Wildly funny, yet frustrating enough to buy a hint book
Sierra did know how to make good bucks with their technology. They mixed a lot of different themes with their adventure games, and I guess that almost everybody had at least one Quest that they liked. Mine was Space Quest with its wicked sci-fi humor.
The two guys from Andromeda showed us that adventure games didn't need to be serious to be enjoyable. Space Quest, without being a total joke, was funny and refreshing. It was even funnier to play it two at a time, since new jokes popping up could be laughed even louder. Imagine the initial storyline: you're a janitor doing an on-shift nap in a closet and the first thing you know when you wake up is that your ship has been abducted by enemies from another planet. Now, it is time to get the hell out of there and save the world!
Technically, this game didn't have much more than King's Quest I and II. However, the designers managed to program a lame action sequence using Sierra's AGI interpreter. This at least showed that the AGI could be used for more than a graphical text parser and that might have spawned some other projects such as Manhunter. The graphics, while having a really low resolution (I think it was something like 160x200, a PCjr limitation) were colorful and nice for their time.
I don't know if Sierra wanted to push the sales of their hint books (which by the way used a special ink that disappeared over the years, making them a less useful collection item), but this game was really hard, at least by my standards of the time. I just can't see how I could have had the patience to finish it without the book.
Until LucasArts got it right with their "adventures in which you could go back and don't die", Space Quest suffered from the lack of flexibility most adventure games had in this era. That means that you ended up dying for stupid reasons without warning, and that could be frustrating. That also means that if you messed something up early in the game, you might not find out about it before hours of gameplay.
For example, if you forget to get a cartridge on the spaceship when the game starts (for which you need to know a password given by scientist who shows up out of pure random luck), you won't be able to use it around the middle of the game and you'll be stuck. Of course, all your saved games until then will be crap, so you then have to replay from the beginning all over again. Ah, well...
One last thing: there is a part in the game in which you need to play slot machine in order to have enough bucks to buy yourself a spacecraft. No, you can't buy the cheapest one, try it out and you'll understand shy. This is the long and boring part of the game, as you have to play a while (and save your game often) in order to win enough. I really would have liked an option to bypass that useless sequence.
The Bottom Line
No matter its problems, this game is worth it.
Space Quest fans must try it out. It started the whole series and while it is certainly not the best, it gives you an idea of what Mark and Scott were up to back when they started. It is also an interesting alternative to those who dislike the medieval theme of King's Quest. Just don't leave the spaceship without the cartridge!