King’s Quest - Chapter 4: Snow Place Like Home is the latest episode in the King’s Quest saga.
Although it bears the same name, this King’s Quest is not a remake of the original game. Rather, it is an all-new fantasy adventure that shares the classic characters and storyline, filling in the narrative between releases of the original series. Chapter 4 wraps around King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human, revealing the events before the start of the game, and its aftermath.
The chapter opens with young King Graham stepping into the adventure of parenthood. Parents may find the scene relatable as Graham’s wife nudges him awake, insisting it is “his turn” to tend to their crying infants. The king may have faced down trolls, witches, and terrible dragons, but those quests did not prepare him for the terror of dirty diapers. Graham must fumble through soothing his screaming children while dodging the toys that litter the room.
As a veteran of the infant wars, I have never seen a game that so accurately captured the essence of parenthood. However, despite its medieval setting, it presented some surprisingly modern issues. Graham moaned over cloth diapers, formula choices and the lack of a baby user manual. His hardships were only beginning, though, as the game soon flashed forward, deep into the age parents everywhere fear and dread: The angsty teenage years.
In previous chapters, the game maintained gameplay elements from the original series. There were quests, exploring, and the player choice dictated what happened next. In Chapter 4 this playstyle is abandoned. Instead, the characters are thrust into an entirely linear storyline that moves the player through a series of increasingly difficult puzzles.
Although I was disappointed with the lack of questing, I was impressed with the variety of puzzles explored in this chapter. The challenges vary from riddles to sliding tile arrangements, to multi-level logic tests. Players with strong spatial reasoning skills will have a distinct advantage in this area, as solutions are not confined to a single plane. Fortunately, timing is not a factor, so it’s possible to ponder without being rushed.
King’s Quest is a player-friendly game in terms of controls, movement, and death. The player has choices in keyboard setup or interface device. Contextual interactions mean all actions are activated through a mouse or spacebar click. Although the game does have several areas where timing and precision are necessary, recovery from death is instantaneous, and lives are unlimited.
Then and Now
The first video game I ever played was King’s Quest. It ignited a love of gaming that continues today. Many times I have seen a beloved franchise tanked by bad games attempting to capitalize on the nostalgia of older gamers. Much to my relief, the modern King’s Quest is not one of those games. Although there are callbacks and references to the original series, the game stands on its own, both in function and storyline. That said, players hoping for a game that captures the feel of 1980’s King’s Quest may still find themselves wanting. Sierra games were known for their puns, snarky humor, and quirky characters. The current version tries very hard to incorporate these elements, but it does so like a clumsy eager puppy. Puns are funniest when you don’t expect them. However, instead of using the occasional pun as a humorous seasoning, they are served up as if making Dad-jokes is the sole reason for any character speaking. This over-the-top energy threads through the entire game, from the flamboyant way Graham runs, to every overly-emotive side character. Unfortunately, in Chapter 4 this robs the emotion from a scene which otherwise could have been an evocative and powerful moment.
The setup of Chapter 4 brings us into a touching, all-too-real vignette of love and family life. When tragedy strikes, though, the relatability of the characters is lost when they throw themselves into the most cliched, overplayed trope of grief that has ever existed. When that arc is resolved, the narrative hand waves over the joy and emotion of resolution and thrusts us directly into a set of new, yet painfully trivial problems. In this chapter, Graham experiences character growth, but the path to that growth is as heavy-handed and moralistic as a Grimm Fairytale.
Minor complaints aside, the game does have its charm. It is delightfully light-hearted and entertaining. The vibrant, wonderfully detailed artwork creates a stunning environment worth investing time in just to explore. The music is well-composed and as you listen, you will discover the familiar voices of well-known actors and actresses in the cast of characters.
King’s Quest breathes fresh life into the fantasy adventure puzzle genre by reviving the story of a decades-old series. Although it doesn’t have the same feel as the traditional Sierra games, it stands on its own and does not violate the original. In terms of story-line, Chapter 4 starts strong but loses its emotional impact quickly. The level is puzzle-heavy and lacks some of the adventurings from previous chapters. The gameplay is solid, though, and remains fun and enjoyable throughout.