Sequels are dangerous business. While in movies, the basic idea is to take the expectations of what an audience knows (and loves), and either chooses to repeat them or reverse them...in games, it's a slightly different matter. Yes, you need similar characters, similar tone, and similar difficulty, but you also need to worry about increasing the technology quotient, tweaking the narrative more than usual, and generally giving more for the average buck than before. Because if a sequel to a film is poor, the audience is out of about a "sure-fire" eight dollars. If a sequel to a game is poor, the audience is out of about five times that amount...even with the same idea that they thought they were "guaranteed" a good time. Luckily, with a game like Space Quest 2: Vohaul's Revenge, it satisfies almost everything a sequel should.
So let's start with how such a sequel succeeded. The premise is simple, and of course right along the path of the first game: in a distant time in the future, full of lightning-quick spaceships and mechanoids, who would be a likely hero? A ship captain? A swashbuckling, Flash Gordon type? Nah. How about a janitor...that'd be a good idea. It's still a good idea too, even a game later. After the success of the first Space Quest game, the creators knew they had to maintain what worked in the first one (refreshing humour, everyman-protagonist, fair puzzles, etc.), but also stay away from the major faults of the original (drab locations, "arcade" sequences, clipped story-line, etc.). Which means that this time around, the right elements are kept and the right elements are ditched. Kept is the tone, ditched is a too-short narrative. Which is a reasonable point, because the story-line in this sequel is much more interesting: vowing revenge for your (Roger Wilco's) earlier destruction of his "Star Generator" (basically Star Trek's "Genesis Device"), a mutated villain known as Sludge Vohaul sends you off to a dangerous, jungle-infested planet so you won't be able to interfere with his diabolical plans to flood the universe with mechanized life-insurance salesmen. As you can tell, while the humour was never as high as the wit in the LucasArts games, the fusion of traditional sci-fi influences (from Star Wars, to Star Trek, to Alien, etc.) and snarky, Douglas Adams-like satire proved that these types of adventure games had a lot to offer.
What hits you the most when you first start playing is how different SQ2 looks in comparison to the first installment. It's EGA, but very effective EGA. For starters, the game maintains more colourful, dense environments than the original. Sure, while both games feature the same, basic narrative setup (i.e. start on spaceship, get stranded on planet, go back to a different spaceship), SQ2 avoids the rather gray and yellow atmosphere of the previous game. You get more believable ship environments book-ending the game, you get a lush, jungle planet of swamps, cliffs, caves, and spaceports rather than a flat, featureless, desert planet with virtually nothing of really inventive interest. Not to mention a larger variety of characters and creatures to interact with throughout the entire game. In this way, the manufactured world in SQ2 just feels richer and more believable. The technology shift between games is not as severe as one would like to think in sequels, but the shift in detail is still indeed a pleasant one.
The other thing that strikes you is how many more puzzles are sprinkled throughout this installment. The difficulty is essentially the same (except, thankfully, those obnoxious "arcade sequences" such as the sand-speeder run or the asteroid-dodging bits of the original are absent), but there's just so much more of them bouncing along to a longer narrative. If the graphics give a sense of a richer environment, this new amount of puzzles give a sense of a much more complete game.
At one point, however, the game hits a brick wall of unfairness with the location of one, crucial, nameless-for-spoilers'-sake item you must have in your inventory to progress past a point somewhere down the line. It's hidden in the swamp, can only be found by complete accident (never a slightest hint that it's there), and when you hit the impassible point later on, you have no option to turn around and try and search for it. These are the worst kind of adventure game puzzles, which rely more on happenstance and irritation than actual mental creativity. Luckily, this moment is a lone one, and virtually every other puzzle in the game is either fair, inventive, or both. The best ones even subvert audience references: nods to old Warner Brothers cartoons, Planet of the Apes, The Incredible Shrinking Man, and so on. They simultaneously give the player a pat on the back for remembering where the influences come from, but also tweak the exact puzzles enough so repeating the exact moments they've read or seen before wouldn't do much good. Which helps prove the idea that cross-fertilizing different genres and different forms of entertainment can and should be something used much more frequently in this tunnel-vision world. If more games took this approach, there would never be a DNA-replicate of Doom ever again.
Back to the puzzles, usually adventure games are either completely unfair or ridiculously short. SQ2 is neither (apart, of course, from that aforementioned dastardly swamp item). There are quite a few puzzles that are a bit simple-minded and rigidly cause-and-effect -- escaping the cage in the hunter's camp, for one -- but overall, the game is thankfully not labyrinthine in its problem-solving options. About a middle difficulty for 3-D adventure games. The open "text-parser" mode of control still maintains a sense of open ideas of the text-based originators of the genre held so firmly (no "click on every item and everything on-screen" tactics here), although there will hardly be a puzzle in the game that will prevent you from completing the game within a week or so. Also, while a joystick could theoretically be used to control movement, it's rough and clumsy, and not worth using compared to the inherent arrow-keys controls of the keyboard. So yes, the game only staggers with a difficulty level on the lower side of the spectrum, and this movement control that does not cater to the streamlined mouse-interface of every LucasArts adventure game in similar competition or even of later installments of this exact same series.
All in all though, SQ2 is one of those rare moments in games (or movies, or novels, or...) where a follow-up can equal or exceed the original in so many areas. A longer and more interesting narrative, a better interface, superior graphics, fuller characters, richer atmosphere, and even funnier jokes. Easily a high-point in Sierra On-Line's career. Unfortunately, barring the often superb Space Quest 4: Roger Wilco And The Time Rippers, the series never quite lived up to this second installment later on. While Space Quest 2: Vohaul's Revenge was put out, however, it was one of the most friendly, amusing, and yes, fun 3-D adventure games around. Make no mistake: sequels can be good, and even janitors need them from time to time.
Graphics: Great use of colours and full, rich environments.
Sound: The terrific theme song still exists, although the sound effects used throughout the game are at their most basic. The latter are used most effectively when they are used sparingly.
Enjoyment: Barring one item placement, difficulty is never too extreme, and the whimsical, sarcastic nature of the game keeps a smile on one's face even when hitting a brick wall.
Replay Value: The story is fun enough to warrant at least another play or two to soak in all the elements, but like most adventure games, once you've finished it, there are little other reasons ever to return to it.
People who downloaded Space Quest 2: Vohaul's Revenge have also downloaded:
Space Quest 3: The Pirates of Pestulon, Space Quest 4: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers, Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter, Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter VGA, Space Quest 5: The Next Mutation, Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier, Space Quest 0: Replicated, Police Quest 2: The Vengeance
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