Quest for Glory IV: Edgy adventurers hang out in cemeteries

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Here’s a good pro-tip for any of you Quest for Glory IV players out there — don’t go wandering around at night! You get locked out of the town, for starters, and all sorts of evil mobs pop out around the place. As with the other games, the clock is always advancing forward and there are different events that happen depending on time and days, so time is a real factor here.

So with my first day over and done, I retire to the inn and chat up the suspicious and somewhat funny locals in the tavern. They mention some sort of jester gnome in town that I haven’t seen yet, so that intrigues me.

The local cemetery is full of Haunted Mansion-style tombstones with amusing epitaphs.

I do bump into a goofy forest… thing named Leshy. His color scheme is giving me headaches already, as is his propensity for riddles and annoying quests. Welcome to the 90s!

Erana has a garden here as well, and it’s a nice sanctuary from the rest of this rather pretty and welcoming country. I plant a tree, pluck some fruit, loot some coins, and even magic myself up a scroll that teaches me the protection spell. More areas like this, please!

Probably the weakest element of the Quest for Glory games is its combat system. A basic turn-based system would have been perfectly fine in these games, but instead the creators tried to make this arcade-style experience that results in a lot of frustrated mouse-clicking and hoping for the best. At least in this game there’s the option to let the computer fight for you, which I’ll gladly take.

Down at the lake, there’s a very, very naked woman frolicking about and asking you to join her in the water. Her portrait is so risque, in fact, that I really can’t post it here, but let’s just say that I spit out my tea because I wasn’t expecting it in this game. And then I laughed, because the game devs are really clever at putting in a trap for puberty-stricken boys here. If you take her up on the offer, she drowns you, because she’s the Rusalka (which I think was a monster in Secret World’s Transylvania but I’m not entirely sure).


Quest for Glory IV: Slumming it in Mordavia

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Quest for Glory series is its continuity, thanks to the fact that they were all designed by husband-and-wife team Corey and Lori Ann Cole. Seeing how all of the games connect and how certain themes are revisited in new ways is really cool.

For example, the town of Mordavia is in many ways an obvious callback to the main town of the first game, right down to the layout. Yet this town subverts the warm-and-fuzzy fantasy village trope by barely holding back monsters with a magical staff and being home to a lot of macabre sights.

Plus a really grumpy leader of the town who looks like he spends his off hours glowering at Fivel for daring to ask if there are cats in America.

After stocking up in the store and getting a room at the inn, the next stop for my hero — of course — is to check in at the local Adventurer’s Guild. The only problem is that it’s completely deserted and boarded up, thanks to the fact that the valley is currently isolated and no adventurers have been through lately. Guess it’s time to open it back up for business!

I am really, really loving both the art styles of the characters and the fantastic voice acting. Igor — of course there’s an Igor in a horror-themed fantasy game — is a hoot with his black humor and dorky jokes. Wish he could come along as a companion!

There’s a type of humor that runs through this entire game that we today would probably call “dad jokes.” Just goofy, groan-worthy puns and silly jokes and loads of fourth wall-breaking references. Plus emoticons, because this was the 1990s and the plague of emojis hadn’t been invented yet.

I did stop by at the local mad scientist’s house, a fella by the name of Dr. Cranium. Stepping in there is like going into a completely different game entirely — in fact, Dr. Cranium is the great, great-grandfather of Dr. Brain from Sierra’s 1991 The Castle of Dr. Brain (also developed by the Coles).

There are a few really head-slappingly annoying puzzles to do here, including a tile-flipping one and a maze rotating one. All the while, the statue blows bubblegum because why not? He’s got nothing else to do in his spare time.

I did get to meet the good doctor, and he was as science mad as the rest of the town is magic mad. Kind of like a low-rent Doc Brown without the time machine.

Another fun stop in the town is the evil monastery, which honestly couldn’t BE more evil if it put a six-legged C’thulu octopus above its doors and had deadly books in the basement. Which it does. At least I was able to loot some clues about various rituals I’ll need to perform to win the game.

I also drank from the (ahem) Cask of Amon Tillado and got a rather terrifying vision of some sort of winged dark lord bursting out of the nearby mountain and bringing doom upon us all. Gotta make sure that doesn’t happen, I guess. That would be the “bad ending.”

Quest for Glory IV: Down the throat of H.R. Giger

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

A new year, a new retro gaming playthrough here on Bio Break! Ever since stalling out on Quest for Glory III, I wanted to get back to the series at least to tackle the fan-acclaimed fourth installment. As with the previous three games, Quest for Glory IV is connected in themes and even character progression (as you can import your previous game’s character into this to continue his journey). Also like the previous titles, this game hews to a particular theme. First there was European fantasy (Quest for Glory I), Arabian Nights fantasy (II), and Egyptian/African fantasy (III) — and now with IV, it’s all about Transylvania and dark fantasy!

Kind of really excited about it. The rock music of the main theme and those dastardly drop shadows in the title text only serve to heighten my hunger… for adventure/RPG hybrid gaming!

Unfortunately, since I never beat III, I don’t have a save game to import. That’s OK, as I want to try a different class this time around — specifically, the magic-using Wizard. I pumped in extra points to magic and intelligence and called it a day.

The game starts off in a bizarrely dark place, as if I was dropped right down the throat of H.R. Giger. The dry wit of the (voiced) narrator tells me that I have no idea where I am, how I got here, or where all my stuff is. Why feature continuity, after all!

Fun fact: The narrator is Indiana Jones/Lord of the Rings actor John Rhys-Davies! That’s so cool.

Wherever I am, it’s obvious that the first objective is to find my way out. And so I go through many doorways that the narrator oh-so-helpfully labels as “sphincters.” I can’t decide if that’s on purpose or not.

As you might recall, the Quest for Glory games are famous for their replay value due to each class (Fighter, Thief, Wizard) being treated to a different experience. So for example, as a Wizard I’m too weak to use the rope to shimmy across this gap, so instead I use a sheet, catch some wind, and use a levitate spell to fly to the other side. Dumbledore ain’t got nothing on me!

I escape into the night air and quickly bump into one of the residents of Mordavia (for that is where I am, apparently). Her name’s Katrina, and she’s suspiciously bubbly for a resident out on a nighttime stroll that she claims is under peril. She points me to the nearby town and skips off.

Another fun fact: Katrina is voiced by Jennifer Hale. Yes, THAT Jennifer Hale. Apparently it was her very first video game appearance. I’m going to pretend that Katrina is Femshep in disguise.

From there I wander generally northward, looking for the town while avoiding a swamp full of zombie hands emerging to grab and grasp. That’s when I met this charming ghoulish fellow who was serving as a gatekeeper for a Dracula-looking castle down the road. I’d love to look that creepy when I’m old.

The actual town was about two screens over and doesn’t look nearly as cheery or inviting as Quest for Glory I’s Spielburg. It’s definitely got a Halloween/autumnal theme going on. Well, time to go rock these inhabitants’ world!

Retro Gaming: Jill of the Jungle

A couple of months ago, announced that not only was it starting to carry the shareware cult classic Jill of the Jungle, but it was giving out the entire three-game set for free. I will snap up anything for free, especially if it has some connection to my gaming youth, as this one did. I at least had one episode of this on my PC back in the day, and while it wasn’t an obsession or anything, Jill did deliver solid platforming action that we weren’t always getting on computers. And we definitely weren’t getting a lot of games with female lead characters!

Again, it wasn’t a game that I spent a lot of time with, but back then we were always happy to get our hands on some Apogee, id, and Epic titles, as they usually had good quality and a kickin’ fun factor — if not always the slickest presentation or highest production value. You can kind of see this with Jill of the Jungle. It’s a fairly simple Metroidvania-style game that is attractive enough without really pouring gobs into the visuals. Obviously from the screenshot above, you can see how everything looks like its made out of the NES-era blocky sprites.

That said, Jill is still surprisingly good — and even interesting — today. Every stage is a puzzle of sorts as to how to get to the end, and that can be through problem solving, platforming, fighting, or a combination of all three.

Jill is a good runner and jumper, but she has no inherent attack. Instead, she can pick up items to help her out on every stage, starting with her trusty dagger. This is a weird weapon in that you fling it out from you like a boomerang and it returns back (more or less). You can “guide” it by releasing it in one place and moving your body to another. Even better, it’s possible to get multiple daggers and fling them out in quick succession. The only downside to this weapon is that the daggers can get stuck and even lost if you’re not careful.

She also gets the opportunity to shapeshift into different animal forms at various points in the game — which again calls back to the Metroid influences.

This is kind of a great example of the sense of humor that a lot of these shareware titles had. Not subtle, doesn’t make sense, but makes you smile even so.

I put about 45 minutes into this the other day and got through a good seven or eight stages. One of these was a non-combat castle, where it was easy to get in but very tricky to get out. And I can say that, because the word “TRICKY!” was actually written on the castle wall. See the subtlety?

It was fun and I appreciate the value of getting all three games for free — even if I’m probably never going to play them. A couple more notes:

  • The music is actually quite good and made me seek out the soundtrack
  • The sound effects, on the other hand, are… really odd. Everything from getting hurt to finding a key results in a noise that doesn’t match up to what you’re doing
  • I think this sort of game would be so much better with a controller rather than the highly awkward (and non-changable) keyboard format
  • Bonus points for the fact that you have infinite lives (dying means that you simply restart a level) and can save on the fly. That really cuts down on frustration!

I got great value out of the SNES Classic (and its little brother)

It’s been a little over a year since I got the SNES Classic, and a little over a half-year since I also procured the NES Classic for my collection. I remember hearing some advice when I first got these that I might be throwing my money away if I didn’t actually end up playing them. They’d be mere collector’s items.

Happily, this has not been the case. After all this time, I can say with honesty that these two consoles probably get more play by me and my household than anything else. I’ve kept the NES Classic in my work office, where occasionally I am watching my kids and need a fun diversion. The single controller and lack of accessible games have kept it from being a favorite of theirs, but they will spend a chunk of time going through the Super Mario Bros. titles, Kirby’s Adventure, or even the first part of Zelda.

The SNES Classic, on the other hand, has gotten so much more play time being at home, having two controllers, and being the superior console. My kids in 2018 are just as enthralled with games like Street Fighter II and Super Mario World as I was back in high school. My six-year-old is a whiz with Starfox and moves his entire body whenever he’s piloting that basic polygon jet. I love to see the cooperation between them as they offer advice while trading turns going through Super Mario World, and so far they’re pushing into the third area pretty well.

My daughter is somewhat taken with Zelda: A Link to the Past, although she has yet to beat the first dungeon. I think we need to sit down and really go through it for her to grasp all of the mechanics, but it definitely has sparked some interest in her.

When my brother-in-law came into town, we roped him into Street Fighter II tournaments where he was pulling off all the moves he memorized back in his high school days to the amazement of my kids. If I have a few minutes in the evening, I’ll even sit down and have a quick jaunt through Contra III, Super Castlevania, or another old favorite.

With so many great RPGs on that console, I really would like to get some time to play them. I think I’ll need a better chair to sit nearer to the TV or a wireless controller to make this a reality. One of my biggest goals is to play and beat Final Fantasy III/VI, which I’d rather experience in its classic SNES form than the slapdash tablet version.

I really thought about getting a Nintendo Switch this Christmas, but truth be told, we just don’t need it. The SNES Classic is plenty entertaining already and far less expensive. The fact that it powers up so quickly, offers a choice of 21 games without switching cartridges/discs, and has several two-player titles makes it perfect for our family.

I know the industry expects a N64 Classic, but my greatest wish for Nintendo is to put out a SNES Classic 2 with some more great games, like Chrono Trigger, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Turtles in Time (a massive family hit when I had that on my emulator), the other Donkey Kong Country games, ActRaiser, Mortal Kombat II, and Final Fantasy IV. That would be an insta-buy from me.

Grim Fandango: Year Four

(This is part of my journey going playing through Grim Fandango. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Year Four — the final in Manny’s journey here — is an anomaly for the game. Instead of showing Manny making progress in the year between, he and his friends have barely survived a slog through snow and desert to arrive at the gatekeeper’s station. This is it, right here: The start of the next life. The only problem is that Manny can’t go through, and neither can Meche, without the Double-Nine tickets.

In a haunting nightmare sequence, the game shows us what happens to those using the counterfeit tix (like the lawyer) — their train turns into a horrible three-eyed demon and then plunges right into hell. Well. That’s going to feature prominently in my dreams tonight.

The only thing that can be done is to reverse the entire journey and go back to the beginning to get the REAL stolen tickets. And for that, Manny has to save Glottis, who is at the threshhold of demon death due to the fact that he hasn’t driven anything fast for a while. This gets remedied very quickly thanks to a souped-up cable car.

The reverse journey goes back to Rubacava, where the Bone Wagon is booby trapped (I love the visual of the dominoes here). Then it’s back to the start of the game, where evil Hector Lemans has taken over the town and turned it into a gambling empire of sorts.

The puzzles weren’t too bad this year around, save for one annoying one in the sewers. Long story short, Manny gets a gun and comes after Hector, big-time. It’s a showdown that involves a busted casino sign, a last-minute betrayal by Olivia, a noble sacrifice by Salvador, and a greenhouse that gets jury-rigged with sprouting solution:

Hector explodes. Gruesomely. Say what you will about Grim Fandango, but it kills off its bad guys in very memorable — and satisfying — ways.

With order restored to the afterlife and the tickets given back to their proper owners, it’s time for Manny and Meche to board the train and go on to whatever lays ahead for them. There’s a rather sad farewell with Glottis, who has to stay behind with his minions and machines.

But at least our heroes have each other — and hope — for now.

The end!

Overall, I’m really glad I finally played through the entirety of Grim Fandango. It’s a fantastically unique adventure game setting with plenty of bizarre moments, laugh-out-loud humor, and compelling characters. There were some rather bothersome puzzles and minorly unfriendly controls, but on the whole, it deserves the label of “masterpiece” that many have given it.

Grim Fandango: Year Three

From lowly deck swab to steamer captain — Manny always seems to land on his feet between the years of his spiritual journey. He pulls into port and for a moment there, I assume that this is going to be yet another port-related locale just like Year Two was. That gets turned on its head really quickly as the ship is boarded by sinister customs agents…

The whole crew sans Manny and Glottis get sprouted, and the two of them are locked up in a room to conveniently concoct their escape. Said escape comes by sawing the ship in half and sailing out into the middle of the ocean to then sink to the bottom of the sea. Yay? I guess? At least Manny doesn’t have to breathe and Glottis can go without for a while.

Down in the ocean they witness a cranky octopus grabbing shipwrecked skeletons and taking them away for indentured slavery. Naturally, Manny comes along for the ride and discovers that his old arch-nemesis, Domino, is heading up the works at this factory at the literal edge of the world.

Instead of being killed, Manny is given an even worse fate: To work for Domino in this mining operation. There are a couple of skeleton angel kids here that you can torment, which I do, because it amused me. Also, it was funny.

The whole layout of the factory is a lot more easy to navigate than the previous year, so I was able to get through it at a fast clip. The goal? To escape and take along everyone with you!

It helps to have a means of escape, which in this case was another giant ship that was hanging off the side of the world. Glottis goes to town on it with the usual awesome results.

Unfortunately, Meche and Manny are not doing so well on the getting-along-together front. Manny is irked that she brained him with a champagne bottle and tries to turn him in to Domino for the escape attempt, and Meche is annoyed that Manny appears to have betrayed her. Eventually the two seem to come to some sort of understanding and there’s even an almost-kiss (how would that work with skull-heads? You just mash teeth together? What would you get out of that?).

The only truly annoying part of Year Three involves opening up a safe by rotating very finicky tumblers. Took me several tries to get the hang of it. Reunited, the two of them discover that all of the stolen double-nine tickets are actually counterfeits, for some strange reason.

The escape sequence is very satisfying, I won’t lie. Domino comes after the crew in his sub, and Manny — ever the dashing hero — leaps down and takes him on. This culminates in Domino getting chewed up to pieces in the giant crushers that Glottis fixed to the front of the ship. See you later, pal!