Review – Chex Quest HD (Switch)
The price of nostalgia is a fluctuating factor that always, always seems to be too high. Sometimes we pay in terms of buying our childhood back at an inflated price tag, which we happily do so because we assume we’ll chase the same high as we did when we were younger. After all, anyone else would probably scoff at dropping ten dollars for Animaniacs Happy Meal toys, but I wanted to have the complete set and forgetting Mindy and Buttons is like forgetting the secret ingredient in Coca-Cola (desperation).
Sometimes we pay by realizing that nostalgia, like all delicious things, actually ages and tastes horribly if you try to consume it in the same way. Go ahead, go back and watch your favorite show from the 80s and 90s: there’s so much wrong with it nowadays that you’ll shut it off and pray no one saw you attempt to capture your youth alongside the Paw Paw Bears. Sometimes, though, if you’re super lucky, you’ll get to combine those two feelings and invest money into something that then disappoints you in a very special way. That, my dear friends, is how you get Chex Quest HD.
Now, as a pure camp piece and a fascinating insight into the evolution of advertising, Chex Quest HD is a home run and a thinkpiece unto itself. Developed in 1996, the original Chex Quest was a full Doom mod that was pressed onto CDs and dropped into boxes of the very unpopular cereal Chex. Let’s be clear: I frigging love Chex. Not even Chex Mix, I love Chex and I will, unabashedly, eat a whole box of Corn Chex without milk, bowl or dignity. Anyways, Chex Quest (and Chex Quest HD) are both equally insane in storyline: there are a race of aliens known as the Flemoids that want to destroy snacking across the universe, and the only way to stop them is to zap them with a highly modified weapon known as a Zorcher.
Originally, we got no real backstory other than what was on the CD sleeve, but we now know the Flemoids are actually from an alternate dimension and need to be sent back, without our tasty snacks. Taking the helm as one of six Chex Mix inspired characters, you need to run the gauntlet of five dangerous worlds, defeat the Flemoids and save snacking once and for all. Like, this is a game someone legitimately came up with in 1996, spawned a direct sequel, a distant third sequel and, finally, over twenty five years later, a remake. The legacy is baffling, but also really damn cool.
As you might have guessed from the Doom connection, Chex Quest HD is a first person shooter that doesn’t involve any actual bullets or violence. Instead, you have a small variety of weapons that either shoot red light or a spoon. Use these items to attack Flemoids until they disappear, then move forward. Objectively, things should be straightforward: you need to get the keys to unlock certain doors, and eventually make it to the end stage objective and toggle a switch to finish the level. Get rated and graded on your performance, unlock the next stage and move on. Simple, right?
From a purely observational standpoint, there’s a massive amount of love and affection that went into Chex Quest HD. The whole game was recreated from the ground up with the Unreal Engine, which allows for a much larger scope of light, shadow, depth and detail that we didn’t see in the original. The soundtrack and sound effects were given a more stereo approach with better fidelity, but, for the most part, they’re all very true to the original, including the zapping noise of the Zorcher and the surprised grunts from the Flemoids as you fight back.
I was pleasantly surprised to also see the detail put into crafting a world, a storyline and even voices for all of the different characters available. The opening cutscene, which dynamically changes the reveal of the “hero” for everyone based on who you choose, is funny and worth watching at least a couple of times to notice the details, like the panel of military personnel based on snack foods that helm the intergalactic safety group.
Also, like the original, Chex Quest HD appears to be geared towards children, so it’s important to keep that in mind. Players might be slightly skewed about what this could mean because, well, the original was a Doom mod, and you could actually mod the first Chex Quest in the same way. My nostalgia is slightly tinted differently because I definitely had access to certain cheat codes and modifications that helped make the game both easier and more graphic, which was hilarious to teenage me.
Chex Quest HD, on the other hand, keeps a lot of things in mind for a younger audience. The quips dropped by the different characters are often expositional and perceptively helpful, though they could be very annoying for any video game player with an ounce of common sense (example: “I’ve found the blue key! Now to find a blue door…”). Though there’s clearly a lot here that’s a nod to the original, the game needs to stand on its own two feet today, and that means engaging children to play it over and over again, not just adults who loved the first one.
Because, let’s face it, this isn’t Chex Quest. This is Chex Quest HD, and it’s a different entity. You have multi directional aiming, not just side-to-side arrow key and spacebar shooting. The levels, while inspired, are totally different and ask a lot more out of players. The first game you could run through in 30 minutes tops, whereas you’re looking at a bit less than an hour here. Doesn’t sound like much, but each minute of level exploration and survival means a whole lot in the realm of the development team. There were steps taken to making this experience larger, more robust, more exciting than the first, from the inclusion of co-op and versus levels to the fact that the pretzel robot casts a different shadow than the floating wheat sorceress. These details should be exciting and titillating, something to really get the crowd going!
Instead, though, I’m really left in the lurch, and it’s because all these changes don’t make for a better shooter. The recreation has created an entirely new set of problems, not the least of which there’s no way to go back during the character selection screen (the button exists, but you can’t select it on the Nintendo Switch). Having more robust levels means more poking around, but also a lot of the additional space is just that: space.
You have more places to walk, but not necessarily more to do. You can explore all the ships in the first stage, but only one has something in it that behooves you, otherwise you’re just looking at a dashboard and panel that do nothing. The second world, a warehouse stage, now has a whole puzzle of moving platforms and high reach locations that eats into your time and, honestly, drags the game to a halt. The attempt to add more detail to the landscape – narrow pathways, blind corners, additional foliage – just hampers the advancement of the game instead of creating a new feeling of wonderment.
Chex Quest HD also has a baffling upgrade to enemies that somehow feels worse than the original. While I appreciate the level of saturation and balancing to make the game “more detailed,” the Flemoids don’t feel menacing or even interesting: they’re just green snot piles, whereas the original pixelated look gave them a literal edgier feel. The robotic Flemoids don’t fare much better, and the final boss (a massive, wall-sized Flemoid) is so washed out and underwhelming I died not knowing it was a boss at first. It didn’t engage me visually, and it made the arduous task of shooting through multiple waves of baddies a chore instead of satisfaction.
I think what gets me the most is that it harbors the ultimate issue, which is broken gameplay that somehow mixes and match issues from 90s shooters with issues that are brand new here. Since the levels are so short, there’s no checkpoints, which is great except for the frequency at which you die trying to figure out the new lay of the land. Having to constantly restart because you got swamped by Flemoids and all you got is a spoon happened a lot. Though, if you have charges for the Zorcher, I found out there’s zero range limitations, so, as long as you can see the Flemoid, you can start picking them off from any distance.
Even the spoon has a longer range than the sprite would suggest, so feel free to attempt to run through the game with just your “melee” weapon, saving the real shots for when the boss comes. And get ready to enjoy running through those levels, because each character, despite having no differences aside from voice roles and shadows, need to unlock each level themselves. So, if you wanted to play the game as Fred like I did, but then wanted to hear what Shane the cheese puff had to say about level three, go ahead and get grinding, because there’s no easy paths in the game of Chex Quest HD.
A lot of my bitterness and frustration is because of how much I loved the original, and, as I stated at the beginning, that’s heavily influenced by nostalgia and memories. Chex Quest HD isn’t the original, and it’s really cool that it’s available only on the Switch for console options. If you can separate the entities, Chex Quest HD, despite some flaws, is a solid elementary shooter that has some self-aware humor, decent graphics and a good level of replayability for both single and multiplayer. It is not, however, anywhere near perfect, and some of the flaws are glaring, to say the least.
If you sincerely want to play the original, go get the original: it’s free, and it aligns with your memory significantly better. If you want to force a game on your kids because “I played this as a child!”, then get Chex Quest HD and be prepared to apologize later. But if you or a family member are curious as to what the hell caused this to be unleashed upon the world, then buckle up and dive in: it’s about to get soggy.
Updated with detail and shadows, it’s like a CGI reimaging of a 90s cartoon, and it ain’t Reboot.
Good shooting, decent puzzling, it’s still wild to try and do FPS on the Switch sometimes.
This game is for the new crowd and the die hard Chex Questers, not shooter fans and the occasional nostalgic player.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Chex Quest HD is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Chex Quest HD was provided by the publisher.