RETRO: Chex Quest

Chex Quest 01

Hey, kids! Do you like Chex Cereal? Do you like DOOM? Of course you do! Well, what if I told you there was a way you could enjoy Chex and DOOM at the same time? No, no I’m serious – wait – no, don’t leave – hold on –

Chex Quest was an unusual entity in the world of video games, namely because it was one of the few games ever used to promote a brand of breakfast cereal. Released in 1996, it was packaged in with boxes of Chex for free and given nationwide distribution. It’s doubly unusual because the game in question is a commercially sold DOOM mod – a total conversion of the first DOOM game, completely done over with new graphics, sounds, and gameplay.

A second Chex Quest game was made hot on the heels of the first one, but promises of a third never realized. Although fans made plenty of mods to fill in the gap, it wasn’t until 2008 when Charles Jacobi, one of the lead artists on the original Chex Quest, made his own official Chex Quest 3 with the first two games bundled in.

Get out your bootspoons, because after the jump we’ll dig right in and discuss the history, gameplay, and our thoughts about all three games.

Development

Hey, Minneapolis jokes!

Hey, Minneapolis jokes!

Chex Quest was commissioned by Ralston Foods (the then-owner of the Chex brand) for WatersMolitor (an advertising agency now known as WomanWise, specializing in marketing to women) to help them come up with a new marketing ploy to help redefine the brand to a younger generation. WatersMolitor’s solution was to capitalize on CD-ROM gaming by including a CD-ROM game with select boxes of Chex cereal. They wanted a video game that would’ve retailed on its own for about $30, and appeal to all ages with its gameplay. WatersMolitor themselves commissioned Digital Cafe, a St. Paul based new media company, to design and create the game.

Digital Cafe decided that they would base the game around the then-popular DOOM fad, which at the time was beginning to wane with Id Software’s latest game Quake on the horizon. Because of this waning they were able to acquire a cheap license for DOOM from Id Initially, they imagined yellow Flemoids being “neutralized” with healthy foods, but this was nixed by Ralston, who did not want to promote food fighting. It was decided that the Flemoids would, instead of being harmed in any way, be teleported away.
The initial weapon designs looked like traditional Sci-Fi laser guns, but Ralston said they looked too violent and requested that they resemble more like TV remotes. The Chex Warrior himself also went through a series of revisions, initially being a single Chex piece with a face. This was changed due to a close resemblance to Mars’s M&M’s characters, and the Chex Warrior’s current design – a humanoid man wearing a suit of “Chex armor” – was created.

Due to the fact that the game was based off of the already existant DOOM engine, the development was completed relatively quickly. Tools from the DOOM fan community like Doombuilder were also included in development as a way to cut down on time. To help field the costs of distribution AOL was signed on for a deal to include their America Online software on the disk in exchange for actually producing the physical disks.

Chex Quest

Chex Quest 03

The story of Chex Quest revolves around an interdimensional invasion by the Flemoids, slimy mucous-based creatures who crave healthy food to spawn their eggs with. In the first game, a volcanic eruption breaks a hole in the space between their dimension and ours on the mining planet of Bazoik, a planet known for its richness in nutrition. You are the Chex Warrior, a soldier of the Intergalactic Federation of Cereals, who has volunteered to eradicate the Flemoids from the planet. However, being made of pure mucous, normal weapons have no effect on them. In order to defeat them you are supplied with “Zorchers”, energy-based weapons that will teleport the Flemoids back to their home dimension in lieu of actually harming them.

Chex Quest 04
The game itself, being a total conversion of the DOOM engine, plays in a completely identical fashion to the original DOOM games. It is DOOM, down to the retextured enemies and weapons behaving in identical fashions.
The game is actually slightly more difficult in some aspect, since the enemies don’t drop ammo pickups (we wouldn’t want to give anyone the impression that they were killed, after all). Conserving ammo is paramount against phlegm monsters, and it can be easy to lose track of your guns, as the monsters appear in much larger groups between breathers for ammo.

Although the enemies are retextures, there are some substantial differences in combat: humanoid enemies, for example, have had their violent guns swapped out for melee attacks, and all projectiles have been changed into slime balls.
Since a majority of the enemies are melee based, they tend to swarm in large groups instead of lagging at a distance, which adds a sense of scale to the invasion.

Each level is extremely well designed. Although there are sometimes spots where you can easily get lost, each level flows nicely as you play it and you never feel led by the hand or completely clueless about where to go. The texture work is intricate and nothing of the original DOOM feeling is left behind. As improbable as it sounds to be immersed in a world of anthropomorphic cereal people, Chex Quest manages to accomplish that feat with flying colors.
Not to say that there aren’t some gripes to be had: E1M2 (Storage Facility) is maze-like, with very little direction on where to go. There’s a lot of what feels like unnecessary backtracking, a theme that repeats in E1M4 (Arboretum).

After its release, Chex Quest turned out to be an unexpected hit! Sales of Chex cereal sky-rocketed up to 275%, and media was abuzz with discussion of the new cereal anomaly. Would this mean a sequel was on the horizon?

Chex Quest 2

Chex Quest 05

The answer would be yes: Chex Quest 2 was released in 1997, a mere year after the original game was released. Its existence was a fluke, as Ralston had not anticipated how popular the first game would have become and scrambled to make a sequel to attract people to their website. This sequel was commissioned and produced in a very short amount of time, and it showed: many of the levels were rushed to completion. The end result was barren swaths of grey walls, misleadingly repetitive and similar-looking dead ends, and a general feeling of sloppiness.

Chex Quest 06
There was no substantial update graphically, and in some ways, it took a major downgrade. There were some cute flourishes, like billboards advertising Chex cereal and animated ‘movies’ playing in the cinema, but the majority of the game was plagued with similar-looking textures and empty expanses.

The level designs range from fair to bad. The worst offender was E1M2 (Cinema), which was a maze of identical-looking rooms, with no real direction or hints on where to go and a lot of sidetracking. To add insult to injury, while the last three levels take place in a lively urban environment, the finale drops you in a hellish sewer-bound maze. E1M5 (Sewer System) is a backtracking-filled labyrinth, with an anti-climatic boss battle at the end.

The reception to the game itself was lukewarm, but it fueled the hype for years to come, especially since the ending dropped a sequel hook that didn’t look like it was going to be realized. Numerous fan-made mods were produced claiming to be the real Chex Quest 3, and yet a real version of the game was nowhere to be seen.
Dedicated Chex Quest fans carried a torch for the series, but the Chex brand (which changed hands from Ralston to General Mills in this time frame) was quiet.

Chex Quest 3

Chex Quest 07

In 2008, after a decade of silence, a ray of hope was washed over the Chex-loving masses: Chex Quest 3 was finally here. Released to much fanfare within the Chex Quest community but very minimal outside, it was a treat given from one of the lead artists to the still-loving fanbase.
That was a good enough gesture on its own, but the cherry on top was that the game included the first two games in the series bundled into it – complete with revamped levels for Chex Quest 2, which fixed the atrocious grey expanses into actually liveable-looking environments. Chex Quest 3, when added together with the first two games included, was 15 levels long – a huge amount of gameplay for a totally free mod.

The final game in the series takes place ten years after the events of the last episode (which, not coincidentally, is the span of developmental time between Chex Quest 2 and 3). With every last Flemoid zorched back to their home dimension, it seemed like peace was finally at hand. The Flemoids, however, had other plans – in a last effort to take over the cereal dimension, they opened a gigantic portal over the planet of Ralston and launched a huge, slime-coated meteor towards it! Once again the Chex Warrior must take up the mantle and defeat the Flemoids once and for all.

Chex Quest 08
While the first two games were pretty (the first sequel especially, with its updated graphics), Chex Quest 3 amped the beauty factor up with huge open areas and incredibly immersive texture work across the final segments.
Though the story thankfully didn’t become any more “adult” in an attempt to pander to its grown-up fanbase, it did openly embrace how dated it was by taking on a broader, more worldly scale. The maps feel less constrained and more like an open environment, even with their technical limitations, and there’s more of a feeling of it being genuine intergalactic warfare.

The difficulty factor, too, is increased: being the final entry in the series, many new and more dangerous enemies have been added, including two monsters based off of DOOM’s Cyberdemon and Spider Mastermind bosses.
The most formidable foe added to the game is the Stridicus, an enemy that specializes in running extremely fast and congregating in large groups. It wouldn’t be so agonizing if they didn’t have a tendency to block your path, clustering in volume and rendering sections impassable – good luck on ammo, too.

After the fact…

We’re going to admit… While we were in the process of writing this article, we bought a bag of Chex Mix to snack on while we worked. Does that mean that Chex Quest completed its job? Were we suckered in by the corporate cereal masterminds who planned for this fun, free game to be nothing more than a vehicle to sell Chex? Well… yes, we were. We’ll admit that.

But beyond it being a corporate tool, the very concept of the existence of a game like Chex Quest is mindboggling to behold. Chex and DOOM being a match made in heaven is unlikely at best, but Chex Quest turns out to be much more than the sum of its parts. It’s a fun, fast-paced frolic through Hell viewed through the eyes of cereal mascots, and we love it.

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