Thoughts on Space Quest-series

Out of the long-running game series, Sierra published on its heydey King's Quest and Space Quest are probably two of the most beloved ones. While only King's Quest has had a recent new commercial incarnation (and a good one at that) published by Activision under its newly rekindled Sierra label, both games have inspired a lot of people making their fan spin-offs and even full remakes of the old games.  King's Quest is no doubt still the top dog of the two, but Space Quest is a close second on what comes to fan loyalty.

After not having played the series in a good while, I decided to give the series a proper spin again, just to see if the games are as good as my nostalgia tinted memories make them out to be. This article is my collected thoughts about the series as a whole, but I'll throw in links to review thingies of the individual titles at the end.

I've always liked this box
It's not a surprise the fan loyalty exists, as back in its day Space Quest was one of the first well made graphical sci-fi adventure games. Sure, there had been sci-fi titles before it, even humorous ones, but they were largely text adventures or platform and arcade games with a very little actual plot. In 1986, when The Sarien Encounter came out, there just weren't that many sci-fi titles out there that allowed you to actually play and experience a proper sci-fi adventure in its all graphical splendour. And it had an okay plot as well, with a sense of humour about it.

Personally, I've never found SQ1 to be a laugh riot. It's a fun game the same way Indiana Jones or Star Wars movies are fun, but I don't really see it as a flat-out comedy. The official VGA remake tries to emphasize the comedy aspect but makes the game as such feel a bit weird.It's also a game I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with, as I love the retro art style it has, while it doesn't really fit the tone of the game.

The first Space Quest did well enough to warrant CEO and founder of Sierra Ken Williams to get a sequel out the doors, which the creators Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy were happy (I assume) to do. While Space Quest 2: Vohaul's Revenge isn't my personal favourite in the series, it did again well to warrant more games to be produced later on. In the first game, still nameless, a hero of the series managed to foil the Sarien plan of using a Star Generator as a weapon. This time around we find him, janitor Roger Wilco, having burnt his 15 minutes of fame, back at the handle of a mop, just to get captured by a villain named Sludge Vohaul, who apparently was behind the Sarien plot as well as creating the star generator.

I don't even like this box that much
As said, not my particular favourite in the series, despite it does introduce Sludge Vohaul, the big baddie of many of the games, even SQ1 despite he wasn't mentioned in it at all. In fact, the first game does state that the star generator was created by Slash Vohaul, whom we actually even get to see dying in the VGA remake. There's some amount of reconnection done later on in some official SQ books, which state that Sludge is a clone of Slash or something like that, but in all, it just seems like a knot the developers tied without really having paid that much attention to details they created themselves.

SQ2 is also just a boring game. While it did get favourable reviews back in the day, the setting  of Labion forest and Vohaul's base is just boring and the main plot itself is anticlimactic and whacks the series comedically in a very different direction from the first game, as this time around the plot feels much more like a parody, not a comedic sci-fi adventure.

There is an unofficial  fan remake of SQ2, which does fix some of the things about the game, but while it is a valiant effort, it does make pretty evident that for me to actually enjoy it, the whole game should be redesigned and written from the ground up, in a bit of a similar fashion AGD Interactive did with their brilliant King's Quest 2 remake.

So much to love in this one
Space Quest 3: Pirates of Pestulon is the game that made me really love the series. It's the first game in the series that doesn't allow you to name the main character like the first two did. instead, he's named Roger Wilco from the get-go.  It also has higher resolution graphics and support for proper sound cards. I really recommend playing it using either a real MT-32 card or an MT-32 emulator like Munt, as the game does sound amazing.

The plot of SQ3 is again a bit so and so. It does have a strong beginning, with Roger escaping a robot driven garbage freighter, but after that, the plot kind loses its direction and it is very easy to miss plot essential information. While it is the best of the first three, and still pretty impressive looking and sounding game considering its age, it still is a bit flawed game as far design goes.

The lack of direction aside one big issue with the game is, that the world outside the garbage ship feels pretty empty. You can visit 4 other locations, a couple of planets and a burger joint, but there are only a few things to do in any of them and as such the freedom you get also feels a bit redundant, especially if you've completed the game before, as that makes the emptiness of the game world even more obvious.

I don't know how I feel about this cover
Space Quest 4 and 5 are the two best games in the series, despite they are very different in style. SQ4: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers is the last in the series co-designed by Murphy and Crowe and SQ5: The Next Mutation was designed by only Crowe. This makes a big difference in the style of comedy, as SQ5 is much more like a Star Trek parody, in a bit of a similar fashion as the Galaxy Quest-comedy starring Tim Allen, Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver, whereas SQ4 is a snarky, sarcastic, and in places laced with black comedy, time-jumping sci-fi adventure.

While both games use Sierra's mouse-driven game engine and have ditched the 16 colour EGA palette in the favour of 256 colour VGA one, only SQ4 is fully voiced. It's a shame SQ5 never did get a voiced version, as Gary Owens, who does the narration in SQ4, really makes the snarky, sarcastic tone of the humour come alive and makes up for the uneven voice work of the rest of the cast.

As far the plot goes, SQ4 is the most ambitious one in the series. It does set up the possible future chapters for Roger Wilco with its time travelling scenarios, but sadly enough of the future games only SQ5 really tried to do something with the threads woven in SQ4.  Overall SQ5 is pretty simple sci-fi adventure though.  It takes some elements from the previous game and ties them tighter to the series, but in the end, it's pretty basic sci-fi tale you could see in any decent sci-fi series.

This one is pretty great
SQ5 does show though, that it's not always about complexity, it's how you do it that matters. When all is said and done, even after some questionable design choices, the Next Mutation is the funniest game in the series. Too bad for the lack of voice acting though.

The final official game in the series, Space Quest 6: The Spinal Frontier, I consider being the worst of the series. As a game, it's now a full blown out parody and the game, largely written by Josh Mandel, but brought to finish by Scott Murphy, feels like a collection of tired jokes tied together with a flimsy afterthought of a plot. it also has a lot of jokes in it that would have felt more at home in a Larry game rather than Space Quest. In all honesty, though, the style of humour in the series is far from coherent, so that's not really that huge of a deal in the end. What is, is that the game itself is just dull. It also has a horrible box cover, not presented in this article.

It's a shame the Two Guys From Andromeda team fell apart after SQ4, as it could have probably saved the game. Or at least made it different. But how SQ6 would have turned out with both of them, we'll never know.

After Space quest 6 there was, as far I know, two attempts at making a new game in the series. Official Space Quest 7 had a small promo video published, but the project was soon after buried. Which is fine by me, as the style they were doing wasn't something I'd have liked to see the series take. Another project, simply titled Space Quest, was to be published for Xbox but was again buried before it saw the light of day. Apparently, it would have been a platformer, so good riddance to that travesty.

So that's Space Quest for you. A series of games with very uneven design choices and styles that change at times pretty drastically from game to game. Of course with a specific lack of style, different people are bound to like different games in the series, but personally, for me, there are 3 stands out entries in it: 3,4 and 5. The rest range from bad to okay.

It's still easy to see why people do like them. First, of, sci-fi has always been a loved genre for a lot of people. It's not necessarily always a genre, that makes the most money, but all sorts of sci-fi has fans. Hell, even old pulp sci-fi has its fans, despite we know you can't survive on Mars without a suit. And the world of Space Quest is well enough designed as a whole in order to allow fans to cook up stories of their own, set in the same world. Which does remind me, that I should write an article about the fan games themselves, of which there's at least 5.

If this made you feel like wanting to give the series a spin, they're easily obtainable through digital outlets GOG or Steam

The box covers for SQ1-SQ4 I used in this article can be downloaded here as high-resolution scans. The covers are provided with different options, so depending on what you like, you can get them with original stickers and labels or with either element cleaned out.

The links to individual reviews:
Space Quest 1: The Sarien Encounter
Space Quest 2: Vohaul's Revenge
Space Quest 3: The Pirates of Pestulon
Space Quest 4: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers
Space Quest 5: the Next Mutation
Space Quest 6 : the Spinal Frontier