Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge
First posted on 23 March 2011. Last updated on 01 November 2011.
A sequel is never as good as the original. No matter how carefully the developer tries to stay true to the fan base of an original work, regardless of earnest, unflagging efforts to make a follow-up effort the very best it can be, fans consistently will prefer the original title in a series and deride any sequel as, at best, mediocre, entirely undeserving to share the same series name with its predecessor. Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge (also known as Space Quest Chapter II: Vohaul's Revenge) is that rare miracle—spinning straw into gold—that elusive sequel which actually manages to please fans of the original game while still being better in nearly every way.
To be fair, Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter—the original game in the series created by the Two Guys from Andromeda, Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe—was, in some ways, more of a pilot than a true standalone production. In a company that had already made a name for itself with family friendly fantasy adventures, Sierra On-Line was skeptical of the idea of a science fiction comedy with a bizarre, deadpan, somewhat macabre sense of humor. The game was assembled in a comparatively slapdash manner as a metaphorical toe in the water of adventure gaming to measure gamers' response to the sci-fi subgenre. Indeed, it was the success of this experiment that promptly led the company to produce a proper effort that was a real sci-fi adventure.
Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge is certainly longer than Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter. The game does not have vastly more rooms than its predecessor, but the rooms are different from each other (as opposed to the rooms of the Arcada and Deltaur, which are largely recycled copies of each other). Most rooms in the sequel also get more use than they do in the previous game, and the game does not suffer as much from artificial attempts to extend gameplay, such as the slot machine in Ulence Flats. In all fairness, near the end of the game, it too starts using a similar carbon copy room system similar to its predecessor, in which rooms are scarcely distinguishable from each other—perhaps a sign attesting to the rush development of the game—but the lead-up to that end is more interesting, more original, and much more like an adventure game than the sand-skimmer ride on Kerona. In this sense, the sequel is a properly epic adventure, with the main protagonist Roger Wilco braving both rugged wilderness and more habituated environments to save the day, or at least his own skin.
Unlike other titles in the series, Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge does not begin in a disaster area, with Roger in mortal danger. Rather, it begins in the relatively mundane setting of a space station, with Roger assigned to do what he does best: cleaning up garbage. In fact, the first few screens of the game are entirely uneventful, giving a false appearance of a drab, pedestrian sequel. This impression is rapidly broken when Roger is again thrust into the midst of danger, setting in motion a long journey home that will ultimately end up comprising literally half of the entire Space Quest series. Abducted during a routine shuttle cleaning, Roger is brought to a criminal mastermind who claims responsibility for the Sarien attacks from the previous game before condemning Roger to a life of hard labor in a prison. A freak accident allows Roger to briefly escape his captors, but he remains alone on a jungle planet, hunted by both his capturers and the native jungle life. Roger's mission remains the same for the rest of the game: survive, and escape to freedom.
Whereas Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter takes place on a barren desert planet, Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge opens itself up to much more detailed and interactive environments by virtue of taking place on the jungle planet of Labion (a name with possibly naughty implications). While the desert planet Kerona has little to show for itself other than rocks, sand, and that same beast who keeps rising up out of the sand and eating Roger, Labion teems with all manner of plant and animal life, most of it deadly. In retrospect, this is the most ceaselessly hostile game of the entire Space Quest series; while all of the other games allow Roger to encounter civilizations with friendly (or at least neutral) characters, practically every alien in this game intends to kill Roger, the sole exception being a race of small, pink, humanoid creatures that Roger only encounters twice briefly. It can become downright lonely on a lush jungle planet where nearly every place is a deathtrap for the near defenseless janitor, but Roger remains brave—or perhaps simply oblivious—through most of it.
Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge also has the least imaginative deaths of the Space Quest series. From bleeding to death by trying to pick up a piece of sheet metal to getting executed by an overzealous slot machine, one of the hallmarks of the series is managing to find genuinely unexpected and original ways to die. On Labion, deaths are generally quite predictable and a direct result of getting eaten by obviously hostile creatures. Surprise deaths are few and far between. A notable exception appears near the very end of the game in the form of a bizarrely surreal parody of the alien from Ridley Scott's Alien film, but even this death is somewhat cheapened by the fact that it allows the player to get stuck, doomed to die without realizing it. Rather than dying stylishly from a death that may potentially evoke as much fascinated shock as the trademark scenes it is lampooning, the timing is more likely to trigger outrage on the part of the player, and rightly so.
To its great credit, Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge offers fairly detailed text descriptions of characters and places encountered on Roger's adventure, allowing the player to become more immersed in the details of the journey rather than getting trapped in the mindset that only key encounters which are vital to finishing the game are described in detail. Most puzzles have only a single solution, although there is a particular puzzle with the dual "easier versus better" solution system, featuring a truly bizarre "better" solution involving Roger’s underwear. Sadly, the game is not completely free from cheap efforts to artificially extend gameplay, including a dark maze which is just slightly too long and an "avoid the deadly lines" walking puzzle which itself also has a glitch that causes Roger to die even when he steps on a particular spot which does not have the fatal color on it. The puzzles are generally logical and reasonable, so that an experienced player may finish the game surprisingly quickly if the player is able to stay on track. This is especially true given that the game does not use a hub of retreaded rooms, but rather a linear series of rooms, most of which are passed through only once and are not returned to ever.
Technically, the graphics in Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge are adequate but relatively unremarkable, comparable to other adventure games of that era. The game is built using the AGI engine that supports only 16-color EGA graphics. The Apple IIgs version features vastly improved music and sound effects, including a musical track which does not exist at all in the other PC versions. The game is released in both 5.25" and 3.5" Floppy Disk versions.
Ultimately, Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge is a good adventure which justifies the continued success of the Space Quest series, but it has the poor taste to do what too many promising sequels do: it ends on a "To be continued" note, literally leaving Roger in suspended animation rather than coming to a conclusion. At the least, the original Space Quest game ends with the player feeling like a hero rather than lost space debris. The Space Quest series is certainly good enough to justify following Roger's continued adventures through the sequels, but for adventure game fans who are new to the series, be warned: when the closing credits for this sequel appears, Roger is still far from home. As the sequel that succeeds in carrying the series forward from Roger's tentative beginnings on the Arcada, Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge remains a historical marker, reaffirming that Space Quest is among the most enduring classic series of the golden age of adventure games.