Space Quest V: The Next Mutation
for PC (DOS)

Company: Dynamix / Sierra On-Line
Year: 1993
Genre: Adventure
Theme: Humour / Science Fiction
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 1014
Review by LostInSpace (2024-02-10)

On the surface, the fifth Space Quest installment appears to be nothing more than a parody of viral scenes from cinematic science fiction culture. But this time, the obligatory gags expected by the audience are just ingredients for describing the development of the main character Roger Wilco, who never overcame the status of a clumsy moron in the previous adventures.

In his role as a space garbageman, the player embarks on a journey from a pimply teenager at cadet school, through a long series of tests and trials, to the final kind of man Wilco always wanted to be: a hero of the galaxy.

By chance, he also meets the future wife at his side: Beatrice Wankmeister, who has risen unattainable high in the Starcom hierarchy as she is the mighty Ambassador. Her name is to be taken literally: the pubescent wanker meets his master (=meister). Yet she is still a long way off, like a star in the sky.

Roger and Beatrice

But first he has to stop the evildoings of a money-grabbing gang who are disfiguring the face of the known planets with genetic mutations. In this sense, the subtitle The Next Mutation refers both to Roger himself and to the main story of the game.

The storyline leads the player through an almost cinematic scenery, guided by a carefully constructed composition of individual event triggers. Accompanied by atmospheric soundtracks and funny sound effects, the player solves quite conventional puzzles and is rewarded with beautiful camera pans while walking around, in-between cut-scenes, close-ups and, of course, Space Quest's iconic verbal wit.

It's more the built-in mini-games that make life difficult for the player. I also include the tediously extensive labyrinth-traversal. Here, the high demands placed on the player fulfil the purpose of frustration rather than excitement.

I was all the more pleased with the attention to detail elsewhere, when Roger metaphorically walks through a vulva made of strange plants on the planet Thrakas to find the empty rescue capsule of his beloved Beatrice behind it. A nice detail is that touching the capsule initially only causes pain. Just like the tender first steps of their relationship. A little later, the advances become intimate when Beatrice pulls down the trousers of Roger, who is dangling over a bottomless pit, while she climbs up over him.

Captain Quirk mutating

This kind of fancy slapstick, which makes sense in the big picture, shows in many places that the better half of the “Two Guys from Andromeda” duo was probably in charge.

Only the linear story progression is probably perceived as rather disadvantageous by modern standards, as the player is not really offered options for a different outcome of the game. Instead, some puzzles have been designed as seemingly optional, as they do not directly influence the current progression. However, skipping these quests is later penalised by dead ends and the typical Sierra death screens. Well, that's how it worked back in the 90s.

Despite the aforementioned weaknesses, The Next Mutation is clearly an enrichment in the long Space Quest series. Amidst the somewhat irrelevant background story, the in passing character development of the all-time loser Roger Wilco becomes the real centre of interest. As a result, the fifth instalment takes the step from a pure nonsense-adventure to a likeable and amusing story.

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When Sierra handed over the development of Space Quest V to Dynamix, they let appear the logo of their company's own brand in more or less hidden places in the game. On top of that, they integrated the logo of a real sponsor. The brand name of the American telecommunications company Sprint appears on the spaceship terminal after every intercom transmission. You can read here whether the outsourcing has affected the usual quality in any other way.