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King's Quest

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Sierra
Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
Release Date: July 28, 2015


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'King's Quest'

by Thomas Wilde on June 22, 2015 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

King's Quest re-imagines the core characters and familiar storylines of King Graham's early journeys, setting up new chapters tied to – but independent of – the original games.

Telltale has turned the modern meaning of "adventure game" into an interactive movie, which features surprisingly little of the old puzzle-solving that used to characterize the genre. It's probably a change for the better overall, but I get antsy when I'm not asked to use an inventory of random junk in bizarre and counterintuitive methods.

One of the formative games in the genre was King's Quest, Roberta Williams's anything-and-everything blend of every fairy tale she could find, where violence was usually your worst option, and you needed to walk off with anything that wasn't actually nailed down. They were frustrating, easily broken, and fiendishly difficult, but they encouraged a creative approach to problem-solving that's largely been lost these days.

The Odd Gentlemen are returning to the world of the series now with Roberta Williams's full participation, using the old world of Daventry and an all-star cast of voice actors to create a family-friendly, well-animated game, told by an elderly Graham as a story to his granddaughter Gwendolyn. It's not a reboot, as the old games still "count" in this one's continuity (Gwendolyn is the daughter of Alexander and Cassima, the princess he married in King's Quest VI), but it's meant as a fresh, approachable start to the universe. (Things may change here and there from the old games, but then again, Graham is an extremely unreliable narrator.)

Specifically, the first episode of this new King's Quest, A Knight to Remember, is Graham's heavily edited version of how he became a knight of Daventry in the first place. Riding his trusty steed Triumph, with nothing but his hat and his meager savings, he set out to prove himself worthy of knighthood in the annual tournament. Since he's Graham, he runs into multiple problems along the way, including the inexplicable disappearance of half the bridges in the kingdom, before having to complete the challenges of the tournament itself.

The general idea behind Graham in this new King's Quest is much the same as in the original games: he's not particularly tough or smart, but he's clever. He can talk his way past a lot of opponents and use his environment in unexpected ways; one early puzzle solution involves a beehive, a hatchet, and getting your solutions to a problem constantly sniped by nearby knights, but it all makes sense in the long run.

King's Quest is currently headed for an E-10 rating by the ESRB, which the Odd Gentlemen are happy with, as they're hoping this will be something that parents can play with their kids. It's a very gentle game, particularly by comparison to its predecessors, with a lot of puns, visual gags, in-jokes (both to pop culture in general and to the series itself), and a lighthearted approach to the world. It reminds me of an old Disney movie.

A lot of the old frustrations of the classic series are absent, since children in 2015 are inexplicably less masochistic than computer gamers in 1985. It's impossible to get yourself into an unwinnable situation (anyone else still grumbling over that stupid crystal in KQV?), and while Graham can die, the game reportedly does not take the same lunatic glee in killing you as the old games did.

Watching it in motion, the game seems to strike a balance between current adventure games and the old style. You do need to pick up items and search your environment for stuff to cram into your inventory, but the puzzles aren't as arcane as they once were.

At E3 2015, the demo also included an example of how the game will feature branching plotlines. During the tournament, Graham receives a quest to return with the eye of a deadly monster. How you're supposed to accomplish that is left up to you, and at one point, you can go into town to receive help from the townspeople. The local baker will advise a compassionate solution to the issue, so you can get an eye from a beast without requiring violence, while the town's blacksmith (voiced by Zelda Williams, in what's inexplicably her first video game role) will advise a more direct, strength-oriented solution. Depending on which option you pick, you'll solve the next part of the game in a different way, which influences both the story and its effect on Gwendolyn, who has problems of her own.

I'm a little wary of King's Quest. As I told its creative director at the show, I associate the old games with a particular brand of unforgiving gameplay that's been out of style for a good 20 years, and it's bizarre to see it turned into a lighthearted, modern romp. It's certainly well done, for what it is, and it's been made with the full blessing of the original creators.

Still, I'm curious how the final product will turn out. It'd be nice to see a little outside-the-box thinking return to the adventure-game genre, and from what I saw at E3, that's pretty close to what King's Quest has to offer.

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