My mother had tight control over the cereal I ate when I was a child. I never got to have Fruity Pebbles or Trix, which I always enjoyed when visiting a friend or relative, but I was allowed to have Sugar Crisp, which is, essentially, the sugariest cereal in the universe, so work that out. Also, I don’t like Sugar Crisp, it leaves a horrible aftertaste.
Back in the 90’s, Chex had a unique promo that made me want to try the cereal. Every box came with a disk for a game called Chex Quest, which looked like a clone of Doom, a genre I was obsessed with at the time. Mom wouldn’t let me have that either.
I’m an adult now, and I can buy whatever cereal I damn well please. If I want to eat Cookie Crisp at 3 in the afternoon while playing video games in my underwear, I’m going to do it! And sometimes I do! I’m also going to play Chex Quest, because I’m a grown-up now! Why can’t you respect that? You’re not the boss of me anymore, mom!
PART OF THIS BALANCED BREAKFAST
Chex Quest is Doom, okay? Let’s get that out of the way first. It was built in the Doom engine, and basically pastes over a lot of the Doom assets with family friendlier versions. Every weapon is recognizable and behaves the same, from the pistol to the BFG9000, which are now the Mini Zorcher and Large Area Zorching Device, respectively. There are some differences in weapon behaviour (the rocket launcher equivalent doesn’t have player-affecting splash damage), the levels are completely unique to the game, enemies have been tweaked, and the music is all new, but the base game is Doom. Which isn’t a bad thing, since Doom is amazing.
Rather than being a lone space marine cleaning demons out of a military base on Phobos, you’re a… a Chex Warrior, who is sent to the planet… Bazoik to save it from invading… uh, Flemoids.
Did I mention this was created as marketing for cereal? Let’s talk about that for a second. Did you know that the creator of Chex was the Ralston Purina Company? The same Purina that is behind pet food. They had their fingers in a lot of pies, but I want you to think about pet food the next time you sit down to a bowl of cereal.
The game we’re looking at is technically Chex Quest 3. The original Chex Quest was created in 1996 by Digital Cafe, and it consisted of one episode of five levels. In 1997, the second episode, Chex Quest 2: Flemoids Take Chextropolis was released for free on the Chex website. After that, the promotion was dropped, and Digital Cafe moved onto other projects. Years later, in 2008, the creators of Chex Quest, Charles Jacobi and Scott Holman, reunited to provide a third episode of the series, Chex Quest 3: Invasion!, which also included the first two episodes, with the second one receiving an update that raised the standards of its level design.
The three episodes take you from a base on the Mars-like Bazoik, to the urban environments of Chex City, to the planet Ralston and all its culturally significant landmarks. Each episode has its own look and feel, much like the episodes of Doom did, and all of them, even the pro bono fan service of the third episode, are visually appealing and well designed.
I’d never criticize the level design in Doom, but the visual diversity was certainly lacking. I mean, a lot of the first episode was interchangeable grey-brown corridors, and the last episode was cracked grey earth and red stone walls. The level design carried all the weight in terms of variety, but the visuals; not so much.
Chex Quest doesn’t have that issue. Pretty much every level, especially in the second episode and beyond, has its own visual look and feel, and it’s amazing. In the second episode especially, I loved the ray-casted cityscapes. I mean, I love ray-casted cities regardless of game they’re included in, but there’s something so comfortable about the streets of Chextropolis.
The level design is where it most diverges from Doom. It’s a lot simpler, stripping out all the potentially confusing bits and just providing a playground for you to zorch some Flemoids. It’s appropriate to the age group that the game is targeting, and, honestly, it’s kind of refreshing to play such a friendly version of Doom.
On that note, remember that the game was made to be incredibly family friendly. You don’t kill the Flemoids, you just zorch them back to where they came from. Chexguy’s leering face on the status bar doesn’t become bloodied as he takes damage, instead he just gets gunked up (by mucus, I think) until he can’t move anymore. Health pickups are bowls of fruit because, hey, you’ll need something to balance out all that sugary cereal. Make sure you eat a balanced breakfast, kids. Chex Quest stops short of being saccharine, but it’s almost amusing how much it tweaked so that parents would let children play it.
ZORCHING THE FLEMOIDS
Playing on the game’s “Extreme Ooze” difficulty level, which is analogous to “Ultra-Violence” in Doom or “Hard” basically everywhere else, I completed the three episodes of Chex Quest in an evening after maybe 2-3 hours of playing. It’s not a tremendously long game, nor is it very challenging (I never lost a life), but hey, it has always been basically a free game.
It’s an incredibly charming game. There’s nothing deep or innovative about it (aside from its marketing impact), but it’s surprisingly well designed and extremely enjoyable. For the price of free and a few hours of your time, you get a delicious throwback to the 90’s, and I honestly can’t recommend that enough.
This review was conducted using a digital copy of the game, which is freely available, run on the GZDoom source port. No cost was involved.