the grate to the underground room. And then… boom. Apparently the fall into the room is deadly, if you are carrying high explosives. Who knew? There goes life #12.

Man, I wish I was made of liquid metal right about now.

Since I cannot go into the sewers with the unstable ordnance, I can conclude one of three things:
  1. I missed something to do with the ordnance while exploring before descending into the sewer
  2. I missed a way to pick up the ordnance after returning from the sewer
  3. The ordnance is a red herring.
Since I got shot an awful lot trying to get to the tank earlier, I suspect that it is either options one or three. I elect to explore everything over again to find anything that I might have missed. In the process, I suffer death #13: I walked smack into a robot of death while changing screens. Oops.

I put the game away for a bit and come back to it with a new idea: what if I use the rope on the robot instead? I walk around at random until I find the robot and click the rope on him. Except, that does not do exactly what I expect...

Wabbit season!

Instead of capturing or destroying the robot (who just flies away, oblivious), Roger creates a lasso and throws it onto the ground. Moments later, our bunny friend comes by, walks into the loop, and then walks right back out again. I’m thrilled, but I think I just solved much of this puzzle by accident. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Capturing the bunny this way is not easy. I try thirty times and my timing is incorrect no matter when I try to click on the rope. Even if I time it so I click right before the bunny does his little spin, I still miss out on catching him. So, perhaps I have the right idea but the wrong location? I check out other screens for places to hide where I can throw the rope and I find one just across the street. When I try the trick there, I catch the bunny on my first attempt!

Just think of how much simpler it would have been if Roger could run...

I examine the bunny, now safely trapped in my inventory. If I “use” it while holding it, Roger turns it around and reveals its battery. I remove the battery and place it in the Pocket Pal. I have power now! But it seems I still do not have a place to use it. I will have to keep looking. I am making progress, at least...

I keep exploring, but do not find anything else to do. If there is some puzzle with the ordnance here, I cannot find it. I put the ordnance back in the tank (thankfully, it did not make me reload) and head back into the sewer. I retrace my steps and in no time at all I am back looking out of the manhole at the police ship.

Since I did not learn my lesson last time, I try to get the ordnance twice more and die each time, making deaths #14 and #15. Instead of dying a few more times, I head east and explore the landing craft again. This time around, I must have clicked somewhere better because Roger is able to board the craft! Problem solved? No. The ship is guarded and there goes life #16. On the bright side, it is a very funny death scene...

My favorite death so far!

I could narrate all the things I tried next, but that would bore you to tears. Just let it be said that I tried some things, failed at some things, and suffered deaths #17 through #30. But, something good did come out of this: I figured out how to get the ordnance! If I go east to the ship but immediately turn around to go back to the tank, I somehow confuse the police enough that I can search the tank and get the ordnance. Awesome! I still die because I do not move quickly enough (#24), but at least I figured out what to do.

Yet another pointless death.

While saving my game after picking up the ordnance, I discover what I think is a bug: the timer doesn’t stop while you are saving. As soon as I finish saving, a police man comes and I die even though I know I should have more time. Just as bad, you also get shot immediately after restoring. Should we deduct points for a game that penalizes saving your game? Perhaps. But for now let’s just know that I suffered deaths #25 and #26 because of this little quirk and ended up having to save my game easier so as to not get stuck.

Thinking that it might help, I turn down the game speed. My thinking is that with slower speed, my own reaction times will be better and maybe I can get moving before the police arrive. But to my shock, reducing the speed makes things WORSE (and causes death #31). With the speed reduced, I cannot even walk across the room before the police arrive and I die. Does anyone know if this is a DosBox bug or an issue with the original game? Instead of turning the speed down, I crank it all the way up until Roger power-walks at Mach 1 every time you click and that works! I can now accomplish a ton more before the police come. This just has to be a bug.

With that brilliant idea in hand, I can explore a bit more with the police running around and can even pick up the ordnance. I’m not perfect, I still died three more times (#32 through #34), but that’s better than accomplishing nothing. My next brilliant idea is to blow up the ship using the ordnance, but I hit on a better solution (again!) by accident: clicking on a different part of the ship allows me to hide with the landing gear. The ship takes off and I am delivered to the building that I could see in the distance. Time for a nice cinematic!

Kids today and their fancy animated GIFs don’t have anything on me.

Now that Roger has successfully made it into Vohaul’s base, I think this is as good a place as any to end this segment. Thus far, I am disappointed that I solved two of the puzzles more or less by accident, plus the timer issue (if it is not specific to DosBox) is a real game-breaker. But on the bright side, I am loving the graphics and the attention to detail. Even the music seems right for the locale. My brain is awash with childhood memories and I’m looking forward to seeing where Roger Wilco is headed next.

Deaths: 34

Inventory: Pocket Pal (with battery), Unstable Ordnance, Bunny (sans Battery), Jar of Goo, and one Buckazoid.

Time played: 3:00
Total time: 3:00

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

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