Arguably, the masters of the point and click adventure games in the second half of the 1980s were Sierra (or Sierra-on-Line as some still refer to them as). Their Space Quest, Police Quest and King’s Quest games were phenomenally well drawn by talented artists, beautifully crafted by excellent writers, and featured brilliant stories with fiendish puzzles.
Countless players remember the series and the EGA graphics era they flourished in with fondness. Perhaps one of their biggest fans, Phil Fortier, started blogging in 2011 as IceFall Games, a one-man games company doing little demos and small projects for competitions, but hinting that he’d like to try to make some Sierra-like games some day. At the end of 2017, Fortier released Snail Trek – Chapter 1 onto Steam.
What are little games made of?
Snail Trek 1 is a short game and is the first in a four-part mini-series. Within a month, he’d released Chapter two and then less than a month after that, at the beginning of January 2018, chapter three had appeared. Each chapter is sold as a separate game, for $1 (or 79p in the UK) and, as the splash screen below proclaims, aims to provide around 20 minutes of gameplay.
The player moves the main character around the screen with the arrow keys, interacting with other characters and the scenery via the use of written commands into a text parser. The player can manipulate objects and inventory via text commands. By moving and interacting, the player uncovers an interesting plot, and aims to move the story forward by initially repairing the space ship by solving a number of very nostalgic puzzles. Each chapter builds on the previous by extending the story, and adding new screens to those provided in the previous chapters.
Who mourns for Elonia Mollusk?
Chapter one begins with our shelled heroes awaking from their cryogenic suspension to find that captain Elonia Mollusk has been murdered most horrifically! Also, their ship is falling apart and running out of power. Somehow they must complete their mission with only the three of them remaining! But where are they, and who killed the captain?
The first episode takes place entirely within the ship, with the player controlling Christian Snale (the yellow one).
Your first goal is first to figure out what everything is, and then get to work sorting the ship out. Snale is the first officer so can use his two shipmates to help restore the ship to a functional state, and down to the planet’s surface. The ship’s computer can also be consulted for general information and hints about what Christian needs to do next.
If the player does manage to get the ship down the gravity well, the chapter ends but not quite as one might expect…
Space lettuce seed
Chapter two begins with the ship touching down on the planet’s surface. The landing doesn’t go quite as planned, so getting out of the ship in one piece takes up much of the first half of the game. Once the crew are safely out, it comes time to explore the planet while avoiding the local fauna.
For this chapter you have control of all three crew-members, shifting between them at will by pressing space. This is useful for solving puzzles and provides a different perspective and some dialog options.
Each of the crew has their own inventory with some humorously designed items. Everything’s hand-drawn with lovely EGA graphics and a very old-school window-based popup interface.
At the end of Chapter two, the crew finally find some of the local inhabitants, but it looks like they’re expecting you!
Bread and Lettuces
Chapter three opens with you being taken to the aliens’ secret lair and (in typical evil villain style) they explain their whole plot. And there’s a twist! Once you get the big picture, you perhaps may see things from their angle, the line between good and bad becomes blurred, but not necessarily reversed. It comes time to explore the story from a different perspective!
Chapter three ends with a cliffhanger, and given that both sides have now been explained, it’s hard to tell who will be the goodies and who the baddies in the final chapter, or who you’ll be rooting for!
The snail on the edge of forever
One thing about the game which really sets it up as a clear winner it its inbuilt text parser. At any point in the game if you start typing a blue window pops up and shows what you’re entering.
There is an inbuilt dictionary of nouns, verbs and other connectors. So, as you’re typing, the game is offering you candidate words that may (or may not) work. Most of the words usually do work at some point, and it’s possible to get out of a stuck situation by just trying a few different words and seeing what pops up.
When a word is offered (as ‘screen’ is above), tab can be used to select it, and you can continue typing or press enter to execute the command.
Because the parser is so powerful and flexible, it can be tempting in many situations to overuse it. For example, it’s tempting to type out “Use the cheese sandwich on the breville machine”, but all that can often be simplified to just “use” when you’re near the breville machine and happen to have the cheese sandwich in your hand. In fact a simpler command may seem less intuitive, but may work better.
Each of the chapters is equipped with a small number of Steam achievements which rang in difficulty from easy to challenging as well as some hidden ones. They’re satisfying to find, and by-and-large you can work out what most of the challenging ones are by reading the description.
Because the games are based on Sierra games, which were notorious for killing you stone dead at every opportunity in as hilarious-a-manner as possible, this game attempts to recreate this experience. All of the games feature an achievement for when you manage to find all the different ways to die. Because of this, deliberately killing yourself can prove rewarding if you work out how to do it!
The graphics are very nicely done, using an EGA-like colour palette mimicking the old school “Sierra style” extremely well. To add to this, the games have scanlines enabled by default, which make them look just like it would have on a 1980’s CRT monitor.
The music is a little nicer than older games which would have had a beeper or chiptune (if anything), and uses some pleasing creative commons ‘beds’ to give atmosphere. The sounds are also stock, and sound exactly what you’d expect from one of the later Sierra games. There’s even a little classical music with a nod to 2001: A
snail oddity Space Odyssey.
The humour built into the puzzles makes all three chapters enchanting and quirky, although they are all logical (within the game’s universe) and well designed. Don’t let the snail theme put you off, though, it works well in the game! It must be remembered that since the game follows the Sierra mold, some of the solutions do require a little exhaustive searching around for clues, and the text hints don’t spell it out for you.
At around $1 for about 20 minutes of gameplay, I’d say each of the chapters is perhaps a bit on the short side, but that’s the only substantial criticism I can really level at them. Since I’ve been trying to go for all the achievements, I’ve managed to stretch the play time for each chapter to about 45 minutes. So if you’re a completionist like me, around $3 will net you just over 2 hours of gaming, which isn’t too bad. Some of the Steam Achievements are pretty opaque, especially in chapter 3, so even if you are a completionist, you may get a little frustrated trying to get those last few for 100%.
It must be remembered that these are not trying to reproduce or go up against the best of the 90’s Lucasarts games! These are lovely little games in the old Sierra style, and a lot of fun for anyone who remembers those games with fondness, being lovingly drawn, and very authentically put together. Therefore in his desire to make an homage to late 80’s Space Quest, Fortier has excelled, and for that, the games get good marks. The overall presentation is good, and despite being a little rough around the edges in a few places, they play almost identically to those older games. I might even go so far as to say that with his advanced text parser, Fortier has actually smoothed off a few of the Sierra rough edges to make a better experience!
If you remember the era of Space Quests I to IV with fondness, or just want to play something that’ll make you smile and not take too long to complete, you’ll have a little fun with these.
They can be found on Steam. I recommend going to the pages to watch the videos, they’re hilariously cheesy.