Nostalgia and heart can't save this from tedium
I really want to like the new King's Quest. Someone - or a team of someones - put a lot of their soul into the early parts of this game, crafting a Daventry I wanted to explore with fun Shrek-esque takes on the familiar characters of the King's Quest games of old. Having stories set around the events of those games is an inspired design decision and one that occasionally nears greatness in the new series. But after its first episode, King's Quest slowly started to grind me down when it failed to capitalize on most of its strengths, leaving Daventry feeling soulless and bland while I sat through wave after wave of forced, boring logic puzzles.
What's remarkable is just how successful this game could have been, if designers had taken the time to recognize what works and what doesn't. The art style of the first and third episode in particular are delightful, casting Daventry in bright, cheerful hues as Graham flounders about. The voice work is utterly fantastic through and through, with Christopher Lloyd and Wallace Shawn taking their material and infusing it with cheer and menace, respectively. Josh Keaton's work as young Graham is also top-notch, giving him a sort of ditzy bravado that I wound up really liking.
The environments look great on first viewing, but episode's uniqueness starts to wear thin the dozenth time you've passed through its areas in search of some little item or the next puzzle. That lack of fast traveling is one of the game's greatest sins. There are only a couple of episodes where the game's scope really necessitated the use o a fast travel map or something, but its absence is the glaring first of the game's many problems.
Each episode is designed to feel slightly different than the rest. The first is very much a traditional style "explore Daventry, use object A on B to advance the story" sort of thing. Episode 2 does some fascinating things with a clearly limited development structure, confining Graham to a prison where he must decide which of his townspeople will receive necessities to survive while he tries to escape. It's a terrific concept for an episode hamstrung by a boring underground aesthetic.
The third episode finds Graham trying to woo his wife, one of two women trapped in a Baba Yaga-esque tower by an old witch. The story here is a delight, and from a gameplay perspective, this is probably the best of the bunch. It's breezy, it keeps the story pushing forward, and drops most of its logic puzzles in favor of "how would you choose to solve this?" questions, a fantastic alternative to the game's later episodes.
It's at that point the series could have gone anywhere, and so long as it focused on the great overarching story of a dying, elderly Graham relaying his story to his favored grandchild, I would have been all for it. But then everything grinds to a nasty, stalling pace as the game becomes very literally just a series of logic puzzles.
There's no exploration in the fourth episode. At all. You are introduced to puzzle room after puzzle room, with nothing fun to break up the monotony. There's a great deal of heart at the beginning of this episode as Graham tries to do his best to be a good dad, but everything after that brief moment starts to roll down a long hill of craptacularness. And once you've solved the litany of block puzzles - yes, really, it's an episode comprised almost entirely of block puzzles - you're dropped into the game's fifth episode for what should be a storyline focused farewell to some of the most beloved characters in adventure game history.
Everything is stacked in their favor to bid Graham a fond farewell, while setting up Daventry beautifully for a new age of stories and experiences. Except... they blow it.
There's a good backbone to the last episode, in that Graham is desperately trying to relay one last story to his granddaughter as he's clearly losing what's left of his mind, sinking more and more rapidly into whatever's ailing him. It's sad, it's beautiful in a way, and it's ruined entirely by the fact that you're now left wandering a completely empty Daventry from the first episode. Instead of pushing you towards the story elements at the clip the overarching plot demands, I'm left wandering around a huge number of screens, trying to remember just where the everloving hell anything was way back at the beginning of the series and hating every moment of the now dreary logic puzzles.
It's a terrible way to draw the game to a close, and while there's some redemption to be found in that delightful overarching plot, you'd be best served by looking it up on Youtube rather than force yourself to sit through the mind-numbing boredom of bad gameplay design on display here. The great cardinal sin of the adventure games of the last half of the nineties was that they forgot to be fun. Somewhere along the line, someone designing this game needed to get some more outside opinions on their plan, because they've unfortunately created something less like the King's Quests we adore and love and instead created something that actually makes me dread going forward.