Now playable in it’s entirety, King’s Quest not only offers a modern take on a beloved series of games, but tells a touching story and reminds us all why the adventure game genre captured our hearts and minds in the first place. Combining clever puzzles with a beautiful art style, an excellent cast, and a poignant tale of adventuring, the game manages to honor its legacy just as much as it forges a new path going forward.
With nine titles under its belt, the King’s Quest series has been part of the games industry almost as long as Donkey Kong. Starting in 1983 (1980 if you want to count the canonical Wizard and the Princess), King’s Quest games were among the first to incorporate interactive graphics, and played a large part in establishing the adventure game genre into the powerhouse it eventually became. Following 1998’s King’s Quest: Mask of Eternity, however, it looked like the series had simply passed into the history books. That was until Activision handed the keys to the Daventry Kingdom to independent studio The Odd Gentlemen.
Ditching the point-and-click interface of the old titles, but still keeping the focus on puzzles, riddles, and exploration, the game is a love-letter to more classic entries in the genre. Telltale’s take has dominated the top tier of adventure games for years now, and the team at the The Odd Gentlemen keeps many of those modern trends in mind. King’s Quest incorporates small touches of quick-time events into the gameplay. Instead of overriding the things that made the series so beloved in the first place however, these new additions compliment the strong foundation already there.
Partially a reboot, partially ‘untold tales,’ the episodic King’s Quest reimagines a handful of events from the old games, adds in new adventures of its own, and manages to do it all while working in and with the original cannon. In the style of something like The Princess Bride, each of the five chapters is told through the frame narrative of a grandfather telling fantastical stories of adventure to his granddaughter. In this case however, the grandfather is the aged protagonist from many of the original games, King Graham, and the stories he is telling are all of his own life.
In this way, each episode takes the player through a different chapter in Graham’s grand story, all the way from when he starts as a young squire to when he rules as the respected, timeworn King of Daventry. Accompanied by the pun-filled, humorous narration of old King Graham, voiced by the outstanding Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future), each chapter is its own distinct adventure, adding plenty of variety to the game as a whole.
The first chapter tells the story of how Graham became a knight, granting you the chance to explore Daventry itself. Competing with a number of other hopefuls you have to prove yourself worthy of the knighthood. The following chapter, however, is an early adventure once Graham is already king. When goblin’s attack the kingdom and kidnap Graham and a number of the kingdom’s citizens, you have to find a way out of their dungeons. The wide breaths of time between each enable King’s Quest to showcase changes in the characters and major relationships over the years, while putting the player in a wide range of situations, with a nice diversity of puzzles to tackle.
A defining aspect of the game as a whole, the mostly standalone adventures are also King’s Quest’s most notable flaw. Between the first and second chapter, there is the entire story of how Graham went from being a knight to being the king. Longtime fans will know that particular story is the basis of King’s Quest I, but it comes off as a sudden jump and omission for those playing the series for the first time. Multiple plot points throughout the season do revolve around events that took place in the previous games. While ultimately a small complaint, The Odd Gentlemen could have taken a few more considerations for those not familiar with Graham’s story coming in.
Likewise, the overarching story, both in terms of the frame narrative of old King Graham and the through-line conflict that plagues Graham’s entire life, doesn’t begin to really pick up until roughly halfway through the game. Once it does however, the wait turns out to be worth it. Pulling at an impressive number of threads, King’s Quest uses both timelines to deliver a story that deals with everything from family obligations and personal loss, to the role of memory and generational storytelling. Though admittedly emotional and somber at times, King’s Quest rarely lets these themes become too overbearing or take away from the fun of the game itself.
Chapter 2, Rubble Without a Cause, does stand out as a weak point in the line-up. With uncharacteristically dark punishments for failing at puzzles, instead of rewards for completing them, the chapter is the one instance in which the lighthearted core of King’s Quest slips. In comparison however, the rest of the game excels. Even as the larger narrative moves into weightier subject matter, the writing and design walk a fine line, ensuring that sense of hope and adventure is present around every corner, keeping the mood light.
Joining Christopher Lloyd, the always-unmistakable Wallace Shawn (The Princess Bride) also lends his voice throughout as the witty, mysterious Manny. Strong voice acting, coupled with smooth animations, brings the world to life. But specifically Christopher Lloyd and Wallace Shawn bring a sense of wonder and gravitas to the journey.
The crisp, painted art-style makes every environment, even dark caves, a joy to explore. Combine all of this with stories and puzzles that play with the very heart of fairytales, twisting their own new interpretations and delightful consequences, and you end up with a refreshing surprise of a game.
King’s Quest is beautiful, well done, and exudes all the charm of the original titles. Being episodic allowed developer The Odd Gentlemen to refine the difficulty of the puzzles throughout. While that means the difficulty fluctuates, all of the puzzles still feel satisfying. With a touching story layered on top of that, the game is a worthy follow up to one of the many classics modern gaming would otherwise have left behind.