Having gotten off to a flying start, King’s Quest is back with a second chapter just in time to round out the year. Although slightly smaller in size and scope, many of the reboot’s merits carry over in what continues to be one of most enjoyable, old school adventure games of recent years. That said, chapter two – cleverly titled “Rubble Without A Cause” – will no doubt irk fans with its beguiling approach to narrative and structure.
Picking up a short while after Graham’s first outing, he finds himself the king of Daventry through a bizarre chain of circumstances. Still fairly young and inexperienced, it’s fair to say that he isn’t enjoying his tenure as we drop in for our second helping. As if buried beneath the ludicrous number of proclamations and decrees wasn’t enough, Daventry has been beset by a clan of rock goblins.
Needing a break from it all, our hero steps out into the rainy cobbled streets of his kingdom. It’s a sight players will be familiar with, though the gloom and silence seem eerily uncharacteristic. Then, from out of nowhere, the goblins attack, snatching Daventry’s newly-appointed king and taking him back to their lair in the mountains.
Theirs is a quirky domain to say the least; a cavernous labyrinth in which the goblins hoard their huge stash of trinkets. Thrown in a cell with a measly bowl of porridge, this is where Graham’s next big adventure really begins. Wanting to make use of their latest captive, the goblins immediately put him to work, giving him license to roam the mountain’s maze-like innards. Well, part of it at least.
Although some areas are accessible from the get-go, others are sealed off using winches. Each one is weighed down using two or three boulders, indicating how much strength Graham needs in order to operate them. The only way of upping the king’s vigour is to eat whatever food you can salvage from your surroundings.
There’s a catch, however, and a grave one at that. You see, locked in here with you are a number of the village folk from Daventry. As always, they’re an eccentric lot and add some character to the game. However, just like you, they’re quickly fading and have nothing to eat. Unable to leave their cells and aid you in your quest, players must do the unthinkable.
Using your very limited supplies, it’s up to you to decide who eats and who starves – a dwindling number of hearts indicating just how much life they have left.
Needless to say, it’s a startling change of pace compared to the first episode and players will have try and calculate how to escape the goblin realm with everyone intact. This process, combined with the usual intricacies of the genre, had my brain working overtime. Being a perfectionist and therefore wanting the best outcome, I went about searching every nook and cranny for something to help me in my mission, double guessing every action I made lest one of my companions perish as a result. Personally, this soured the overall experience and I’m sure many other fans will feel the same way.
However – and I promise this is where the spoilers end – there’s a wonderfully smart twist at the end and one that has you thinking about the very nature of video games and the way in which their stories are constructed. Once again, beneath buckets of humour, King’s Quest manages to be surprisingly poignant, and when all’s said and done it’s hard to walk away from the second chapter holding a grudge.
What the series had done so well in its first episode is replicated here once more. Compared to most modern adventure games, King’s Quest has actual puzzles that force you to come up with logical solutions. More casual fans of the genre might take issue with the game’s lack of signposting, though veterans will be right at home. One thing they will both be able to agree on, however, is the tedious backtracking.
It’s a common trope in adventure games, but is made even more laborious here. The goblin kingdom isn’t exactly small, so if you happen to forget interacting with an object of character, the journey between points can be exhausting.
Rubble Without A Cause isn’t quite on par with the game’s opening chapter, though that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering just how finely put together the whole affair was. However, the difference between the two isn’t a question of quality, it simply comes down to one element in particular: the off-putting approach to structure.
The Odd Gentlemen have pitched an ambitious curveball and although it’s easy to appreciate what they’ve done when that ball hits its mark, the arc it follows is a confusing one to watch in motion. Although the experiment ultimately pays off, it will have rattled players in the process, but I’m more than confident the series will be steered back on track.