Space Quest I (EGA) Review

Screenshot from Space Quest I
Our hero comes across the enemy mothership in Space Quest I

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Sierra On-Line
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line
  • Release Date: October 1986
  • Time played: 3 hours

What is it

Every adventure gamer or gamer that played games in the 80s and 90s, would've heard of the company Sierra On-Line and if they played one of their "Quest" games during that period, there's a good chance one of them was the original Space Quest, a sci-fi adventure game developed by "the Two Guys from Andromeda": Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe.

Released in 1986, Space Quest was quite a bit different in theme and tone than the early King's Quest games that preceded it, thanks to it being a parody of the sci-fi genre, similar to 1983 interactive fiction title Planetfall or films such as "Spaceballs" (although "Spaceballs" was actually released after Space Quest I). In Space Quest I, you play the role of a janitor (who is known as Roger Wilco in later iterations) onboard the starship Arcada which holds a powerful experimental device known as the Star Generator. After it is overrun by a hostile alien race known as the Sariens (intending to use the Star Generator as a weapon), the player must find a way to escape off the ship, survive a crash landing on a desert planet, and then save the galaxy by destroying the Star Generator, once and for all.

As the game was developed using Sierra's older Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine, moving the character is performed by using the keyboard's arrow keys or Numpad and interacting with the world is done by typing commands in a text parser. The version I'm reviewing today is the EGA version meaning it only has 16 colours (which doesn't seem like much nowadays but it was a huge step up from the 4 colours on a Colour Graphics Adapter aka CGA).

The entire Space Quest series sold 1.2 million copies by 1996 so it was quite the commercial success; it ended up spanning six games from 1986's Space Quest: Chapter I - The Sarien Encounter to 1995's Space Quest 6: Roger Wilco in the Spinal Frontier.

How I got it

As I played quite a few Sierra adventure games back in the day it only made sense for me to acquire the entire Space Quest and King's Quest collections when GOG had them on sale (which was back in April 2011).

The games sat dormant for a while until recently when Choona suggested I revisit all the Sierra adventure games as part of my Pile of Shame Initiative. I've already reviewed a few of the AGI King's Quest adventures so I decided I'd continue to look at other AGI adventures prior to moving on to games developed using the more modern Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) engine. This meant Space Quest I was a perfect choice.

Screenshot from Space Quest I
Hey, isn't that ZZ Top?

What I like:


I just have a natural affinity to the Sci-Fi genre in general. I love anything Star Wars, Star Trek, etc. so a game that parodies elements from these franchises and beyond is going to appeal.

Famous cameos

I think Sierra may have got into a bit of hot water over these inclusions but when you visit the bar at a settlement called Ulence Flats, you'll not only see the Blues Brothers performing there but you'll also see ZZ Top performing "Sharp Dressed Man". Ahhh, the days before copyright infringement in games became a big deal.

No ridiculously narrow walkways

Yes, I know, I was shocked. There are some bits where you can die from falling down cliffs and such but it's nowhere near as bad as the early King's Quest games.

Logical puzzles

Unlike some of the puzzles I encountered in the King's Quest series, most of the puzzles in Space Quest I make a lot of sense which means I didn't have much trouble going through most of the game, despite a couple of instances I'll talk about below.

Screenshot from Space Quest I
Really? I've got to play the pokies in order to progress in this game?

What I dislike:

Save scumming

I don't know what it is with earlier Sierra adventure games, but most of them seem to have an element of events occurring by random chance which often means you'll need to practice some form of "save scumming" in order to win. What does "save scumming" mean? It means restoring saved games until you achieve the outcome you desire. It feels a bit like cheating but in these early Sierra adventures, you can't win the game without them.

In Space Quest I you have to partake in this behaviour in order to win enough money on a slot machine in order to purchase a space ship and droid. So, whenever you won money on the slot machine, you saved the game and whenever you lost money (or worse, died – yes, it's possible to be vapourised by the slot machine), you would restore the game.

It took me about 15 minutes of save scumming before I had enough money to progress.

Looking for objects with no hints to their existence

I didn't find Space Quest I as bad as the early King's Quest titles but there was one point when crash landing on the desert planet where you're meant to get a crucial piece of equipment and in that particular screen you find it in, the "look" command is proximity-based. What that means is unlike other times I've played Sierra adventures where typing a "look" command would reveal items of interest in a room, this particular item required you to be standing close by in order to find it. Suffice to say, if I didn't have a walkthrough I would've unlikely stumbled upon it since the item is so trivial you wouldn't think it critical for success.

Dead Ends

Space Quest I is more forgiving than the earlier King's Quest games in terms of dead-end states and usually it's quite obvious how to avoid them the second time around. However, there is one situation which will not be as easy to figure out: at one point in the game you'll be offered a trade and if you accept the offer, you will fail to acquire an additional item (which you require in order to progress through the game). However, if you reject the trade the first time, you'll be given a second offer which you're meant to accept and then receive the critical item as a bonus. There's a very good chance if you accepted the offer the first time, you would be oblivious to the fact that you actually receive a second offer and even then you would have to take the offer the second time in order to realise you receive the critical item.

Skimmer Mini-game

There is a mini-game where you have to drive a skimmer (a vehicle similar to what Luke Skywalker drives on Tatooine in Star Wars: Episode IV) across the desert to a settlement called Ulence Flats. The mini-game is similar to the 1981 BASIC game, Donkey.BAS, except instead of dodging donkeys you're dodging rocks. If the skimmer takes too much damage from rocks, it's game over. What makes it extremely tricky to dodge the rocks is that you only see them at the last minute so even if you slow the game speed down, it's still advisable to save the game frequently. Of course, by slowing the game down though, it takes an excruciating long time to arrive at Ulence Flats (or at least, it feels like it).

I believe the VGA version gives you the option to skip the sequence altogether: that's probably an indication of how annoying it was.

Score – 5/10 (Average)

Like many of the earlier "Quest" games developed by Sierra, Space Quest I was probably a revolutionary title for its day, but it obviously hasn't aged too well especially for those that have never played classic Sierra or Lucasarts adventure games before, and I'm not just talking about obvious aspects such as the graphics and audio: earlier Sierra adventure often relied on random chance (meaning the need to "save scum") and often had unforgiving dead-ends. Space Quest does have a lot going for it though in that it is overall more forgiving than other Quest games of the same era with logical puzzles and thankfully a lack of narrow walkways. I also have a soft spot for the sci-fi genre so that always helps too 😉.

(I've placed the following disclaimer when reviewing Sierra games before and I'll say it again: before I get burned at the stake by the Sierra fans, I'm trying to judge this game on its own merits, playing it today in 2019. No doubt the game was highly regarded by fans in the 1980s, but nowadays, things have evolved and, in my humble opinion, generally for the better).

Is the game worth $14.59 AUD?: No. Although it really depends if you're an old fan (so you've probably already got a copy anyway) and what price you would put on retro games in general. The $14.59 is not only for Space Quest I though; it also gets you Space Quest II and III, so when you think of it as $5 per adventure, it doesn't seem as bad.

If you like this game, you might like…