Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon (Sierra On-Line) - 1989

This review is part of the “Let’s Adventure!” series. See all reviewed games sorted by rating here.

Space Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon is a 1989 graphic adventure game by Sierra On-Line, and the third game in the Space Quest series. Players assume the role of Roger Wilco, a lowly space janitor, who becomes involved in rescuing a pair of computer programmers from a sinister video game company. The game received positive reviews from critics, and contributed further to the series’ commercial success for Sierra.

Narrowly escaping the events of Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge, Roger Wilco’s escape pod floats through space. As just another metallic item of junk, it’s soon picked up by an interstellar garbage hauler. Waking up in a pile of trash, quite familiar for this janitor-turned-hero, Roger Wilco must somehow escape. Once given access to the rest of the galaxy, he’ll soon find himself having to avoid a collections cyborg for payments overdue, dealing with the corporate prison of software company Scummsoft, and having to digest the greasy food from the galaxy’s finest hamburger joint.1

Like Police Quest II and Leisure Suit Larry II, Space Quest III uses Sierra’s SCI0 engine, which requires you to interact with the game world via a text parser. Though you have a mouse cursor ever-present, this really only allows you to move around the screen the same way the arrow keys on the keyboard would.

The text parser allows you to enter noun/verb combinations and experience the results of your request via cheeky feedback from the game. Though this control mechanism may be a bit foreign to modern gamers, it’s incredibly well done in Space Quest III, and you’re encouraged to try everything to as you’ll almost always be rewarded with either a funny or snarky response.

If you’re interested in the internals of the engine I’d highly recommend giving the blog post “Sierra Creative Interpreter – Scripts” a read, as it’s by one of the ScummVM authors (Chris Benshoof aka. sluicebox) who’s invested heavily in tooling and decompilation of SCI resources and scripts.

As you navigate the game world you’ll be treated to decent sound effects and atmospheric music. The best way to experience the sound effects and music in this game is by emulating the Roland MT-32.

It’s relatively easy to do this in ScummVM if you know where to find the the necessary ROMs to get MT-32 emulation working. Though you had Adlib and Soundblaster available at the time, MT-32 was just so much better. Check out this playlist on YouTube to get a sense of how much better the audio sounded using this device!

The first third of the game has you trying to escape from a Terminator-like cyborg that is out to collect on a dept Roger incurred in the previous game. After you find a ship in the initial stage and set a course for Phleebhut, the cyborg follows him there and attempts to hunt him down and capture him.

You’ve only got a limited amount of “time” to figure out how to defeat the cyborg (and steal the invisibility belt that he has). While you try to do this you’ll find myriad ways in which to get yourself killed.

You know you want to watch a 10 minute video compilation of death scenes from SQ3.

Since this is a Sierra game, and death literally awaits you around every corner and on every screen it’s very much appreciated how much effort went into scripting the death sequences. Though I typically spend a disproportionate amount of time dying on purpose playing these games just to see what happens, I think I enjoyed the outcome more than usual with Space Quest III.

Once you escape the cyborg, you’ll travel to Monolith Burger. This section is pretty short as all you need to do is order a happy meal (or value meal or something like that), eat it to find a decoder ring - then play the Astro Chicken game. This game can be a pain in the ass as you have to land the falling chicken on the landing pad 10 times in a row without it bouncing off. This may sound easy at first, but timing the deceleration of the chicken while maneuvering it across the screen proved to be a lot more challenging than I expected.

After you succeed (or fail enough times that the game feels sorry for you) you’ll be presented with an encoded message. Lucky for you you just found a decoder ring, which you can use to find a secret message from the programmers of Astro Chicken - the two guys from Andromeda.

Turns out the two guys are being held captive on Pestulon, which is a moon of Ortega. First you need to navigate to Ortega, disable the shield generator around Pestulon, fly to Pestulon and deal with the pirates. What kind of pirates are we talking about? Well, that would be software pirates!

Not what I expected based on the title of the game

Elmo Pug, the leader of the “Pirates of Pestulon” (aka. ScumSoft) abducted the 2 guys to force them to design awful games they can flood the galaxy with. There is definitely some light-hearted jabbing at LucasArts with some of the references here, but that just makes me appreciate the writing of this game even more.

The final sequence of the game involves a couple of mini games. You first have to defeat Elmo Pug in a rock ‘em sock ‘em robots style battle, then escape on your ship and win a space battle. Though not overly difficult, you can lose during both of these sequences, so make sure you have save games before each begin so you can reload when you inevitably die the first few times.

After the space battle you fly the 2 guys to Earth and land in the parking lot of Sierra Online, where Ken Williams hires the 2 guys to work for him as programmers.

As I play through these games the main thing I typically look for is narrative strength. The graphics don’t need to be great, the music can be so-so and the input mechanics can be clunky, but if the experience of actually playing through the adventure is enjoyable I’ll rate it a lot higher.

Space Quest III is very short, but the writing is funny and the pacing is good. You don’t really need a walkthrough because every time you die you’ll be presented with a popup that typically (a) makes fun of you for dying and (b) nudges you in the right direction to avoid dying again.

Though I rated Space Quest: The Sarien Encounter pretty highly, it’s primitive and less accessible than this sequel. If you want to try your hand at a parser-driven adventure game I’d highly recommend Space Quest III.

Game Information

GameSpace Quest III: The Pirates of Pestulon
DeveloperSierra On-Line
PublisherSierra On-Line
Release DateMarch 24, 1989
SystemsDOS, Macintosh, Amiga, Atari ST
Game EngineSCI

My Playthrough

How Long To Beat?3 hours
Version PlayedDOS via ScummVM


See here for a refresher on how we’re scoring these games.

Atmosphere (20)15
Story (25)19
Experience (15)11
Impact (10)4


  1. Description from Moby Games 

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

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