As a child of the 80s, I have very fond memories of Sierra’s adventure titles. I was particularly fond of Space Quest, as its sci-fi theme and tongue-in-cheek humour (which is a staple of these titles) really struck a chord with me. I also enjoyed the early King’s Quest games, but didn’t stick with the franchise after the first few, having moved on to other things. Over the years, I’ve watched the progression of adventure games – from text input, to point-and-click – and witnessed the adventure game development torch pass from Sierra to Lucasfilm. With Lucasfilm the genre sadly died out in favour of the modern RPG and the mighty FPS, making me a little hesitant to return to the genre and try this new episodic title from The Odd Gentlemen.
Playing not as a continuation of the existing stories, nor as a reboot, this King’s Quest lies somewhere in between. Players take control of King Graham (the protagonist of the earliest titles) in his younger years, but the gameplay plays out in flashbacks. The game starts out with an elderly King Graham, sickly and bedridden, sharing stories of his early adventures with his granddaughter. The first episode tells the story of Graham before he became King, and so constitutes somewhat of a prequel to the original game, which was first released in 1983. Beginning as a common knight with no real claim to fame, ability, or fortune, the story follows Graham as he enters a competition to win the then King’s favour (which, in turn, results in Graham later becoming King himself).
Given this is a console game, I was not sure how the game would play – point-and-click has never lent itself well to a handheld controller. Here, controls have been simplified – walking up to an object of interest will bring up context sensitive commands – generally “look” or “take”. On top of this, players can access their inventory at any time, and selecting an item from within will allow that item to be used, again in a context-sensitive manner. It’s very simple, but it works – the game never tells you what to do, it never holds your hand, and items that can be used together are rarely in close proximity. In some cases, a voiceover will provide some hints as to what can be done, but for the most part, you are on your own to solve somewhat old-school puzzles.
The puzzles themselves aren’t overly complex; however, much like adventure games of old, they aren’t always clear at first blush. In some cases, what actually needs to be done is somewhat unexpected, but that’s half the fun. Unfortunately, a game like this doesn’t benefit from short bursts of play – punctuating a King’s Quest session with another title often results in confusion the next time you boot the game up, as it doesn’t use the modern technique of providing a recap – or even a summary of your current objective – on loading. This meant that I was often unsure where I was and what I was trying to achieve, and I found myself going over old ground just trying to figure out what it was I was trying to achieve. In some cases, I even sought out a walkthrough to help provide me with some guidance. The puzzles weren’t overly intuitive, although there was always that lightbulb moment when the solution presented itself, as they do make some kind of relative sense.
Graphically, King’s Quest looks the part. It has a very cartoony feel to it, similar to the style of Dragon’s Lair. In fact, the prologue to the game has a very similar feel, with players needing to jump and dodge obstacles in order to steal a mirror from a… dragon in its… lair. The pace slows down considerably after this and even when tackling the trials of strength and speed, if follows the same process: find an item, pick it up, walk around, find another, use it in combination with previous item, and so on. This is the nature of the adventure game – completing a seemingly random assortment of tasks in order to progress an interesting story – and I’m well accustomed to it, but next to the comparably fast-paced prologue, the rest of the game feels sluggish.
A final issue I have with the game is in regards to the cut scenes. On one hand, it’s great that you are unable to skip through the conversation (or indeed, skip the entire scene), as it forces players to enjoy the wonderful voice acting and story. However, in cases that involve frequent failure, it can be frustrating to watch the same scene over and over again. I would prefer to have been given the opportunity to skip a scene once it had been watched the first time.
With all of that said, adventure games are only as good as the story that’s being told, and this one’s full of charm and wit. With whimsical characters that each have a personality of their own, a rich world with simple dangers and fantastical locations, there is much to enjoy. The voice acting is, for the most part, exemplary, and with talent such as Christopher Lloyd, Zelda Williams, and Wallace Shawn, this is to be expected. King’s Quest feels very much like a childhood story – indeed, given the talent involved, there is very much a Princess Bride vibe as well, and I found myself grinning for much of my time in Daventry. It’s witty, slapstick, pun-filled comedy at its very best (the worst puns themselves are objects of derision within the game).
Overall, I’m very impressed with how well The Odd Gentlemen managed to recreate the feeling of a decades-old adventure game on modern-day consoles, all the while managing to make it feel fresh and new. While it would probably benefit from some built-in guidance (in the form of “previously on…” videos and the like), walking about the environment and searching for interactive items felt very much like it did in the 80s, which should be considered an achievement. With the success of Telltale Games adventure series, not to mention Double Fine’s Broken Age, and now King’s Quest, I’m hoping these titles herald an adventure game revival.