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Some time around the mid-1990s, the adventure video game genre, beloved as it was, all but died. Not through any fault of its own, mind you, but with the emergence of other game genres (namely 3D video games, first person shooters, etc), players’ attention and entertainment budgets were pulled in new directions. Within a few years, this killed some amazing adventure game staples, like King’s Quest, Space Quest, Gold Rush, and assorted LucasArts games, from Day of the Tentacle to Monkey Island.
A beloved genre fell off a cliff and has had to work hard to come back in recent years, in the form of episodic game releases such as The Walking Dead, Tales of Monkey Island and A Wolf Among Us. Even so, the children of the ‘80s and ‘90s felt the pain within their hearts as the genre they loved was hobbled for years.
The good news is this: after a hiatus of almost two decades, one of the original classic adventure games, King’s Quest, is back. It’s as good as you remember, and it adds to the larger King’s Quest canon rather than simply retreading the old games. And it could help bring the adventure video games genre back to its former glory, thanks to the efforts of publisher Sierra Entertainment and development work by the cool cats at The Odd Gentlemen.
The game begins with an aging King Graham of Daventry, voiced by Christopher Lloyd, recounting the story of his life and his early adventures to his granddaughter, Gwendolyn. In flashback style, the stories highlight how Graham became a knight and later king of Daventry. Players relive classic moments from the franchise’s history: climbing down a well, sneaking through tunnels, and stealing a magic mirror from an irate, one-eyed dragon, happy to eat or flambé you without a moment’s hesitation.
The presentation of something old and familiar and something fresh and new hooks you in and doesn’t let up. The new King’s Quest is presented in a beautiful, continuous, flowing cartoon style, which also allows for easy movement around the map and draws attention to objects that can be picked up, manipulated or added to your inventory. Excellent movement controls allow for easy maneuvering—important for dodging traps—and the interface is a cinch to learn on either your Windows PC or your console.
There’s a sense of craftsmanship in A Knight to Remember that captures the best parts of the old King’s Quest games and the adventure game genre as a whole. Terrific puzzles push you to explore the map, experiment with new ideas and noodle the problem out with whatever weird ideas you can muster. Like the adventure games you loved, there’s still the same sense of victory that comes from finding that one item you’ve been hunting for that can solve three or four other puzzles you’ve been wrestling with, everything falling together like tumblers in a lock you’ve been trying to open for the past hour.
This is only boosted by a sharp script, terrific voice acting featuring the talents of Christopher Lloyd as King Graham, Maggie Elizabeth Jones as his granddaughter Gwendolyn, Wallace Shawn as the knight Manny and Zelda Williams as Amaya the Blacksmith. The performances capture the series’ wry sense of humor, Christopher Lloyd enjoying spouting off terrible puns to his granddaughter, Wallace Shawn hurling both compliments and insults your way and Zelda Williams happily offering oversized, lethal chunks of bladed technology as a means of solving everyday problems.
The game’s writing style embraces a certain self awareness and good-spirited self deprecation. If you make a foolish mistake that results in your demise, the game reminds you that it’s a story being told by King Graham. “That’s one way it might have happened,” King Graham will quip, or Gwendolyn will ask if the family is immortal, allowing the player to laugh it off before attempting to solve the puzzle again. Additional comic touches, like Graham diving under the bedcovers to avoid being detected by a dragon, supposedly brave knights being terrified of bees, the local collective of bridge trolls going on strike because the shoes of the knights walking across their backs are too pointy and a hulking knight—one of your opponents in the competition—being enamored by knitted goods all make for a gameplay experience that’s accessible to veterans of the King’s Quest series as well as anyone who may be playing for the first time.
A Knight to Remember knows its genre inside and out, and it embraces what made the King’s Quest series terrific while updating the formula for newer players. Longer sequences requiring you to tediously backtrack through multiple screens of a maze are easily skipped over after initial completion, for example. The game also offers multiple solutions to some of its puzzles, thereby opening up new areas for exploration upon replay.
A revamped and successful King’s Quest series won’t necessarily bring back the adventure game genre single handedly and ply us with the greatest adventure titles the world has ever known—at least not overnight. Still, it’s a strong argument that the genre can live again, even in this age of modern blockbuster games.
And that’s a critical step in the right direction. King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember, the first of five new chapters in the classic series, is available now on Windows, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Chris Barylick is a gaming journalist living in Berkeley, California. He has written for GamePro, PC Gamer and the Washington Post and was once tackled by a heckler who looked exactly like George Lucas.
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