Too Soggy For Its Own Good
When it comes to remasters, the "less is more" approach is often the best one. Go too far away from the original and you have a game that players only recognize out of a sense of obligation. Changes should come in the form of graphical upgrades and quality of life improvements, but even those can have side effects that turn a nostalgic rush into a memory-shattering wake-up call. These thoughts cycled through my head as I played through Chex Quest HD, a free to play revival of one of my seminal shooter experiences. It's a project that's clearly a labor of love, but I can't help but find flaws in all the ways the 1996 original manages to outshine this 2020 reboot.
What is Chex Quest?
For those unfamiliar, Chex Quest started life as a way for General Mills to jump on the DOOM bandwagon all the kids were talking about. It's a five-level total conversion campaign originally given away for free in specially marked boxes of Chex, probably one of the best prizes to ever hit the cereal aisle. You play as a space marine from a race of cereal-people battling the threat of the Flemoids, goo monsters that devour nutrition. With the power of Zorch technology, you use a range of rayguns to nonviolently teleport the monsters to their home dimension and make your mom proud. Even with a way to get around violence, the original Chex Quest still provides the adrenaline rush of its source material. It was a gateway of sorts, and the portal led directly to Mars for many youngsters who grew up with it.
Starting life as an unofficial mod to bring Fred Chexter and his crew to the Unreal Engine, Chex Quest HD is now an official revival with some spiffy new features and a new coat of paint. There is a team of characters to play as now, each with their own voice acting and unique cutscenes bookending the campaign. Sadly, these aren't unlockable bonuses for completion for finding collectibles. Instead, you unlock new characters via passwords you can find on the official Chex Mix website and in packages of Chex Mix. Each Warrior's personality is straight out of Saturday morning, and there's even a quip button for whenever you need a quick one-liner. It's all a fun throwback, even if all the codes will be collected and posted on a message board within the first week of release.
How does Chex Quest translate into 3D?
What isn't fun is Chex Quest HD's adaptation into the third dimension. On the gameplay front, HD feels like a dime a dozen free shooter. Where the original builds on the speed and precision of ID's shooter, this new Chex Quest is a cheap knockoff. It's not unplayable, and it's certainly not the game's worst problem, but playing for any length of time brings to mind asset-rips with conga lines of brainless zombies lining up to die. The enemies all crawl towards you at a snail's pace and only one of them has a projectile attack. When the combat is at its most broken, it's possible to sneak up behind many enemies and shoot them repeatedly without any retaliation. Even when they are moving, it's a trivial matter to dispatch them, which is a problem in a game with only five levels and limited replayability.
The level design does change here, with mixed results. Each level has the same theme as in the original, but with added elements that let you explore more unique locales. You can climb into ships, trek through buildings, and ride around high above the factory floor. It even introduces the tiniest bit of platforming, which is only really necessary when you want to seek out the secrets strewn about. Despite the new coat of paint and the reduced speed, the spirit of Doom is alive and well here, even if Chex Quest HD mostly bungles the execution.
The bigger gameplay problem is that your chosen Chex Warrior feels like they're always marching through soggy milk. Much like the enemies, your own player speed feels slow, making the game a much less intense affair than what you'd want from this type of shooter. The new HUD graphics are a neat idea in theory, but they feel restrictive and static. Giant chunks of screen real estate remain dedicated to an in-game helmet that just displays your health and ammo while giving you tunnel vision. None of the level navigation is difficult, but it's another little way that Chex Quest HD suffers due to needless changes.
That brings me to the 3D graphics, which are unfortunately subpar. There are nice touches in the animation, especially when the Flemoids react to their teleportation fate, but the character models just don't carry the same character that they did in 1996. When framed as a fan project, these would be passable, but they still wouldn't supersede what came before. As an officially licensed product with a marketing push by General Mills, this is just a bad look. They'd have been better off putting these characters into a new adventure or offering Chex Warrior skins in Fortnite. At least then, the intended youth audience would see them.
Who will Chex Quest HD appeal to?
Simply put, I can't imagine that this new Chex Quest HD will inspire the same level of excitement in its younger players. The transfer over to Unreal Engine has stripped out a lot of what made the original charming, both in visuals and in gameplay. Honestly, the game feels like a Disney live-action remake. It hits all the same notes you remember from the original with a needless new aesthetic. It's not a continuation of the original, it's not a supplement for fans to enjoy, it's just an inferior version of what came before, seemingly existing only because people remember the name Chex Quest.
It may seem harsh to compare the corporate products of a megacorporation and a project by a small team, and I know that there's nothing cynical about its origins. However, I can't help but feel that a straight 3D port of Chex Quest isn't the right way to modernize it. Games like Ion Fury and Dusk show how the spirit of 90s shooters can live on today without a major overhaul. A new 2D FPS with modern tricks not possible in 1996 could have really brought this cereal mascot back to prominence.
Chex Quest HD Review | Final Thoughts
I feel like no one will be happy with this end result outside of the most dedicated Flemoid hunters. Even as a free nostalgia trip, I can't imagine that many fans of the original will want to see it visually mangled in this manner. Worse, new players have so many other free options that the cheap 3D aesthetics will actively dissuade them from checking it out. Such players would be better off acquiring the original Chex Quest and enjoying the adventures of the Chex Warrior that way. Those graphics aren't timeless either, but the improvements in gameplay more than make up for any minor enhancements this HD redux has to offer.
TechRaptor reviewed Chex Quest HD on PC via Steam with a code provided by the publisher. Character codes were also provided as part of the review process.
- Saturday Morning Character Roster
- Serviceable Shooting
- It's Free
- Braindead Enemies
- Lame 3D Graphics
- It Feels Free