Have You Played… Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Space Quest IV is really, really funny. No, I’m not wrong about this!

If you were to go back to most early 90s Sierra adventures, you’d certainly struggle. The Police Quest games, which I adored, are far, far too fiddly, bogged down with paperwork that somehow can lead to a game over if gotten wrong, the King’s Quest games were saccharine shit, the Larry games weren’t half as funny as your pre-teen self thought they were. And the early Space Quest games are god-awful beyond belief. But Space Quest IV is something different. It’s actually laugh-out-loud funny.

I proved this to myself back in 2009, which I’m horrified to realise is a long time ago already, but at least while still in my 30s.

Space Quest IV is a game with the volume of gags that people misremember the LucasArts games having. This is a game where every single detail on every single screen has had about five jokes written for it, depending upon what cursor icon you click on it. And each voiced by the mellifluous tones of the late Gary Owens. His grandiose delivery of the nonsense made it even funnier than the text alone.

The game’s dreadful in so many ways, not least the daft numbers of ways you can die. But it still features that amazing joke where you go back in time and the game is rendered in EGA graphics, and for that it shall always live on in greatness.

27 Comments

  1. Canadave says:

    I enjoyed Space Quest IV, especially for the silly gag of traveling into the future putting you in Space Quests XII and X, but I remember both III and V much more fondly for some reason.

  2. timzania says:

    So I was super excited to play Space Quest IV, largely because I was a kid and didn’t know any better. With my CGA graphics it was going to be a struggle, since the game didn’t support CGA at all, but somehow I made it kinda-work in mono by copying the CGA drivers from some other Sierra game. (The joke about going back to EGA did not land.)

    Looking back, that might be the first time I learned that screwing around with drivers can be more fun than the game… in other words, when I became a real PC gamer.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    Agreed, but the good thing about (most of!) the Larry games is the puzzle design. It’s really amazing. But at the same time it’s very weird to me to admire the Larry games in a purely intellectual level.

    • shoptroll says:

      Looking back on them, I think Al Lowe is one of the few designers at Sierra who understood what LucasArts getting up to with their designs. Which isn’t too surprising since he’s dismissed the Sierra v. LA “rivalry” saying he always looked forward to new LA titles since it gave him something new to play at the time.

      Anyways, Larry 5 was released less than a year after Secret of Monkey Island and it kinda shows in some ways. For starters, the game was intentionally designed with no-deaths much like Monkey Island. Also, it bears a “three trials” structure in the form of the three major locations you can complete in any order, although I don’t remember if you can switch between them. This design philosophy would continue into 6 and 7 while other designers continued adhering to classic Sierra conventions.

      That said, I expect a lot of the humor in these games doesn’t hold up like John says (although I haven’t tested this myself). I know Richard Cobbett’s gone to bat for 7 on several occasions, but there are definitely parts I remember from 5 and 6 I know wouldn’t fly by modern standards, and I think 7 still has some less savory bits.

    • tomimt says:

      Love for Sail really is one of the best adventure games Sierra ever put out. It was in many ways a culmination of things Al Lowe had learned during his career as a game designer and it’s playable and fun game even today.

  4. Infinitron says:

    One of the most overrated Sierra games IMO. Very linear, and there isn’t actually a lot to do in the game world.

    I think that as a traditional puzzle-based adventure game experience, Space Quest 3 might be the best – solely on the strength of its starting area, the huge garbage freighter.

    • durrbluh says:

      The garbage freighter in SQ3 was definitely the most memorable scenario from the series, to the extent that I picked up the franchise bundle a while back just to revisit it. Good times.

      • twaitsfan says:

        I completely agree. It overtook PQ2 as my favorite game back then after I finished it.

        Hated the end puzzle with the garbage cans though.

  5. Kamestos says:

    Did you know this game existed for Amiga ? As I had no hard drive it had a million floppy disks and it took 5 hours to load the intro.
    Good times.

    • Premium User Badge

      Neurotic says:

      Yeah, I did it first on Amiga. Talk about disk juggling! :D

    • criskywalker says:

      And the graphics were way worse. That’s when I started considering getting a PC.

  6. Premium User Badge

    DuncUK says:

    I did play all the SQ games (and many Sierra games) in completely the wrong order… I think I went II, IV, III, I, V. IV is the one I remember most fondly, I used to occasionally go back and play it through after completion just to immerse myself in the game.

    The jump from II to IV blew my tiny teenage mind… whilst possibly not the best game in the series, the step up in graphical fidelity and the move away from cartoony graphics to something more approaching ‘graphic novel’ fidelity was all I needed to be completely immersed, and against expectations at the time I loved the point and click interface. The shopping mall, the dystopian starting location… I loved it all.

    I particularly loved that art style which was perfected for me in Police Quest III, a particular highlight of Sierra’s and my formative years. Aaaah, nostalgia. :-)

  7. Maxheadroom says:

    Space Quest 3 was the highlight for me. Never played the later ones but watched a play through of them a few months back when I was off work.

    Cant say I was a fan of the bombastic over the top delivery in the voiced versions (reminds me of that god awful, unfunny Bards Tale spin off), but love it or hate it Gary Owens had a memorable set of pipes

    • durrbluh says:

      When I originally played the series my sound card was too crude or the release I had was pre-voiceover, and it was a bit jarring to hear the bland narration of SQ4 when I booted up the collection more recently. I imagine it’s one of those things that had to be a novelty in one’s youth in order to induce fond feelings towards it now.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Andy_Panthro says:

    Space Quest IV is one of my favourite games, and this era of Sierra was amazing.

    SQ4 looked amazing, the music was great, and despite some dodgy puzzles I still love it. I feel similarly about King’s Quest V, but Space Quest was always better because of the sense of humour.

  9. satan says:

    Yes, that screaming humanoid thing (first planet) who called in a robot to kill you was absolutely terrifying at the time.

  10. Turkey says:

    The only funny game Sierra made was Phantasmagoria.

  11. criskywalker says:

    I just couldn’t get into it. I love the graphical style and it indeed seemed like a funny game, but there’s something about the gameplay and some cripty elements that I dislike about it. I didn’t have such a problem with Space Quest V, which I played to completion and totally loved it!

  12. Bighairyman says:

    Grew up playing all the Sierra adventure games. Loved all the Space Quest games..well maybe not 2 and 6. Still remember shopping at egghead software and looking at all the big box dos games. Miss those boxes. They always had great extras included too.

  13. twaitsfan says:

    C’mon, SQ3 was fantastic! I agree about 1 & 2 (I must have spent $50 of my parents money on sierra hint lines for 2), but 3 was amazing at the time. The multiple planets, the garbage freighter, the t-1000… I loved it.

    • tomimt says:

      SQ3 is fantastic, I love it so much I even did a 3D animated version of its opening cinematics. (link to youtube.com)

      But as a game, I do like SQ4 more. It’s funnier, keeps better together and Gary Owens is fantastic. SQ5 is great as well, it would have been even better had they made a voiced version with Owens in it.

  14. icarussc says:

    Yes! It was so great! One of my very first games ever as a kid was SQ3, and when I somehow got my hands on 4, I was blown away. I don’t think I actually understood a thing that was happening until 5, though …

  15. CartonofMilk says:

    I remember we (me and brother) ordered the game through the mail from sierra and it came in on a day he was gone for the weekend at a friend’s. Policy in such a case would have been to wait until he was there to play it but i discussed it with my mom which agreed that fuck this. If he was having fun at his friend’s why should i bore myself at home?

    It was a pretty funny game but my favorite SQ still is the 3rd one. Even if it’s probably too easy. But it being too easy also means as far as i remember there’s no dumb convoluted puzzles.

    The mall is the bit i remember most from SQIV. The burger making minigame, and mostly the Astro Chicken game which i spent so much time on trying to get a better score. Also of note the bargain bin in the electronics store with all its parody games. It came for the dessert!

    I did maybe 4 years ago replay the first three SQ games (i intended to play IV too btu got distracted with other games before
    i made it to IV). I have to say the first two gave me intense soul destroying nostalgia. And also, this amazing thing where you get to a screen and suddenly you brain digs up a file long buried and forgotten in the deepest halls of your memory and you remember what it is you need to do. For 30 years this information has been buried and completely forgotten but it’s still there, you didn’t know it was, but it is. Only adventure or puzzle games can do that. And it’s marvelous. Memory is an amazing thing.

  16. Amstrad says:

    This game was my introduction to Sierra adventure games. I especially remember bumbling around that first level and discovering the long standing tradition of killing the player in amusing ways. The one that stood out for me was carrying around the unexploded munitions.

  17. dreadguacamole says:

    It taught me a very important life lesson – if you’re going to pole vault, make sure you don’t have any grenades on you.

    Loved this game. It’s only surpassed by Leisure Suit Larry 4, which was riotously funny and very considerate in its portrayal of women*.

    * LSL did have some decent female characters; I think the series gets a bad rap, though sometimes it does deserve it… and it ended up gleefully living down to it, culminating in one of the worst games I’ve ever played. Also – the comment system here is horrendous – when I log in, can I please be returned back to the article please instead of the profile page? Grrrr)