May 12, 2010

The Space Quest Retrospective: A janitor’s epic tale (in colour!)

Meet Roger Wilco, janitor extraordinaire and star of the (mostly) hilarious Space Quest series by Sierra, back from the era when adventure games were actually considered killer-apps and went on to spawn sequel after sequel. Say hi, through almost seven Space Quest games (well, six actually), out of which only five (almost six) used roman numerals in their titles. Meet him here and have a drink in adventure-o-vision, while reading through this particularly short retrospective.

Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter

Space Quest I: The Sarien EncounterThe first game by designers Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy, a.k.a. The Two Guys from Andromeda, Space Quest I was released back in 1986 at the beginning of the adventure gaming mainstream era. The game used the early Sierra AGI engine, complete with 16 glorious EGA colours and beautifully stylized graphics, a nice soundtrack and a pretty impressive -definitely hilarious too- parser interface. The plot introduced series star Roger Wilco, a janitor, who started off his heroics by napping in a broom closet while aliens hijacked the spaceship he was supposed to be cleaning and grabbed the devastatingly deadly Star Generator, only to finally wake up and save the universe. The game introduced the series’ trademark humor, frequent -impressively varied too- deaths, difficult puzzles, arcade-y sequences and bad-guy Vohaul. Oh, and save often.

Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge

 Space Quest II: Vohaul’s RevengeThe first sequel in the series is another text-driven graphics adventure that apparently took less than a year to develop, and, well, quite frankly it shows. Arch-villain Sludge Vohaul returns to hunt a now-famous Roger Wilco in a frustrating game with below average puzzles and mostly flat jokes. Not really worth your time without a walkthrough…

Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon

Space Quest III: The Pirates of PestulonSpace Quest 3 was simply stunning and one of the better looking games of 1989, especially when seen on the Amiga. It also sported a truly post-modern and particularly funny plot involving the Space Pirates, a shovelware/software pirating group, who had kidnapped the Two Guys, thus endangering the future of the whole Space Quest franchise. Unless, that is, Roger stopped them, which apparently he did. The game, besides being excellent and taxing as ever, also featured tactical space combat and a playable arcade game.

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers

Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time RippersThe first 256-colour VGA Space Quest with full SoundBlaster support and the first point-and-click game in the series too, Space Quest IV comfortably remains among my top 10 adventures even to this day. It’s got everything you could ask for really: time traveling to previous and future SQ games complete with appropriate graphic changes, Roger’s son, a fantastic goodies-filled box, some of the toughest (but quite fair too) puzzles in the series, Lucasarts game parodies, a burger making mini-game, Ms. Astro Chicken, droids, quality voice acting, latex babes, elaborate easter eggs, a smell icon, a Gnome's Lair review (also a walkthrough) and the aptly named Monochrome Boys. An absolute masterpiece.

Space Quest V: Roger Wilco - The Next Mutation

Space Quest V: Roger Wilco - The Next MutationThis one I haven’t played, mostly because it was the first Space Quest game that wasn’t designed by both the Guys from Andromeda, though most adventurers seem to agree it’s a mighty fine game. Reviewers liked it quite a bit too. Released back in 1993, Space Quest V had Roger apparently take on the Star Trek universe by graduating from the illustrious StarCon Academy, piloting his very own garbage-collecting spaceship and boldly going where no man had gone before, or so they say.

Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal Frontier

Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in The Spinal FrontierThe final installment in the series and the only one to do away with the silly places in outer space in order to focus on the silly ones inside the human body, as experienced by a highly miniaturized Roger of course. Actually, scrap that, as it’s just what the title implies. The game -an SVGA CD exclusive released in 1995- has Mr. Wilco exploring the vaguely nasty planet of Polysorbate LX while running into an incredible number of farcical video game, computer, pop-culture and movie references. Oh, and you’ll definitely love the cartoon-quality graphics and vastly updated point-and-click interface.

Now, as Space Quest 7 -or would it be VII?- never managed to survive the demise of Sierra and no more Space Quest games are to be released in the foreseeable future, seasoned veterans could go around and google for some mostly brilliant fanmade sequels and remakes. Alternatively, both them and gamers looking to dive into the taxing and surreal universe of Space Quest can go for Vivendi’s Space Quest Collection. It might not be the best collection possible (lacking a few game versions and coming with PDF manuals only), but it’s got the basics covered, runs brilliantly on the latest PCs and is rather cheap.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:


  1. Oh dear - just as I made a joke game about Space Quest which suggests that I really disliked it, I find out that the only Space Quest game I ever played (the second one) was really the lesser installment in the franchise.

    Oh well, the truly terrible joke game is (almost) made now, too late to turn back.

  2. No need to turn back either. It's the way of the Sarien. Oh, and I can't guarantee you'd like any of the rest SQ games, mind. They can be quite idiosyncratic.

  3. My first... encounter... (haw) with Space Quest was with SQ3. When I was 12 years old, I worked as a stock boy at a grocery store for a measly $3.50 / hour for two months. At the end of the summer I took my hard-earned $ to the Radio Shack, and I bought Space Quest 3.

    While SQ4 is definitely the diamond in the series in terms of overall polish and story development, SQ3 still holds a big space in my heart for sheer uniqueness and hilarious death sequences. "Good riddance to bad circuits." Ah, the height of parody for a 12 year old kid.

    I re-played SQ3 and SQ4 this year, and enjoyed every minute of them.

  4. For me, happily, Space Quest IV was the first encounter. And it came in that huge impressive box too... Think I'll eventually get to replay the whole series. Even try to beat the rather excellent fan-made Space Quest 0.

  5. What game versions is The Space Quest Collection missing?

    I had it for many years now, but must confess I only finished Space Quests 5 and 6 so far - damn lack of time! At least I played through the entire Quest of Glory series about 2 years ago.

  6. I think it lacks one (either EGA or VGA) of the SQ I versions, doens't feature the French and German versions of the games and is incomplete in the manuals department.

    As for me, haven't played any of the Quest for Glory games. Silly, I know, but true.

  7. Somebody has to ask Mass Effect writers if Saren's name has anything to do with Sarien.

  8. Hmmmm... an intriguing idea...