It’s been over twenty years since I sat down and played a King’s Quest game. Sierra Games back in the day produced fantastic, smart and beautiful adventures that hooked the young me from beginning to the end, while my old computer whirled and struggled to cope with the loading screens.
So it was with great excitement and nostalgia that I sat down to play the first chapter of a new adventure in King’s Quest with the promise of five downloadable chunks coming over the next year.
Am I disappointed? Does it still excite me? Does it make me want to cry into a bottle of whiskey late at night in the dark remembering my lost youth? The answers are no, yes and yes, but I normally do that anyway on a Thursday.
The story follows a young wannabe knight called Graham and his early adventures into becoming a hero. We fight dragons with him, ride a guard in a race, become a troll bridge, trick a hamster and ride a rapid river on a mattress. This story is being told by the older version of Graham (voiced brilliantly by Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd), on his sick bed, to his aspiring adventurer granddaughter. This is the first of the many homages to the dazzling 80’s film The Princess Bride, including some of the same actual cast members popping up.
The world the new team at Sierra has created is beautiful and stunning to behold. It feels familiar but is fresh and exciting. Using hand drawn animation the designers have made it possible for you to be in an actual Disney movie. Textures, creatures and characters are boldly drawn and brilliantly realised. It’s a world that made me want to explore it forever, a world that I felt drawn to because it seemed so familiar to all the films I’d seen and loved. The voice work is of a very high standard and brilliantly acted by a range of performers from stage and screen. The writing itself is very much of the world I am describing; sharp, knowing and funny. If you like Frozen, The Lion King, Enchanted etc. it’s very much your bag. If you want something much darker then it might not be your cup of tea, but you might chuckle to yourself anyway, while making sure no one can see you laughing in case it spoils your hard reputation.
It’s a family game, with a family sense of a humour and a family tone. My friend is loving playing this game with his two 10 year olds and said to me it’s the first game we’ve all enjoyed playing together.
Now lets talk about gameplay and I’m afraid here comes the rub. The first stage of the game is a piece of superb craftsmanship. It launches itself straight into the adventure without holding your hand. It eases you into the controls, without declaring it’s a tutorial and has some brilliant moments of action and puzzle solving. The path it takes is very linear and very clear. Influenced by its past roots, the game gives you a number of problems to solve and in order to solve them, you must use the items you have collected to try and make them work with something else. For example I found a pumpkin that I needed, but this bunch of squirrels wouldn’t let me have it. Evil Squirrels. I found a badger, who I lured out with another item, who then scared off the squirrels. I can then get the pumpkin and give it to a magical couple who…you get the idea. Nearly every game used this technique pre 1995 and to be honest with you, it got on my nerves a bit back then. Here it mixes some fun QTEs with dialogue tree exploration. Some of these are inventive and innovative, while others make me want to pull my fingernails out.
The problem for me starts when I get into the middle section of the story; when you’re let loose in the main town to find your own way in the story. I got lost for a while on what to do next and when I made certain choices I realised to my horror, I might have done those choices in the wrong order. It got to point where I had to start the game again in order to go in the correct order. Now this could be down to me because I am not the brightest of sparks, and there might have been a way forward with out starting again that I just didn’t see. But anyhow it was very annoying and did tarnish what for me had been an absolutely fantastic experience so far.
If I weren’t reviewing the game, would I have carried on? I’m not sure, but I’m glad I did because there were a number of brilliant sections I would of missed, and that my friend would have been a damn shame. The game itself took me (without the replay time) around 5-6 hours which is a substantial chunk of game compared to say Telltale Games’ two hour chapters from their most recent game outings. If all the chapters run at this length, you’re looking at 25 to 30 hours for the whole game.
It’s a little bit more expensive than what we are used to for this type of episodic game, the chapter is around £7 with the season coming in around £31. Though you can see the money has been well spent in the quality of the work. There are also no frame rate problems or pop up’s that I have grown annoying used to in recent games I won’t mention here.
There is no online element to the game, which is fine because it isn’t really an issue or needed. I found the whole experience rewarding, funny, stunning and I can’t wait for the next five chapters.
Welcome back old friend.