By Kyle Holmer. This is Load File, where we play the games that seemingly everyone else has forgotten about. This week, Kyle dons the feather cap, makes new friends, and humiliates them all in a series of exceedingly ridiculous challenges in King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember, developed by the Odd Gentlemen and published by Activision/Sierra Interactive.
If you haven’t been paying attention, adventure games are in the middle of a second renaissance. This aged genre that was once synonymous with 90s video games suffocated and died in the early 2000s thanks to stagnant design and the evolving tastes of the marketplace. After a ten plus year lapse, Double Fine Productions and Telltale Games decided to resurrect this forgotten genre with titles like Broken Age and The Walking Dead (of course, none of this is actually true, but the Tim Schafer premise is definitely an attractive one for potential Kickstarter backers).
It’s because of this alleged resurgence that Activision has decided to drag both the King’s Quest and Sierra Games moniker out of the closet in hopes of capitalizing on one of the medium’s longest running franchises, and after a seventeen year gap, a confusing development cycle, and a very public endorsement from series creator Roberta Williams, the first episode of the new King’s Quest has finally arrived.
One would think that releasing a new entry in such a beloved franchise at such an opportune time would have people losing their minds with excitement, especially considering how much attention the reveal trailer garnered back in December, but here we are. The quiet reception to this game’s release seems to contradict every event leading up to it, which is unfortunate considering the new King’s Quest is an unbelievably charming nod to past entries that is most definitely worth the ten dollar asking price.
THE PRINCE’S STRIDE
Like previous entries, King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember (the first of five planned episodes) once again follows the series protagonist, Graham, on various adventures in his ascent towards Kingship. This entry however, serves as a reimagining of the series, as the player-controlled adventures are, in actuality, tales an elder Graham has been recanting to his granddaughter while he lies on his deathbed. The story is obviously meant to be taken as lighthearted fare, and it is for the most part, but there are definitely some darker implications as the elder Graham is very obviously nearing death and has been largely ignored by the rest of his family (or maybe I’m thinking too much about what could easily be construed as a mere children’s game).
This first episode follows Graham as he competes in a competition to win a position as a King’s Guard. Throughout the story, the senior Graham and his granddaughter will chime in frequently with various asides about the current adventure. It’s not a completely unique framing device, but the delivery of the story couldn’t be more endearing and what it lacks in originality it more than makes up for with its charm. There is definitely a childlike sensibility to this game, but thanks to a surprisingly long list of voice actors (Wallace Shawn and Christopher Lloyd both make appearances) and some very endearing writing, the story never settles below a specific age line.
POINT, CLICK, REPEAT
As for the gameplay, the new King’s Quest is a classic point and click adventure game through and through. Unfortunately, the developers haven’t taken any steps to adapt the mechanics for a modern gaming audience beyond making the transition into a 3D playspace. There is next to no tutorial for any of the game mechanics, and unlike other games in the genre, there is also no hint or objective system. It is entirely up to the player to remember what needs to be done and what weird logic needs to be applied in order to solve the game’s puzzles. There is, however, a finite amount of interactive objects and the structure of the narrative is such that objectives can be completed in any order.
There are implications of an underlying choice/moral system, but the developers never really spend anytime surfacing the implications of certain decisions, although they are meant to fit into three distinct character types. These archetypes are actually represented in the game as sort of narrative advisors: a blacksmith who pushes for brash, quick decisions, a baker who advocates for kindness, and a senior couple who encourages a careful, meditative position. As a result, several of the major story events have multiple paths for completion, although having played through the chapter three times, this essentially amounts to a different order of operations (although I am sure these choices will have further ramifications in later episodes). Unlike past entries, this new version doesn’t require any pixel hunting for obfuscated items or applying impossible logic to solve some of the more incoherent objectives, but given the lack of aid within the game, you’ll definitely have a few roadblocks in trying to navigate the story.
NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT
It should be obvious at this point that the new King’s Quest isn’t really providing anything new; the mechanics are a carbon copy of any Telltale game released in the past three years, and the story follows some unbelievably predictable beats. While it’s definitely not as clever as some of the Lucasart classics, it has a sense of identity and charm that few of its contemporaries can match. King’s Quest definitely isn’t trying to reinvent the genre (or really even advance it), nor is it pretending to be any more exciting than it needs to be; it’s merely a smart and clever adventure game that’s content being just that.