Within seconds of booting King’s Quest, Activision immediately start to tug at the heartstrings of gaming’s older hardcore contingent. A raging snowstorm lashes past the screen as a familiar landmark slowly comes into focus: the familiar Half Dome of the Yosemite Valley. It bears no significance for some, but for other, more seasoned veterans of the gaming scene, this pre-menu logo sequence marks the return of the once-mighty Sierra Entertainment.
For many of these nostalgia seekers A Knight To Remember won’t be their first run-in with the acclaimed King’s Quest series. Since its debut on the IBM PCjr way back in 1983, the franchise had enjoyed a long, albeit troubled past, eventually fading into obscurity at the turn of the millennium. Stuck in limbo, the King’s Quest license was thrown between an amalgam of studios (including Telltale and Silicon Knights) before finally falling into the hands of small-time developer, The Odd Gentlemen.
It’s an enlightening history lesson yet one that has no actual bearing on the finished product itself. You see, this latest incarnation of King’s Quest marks a fresh start after a long and somewhat painful hiatus. Although The Odd Gentlemen have preserved much of the series’ core DNA, they have deftly repackaged it in a way to suit both newcomers and returning fans in equal measure.
Despite turning a new page, there are a number of welcome constants still in play. Once again players will don the feathered cap of gallant wannabe, Graham, in his quest to become a knight. This all takes place in the wonderfully enchanting kingdom of Daventry which harbours a colourful roster of larger-than-life characters. It’s all incredibly light-hearted and often times silly, spewing puns left, right, and centre as Graham haplessly wanders from one dire situation to the next.
It’s a beautifully written opening chapter, brought to life by a star-studded cast of voice actors including Christopher Lloydd, Zelda Williams, and Gideon Emery to name just a few. Together, their unfaltering performance blesses Daventry’s denizens with a real sense of character and uniqueness. The way in which Graham’s story unfolds is equally as clever and fantastic. Although played entirely through the young knight’s perspective, the game is narrated by a much older Graham, regaling his granddaughter with tales of how he came to be king.
The Odd Gentlemen play with this narrative device in a number of creative ways. Aside from the many witty lines of contextual dialogue, there are scenes from the present day in which Graham tutors the excitable youngster. Some of these, alongside a smattering of memorable set pieces, are actually quite touching, momentarily removing us from all the silliness to stop and think.
In terms of gameplay, King’s Quest mirrors its inspirations well, presenting players with a string of challenges that can only be resolved using exploration and wit. It doesn’t take long for the stabilisers to come off, at which point you are given free roam of a small town and its surrounding woodland. As one might expect certain areas are gated off, such as wolf-infested caverns and rivers without bridges. However, these travel restrictions are craftily weaved into the game’s many story-driven puzzles.
Solving these said puzzles usually hinges on finding a certain item within the game world and using it on the right character or point of interest. That said, there are other gameplay segments which are much more active. For instance, Graham will occasionally use a bow, switching the game to first person view. Similarly, there are chase sequences which have you guiding Graham in order to avoid incoming obstacles.
King’s Quest isn’t the only adventure game in recent memory to do this. However, compared to the janky action scenes Telltale games are notorious for, in King’s Quest they are much smoother and don’t feel cobbled together. This same degree of seamlessness also carries into simple dialogue exchanges. Instead of characters standing square-on, flatly replying to one another, they make more use of their environment and have far more dynamic animations.
The only complaints I have against King’s Quest are relatively small and they’re mainly to do with minor issues such as the lack of a hint system, map, and fast travel, as well as skippable repeated dialogue. Although far from crippling, their absence will grate from time to time and can result in slight pacing issues. Hopefully, as the series goes on, these are features The Odd Gentlemen will look to implement.
In short, King’s Quest is off to a flying start. It ticks all the boxes of what a great adventure game should be, and this is only the first of six chapters. From a vibrant cast of characters to its stunning artwork and immersive puzzle solving, it takes the very best parts of the adventure game genre. Also, despite its heritage, King’s Quest never feels like a simple homage, modernising the experience to suit younger, more impatient gamers such as myself.
Where episodic gaming has usually left me nonplussed, King’s Quest has had an enthralling effect, leaving me in eager anticipation of the next chapter.