So, King’s Quest, then. Even back when I was an adventure game fan and took them wherever I could get them, I thought King’s Quest was by far the least interesting of the ‘classics’. I suspect it’s only a classic by virtue of being one of the first graphic adventures, they’re not well-written or designed and they’re so fucking twee you can feel your earwax turning to caramel as it dribbles from your ears.
But they were still adventure games, and there was a shortage of those in the late 90’s, so I played them all. Let’s take a moment to remember them in turn, and their individual moments of maximum bullshit.
King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown
The original, in which jaundiced sprite Sir Graham must travel around the country collecting three lost magic artefacts so he can inherit the kingdom from a dying childless king. A kingdom consisting mainly of vast swathes of empty plains painted neon green populated exclusively by things that want you dead. Thanks a fucking bunch, your majesty.
Point of Maximum Bullshit: We could mention that, unlike all other Sierra AGI games, King’s Quest I lacked an intermediate movement speed between ‘crawl’ and ‘mach 10’. But let’s go with the fact that you can die a hideous death in the jaws of vicious crocodiles by walking one step in the wrong direction on the very first screen of the cocking game.
King’s Quest 2: Romancing the Throne
This begins the ‘incredibly tortured pun’ phase of King’s Quest subtitles, from which it would never fully recover. Jaundiced sprite knight turned jaundiced sprite king Graham is feeling the pangs of loneliness in his inescapable kingdom with no immediately apparent residents besides himself, and quests to rescue a maiden he’s heard vague things about, on the assumption that she’ll fall for him if he shows up at her tower with nothing on but his feathery cap hanging off his knob.
Point of Maximum Bullshit: There is a deadly snake blocking the path. We have a sword. Kill the snake and go on our merry way, yeah? WRONG. You were supposed to put a bridle on the snake so it turns into a magic horse. Now you can’t do that ‘cos it’s dead and therefore you can’t win the game. Serves you right for employing normal people’s logic.
King’s Quest 3: To Heir is Human
Finally some improvement is shown by putting some effort into the art and focussing on a better character than Graham, the Sprite White Knight; we are now a mistreated wizard’s apprentice on a quest to escape our evil master. Doesn’t help that much, though. This game also supports my growing theory that Daventry has no population besides the royal family, since their princess gets kidnapped by a dragon and no-one seems to give a shit.
Point of Maximum Bullshit: There’s a bit where you have to type extremely specific phrases to create magic spells, and you die if you so much as mistype a single character. And it’s hard to concentrate when the PC speaker music is trying to murder your eardrums like a harpoon gun with an air horn tied to it.
King’s Quest 4: The Perils of Rosella
Ok, firstly, that’s not even a pun, that’s just vague assonance. Old King Graham is dying of being old, and rather than letting the poor bastard rest in peace and accepting that old people die at some point, his daughter Rosella decides to quest for a magic healing fruit so that daddy can buy her the pony he promised. We have the critical thinking skills of a fucking five year old.
Point of Maximum Bullshit: After being consumed by a whale in an ever so slightly erotic fashion, Rosella has to escape by climbing up the tongue. Some of the tongue you can get a grip on. The rest will make you fall on your arse. Is there any indication of where and where not to climb? IS THERE BOLLOCKS
King’s Quest 5: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder
Back on the tortured pun express and it’s not going to get much more tortured than that. Almost as tortured as our ears, since this is the first King’s Quest with voice acting, but not the first in which actual voice actors were employed, rather than people who happened to be hanging around the office. Graham’s unavoidable owl friend has a voice like he’s constantly getting his bottom pinched. It was refreshing however, in this world where everything wanted us dead, for the player to be the one badly wanting something to die.
Point of Maximum Bullshit: There’s an inn being run by villainous types (i.e. people with facial hair) and if you dare to go inside out of pure explorative curiosity then you get tied up and thrown in the basement. Where you will rot forever if you didn’t throw a shoe at a cat earlier during the single opportunity you had to do so. Hope you didn’t save after that!
King’s Quest 6: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow
Usually held up as the ‘best’ King’s Quest, and take that for what it’s worth considering the competition, this one actually has some half-decent writing and art design (Probably because it was being co-designed by Jane Jensen, who later helmed Gabriel Knight). Between it and KQ3 the pattern seems to be that the games improve when King Graham’s son Alexander is the lead, although his character can be interpreted in this game without too much creative thinking as an obsessed stalker whose principle task is to get around a restraining order.
Point of Maximum Bullshit: The funny thing about KQ6 is that you can still accidentally die very easily, but it’s also surprisingly easy to accidentally win, without having completed a number of side objectives to ensure the best possible ending, and then you have to watch the world’s most depressing royal wedding where no-one showed up but two guards and the castle’s resident twat.
King’s Quest 7: The Princeless Bride
Of all the games, this is the one I know the least about. It came out in the CD era when Sierra was putting much more elaborate Disney-style animation into their games (see also Torin’s Passage and Leisure Suit Larry 7), but that’s about all I know, for the reason stated below.
Point of Maximum Bullshit: Probably the point at the very start when the animated intro begins and Princess Rosella opens her mouth and starts singing. At which point I immediately shut the game down and went to bed. Staring with bloodshot eyes at my darkened ceiling long into the early hours of the morning.
Now, the very last game in the series was King’s Quest 8: Mask of Eternity, which didn’t have a pun and I haven’t played much of, since this was the point at which Sierra was very much aware of the writing on the wall and decided to turn its beloved series into a 3D action game. And while it’s fun to piddle all over King’s Quest 1-7 because they’re so twee and make such easy targets, from what I’ve seen of KQ8, taking the piss wouldn’t feel fun anymore. It’d be like having to look after an aged Tom Cruise after he finally gains self-awareness.