King's Quest: 'A Knight to Remember' review: my kingdom for a horse

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 360, PS3, Win, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Sierra
Developer The Odd Gentlemen
Release Date Jul 28, 2015

King's Quest brings back the adventure game series created by Roberta Williams in the 1980s. Published under the old Sierra name, this revival by developer The Odd Gentlemen takes the form of an episodic adventure game.

The new King's Quest begins before all the other games in the franchise, casting the player as frequent series protagonist Graham in his youth as he starts down the path to becoming a knight. The game is framed as a story that an elderly, bedridden King Graham is telling to his granddaughter Gwendolyn. The way you play King's Quest determines the tale Graham tells, which affects the advice he gives to Gwendolyn.

The Odd Gentlemen's King's Quest is split into five chapters. In the spirit of the various paths available to players, editor-at-large Justin McElroy and senior reporter Samit Sarkar engage in a back-and-forth discussion of the first chapter, "A Knight to Remember."

Samit Sarkar

"A Knight to Remember" tells a story that is often charming, amusing and heartfelt, but I think I would've enjoyed it a lot more if it were more fun to actually play.

Following a brief prologue in which Graham, as a knight, contends with a fire-breathing dragon while on a quest to retrieve a magic mirror — an homage to the original game — this first episode of King's Quest turns back the clock to Graham in his teenage years. It's his first day in the realm of Daventry, and it's his destiny to become a knight. But in order to get the gig, he'll have to best four other would-be knights in a challenging, perilous tournament.

King's Quest: A Knight to Remember screenshot 7 1920

Royal with cheese: A King's Quest primer

Today marks the release of King's Quest: A Knight to Remember, but considering it's been 17 years since the launch of the last game in this classic adventure series, there's a good chance that a few actual grown adults out there have no familiarity with the adventures of King Graham and his family.

Fear not! We've prepared a crash course in King's Quest that will get you prepared for The Odd Gentlemen's new take on the series and, with any luck, tempt you to revisit (or visit for the first time!) one of these classic games.

(Continue reading ...)

King's Quest brings back some of the best and worst elements of old-school graphic adventure games. It's an inventory-based experience in which you're running — scratch that, walking — around a world and talking to people, then hunting down the items they seek so they can present you with new items that will help you on your quest. You'll have to solve puzzles using a mix of your wits and the contents of your inventory.

That quest also entails a lot of walking around Daventry, and boy, does that get old quickly. King's Quest makes few concessions to modern game design, and that often grinds the game to a frustrating halt. Daventry isn't a huge open world, but it takes a while to traverse its expanse because of Graham's leisurely gait. Worse still, there's no fast travel, and no in-game map.

Walking around Daventry gets old quickly

I'm not sure if The Odd Gentlemen wanted people to take a literal page out of gaming history and sketch their own paper map, or if the studio expected players to memorize the world's layout. But the worst offender is loading. Load screens five to 20 seconds long sometimes pop up when you're moving between areas, and they're almost more annoying because you don't know when to expect them. These problems, along with rampant screen tearing (at least on Xbox One), combine to make it a chore to walk around.

Justin, did those issues affect your time with "A Knight to Remember" as much as they did for me?

Justin McElroy

Absolutely. We remarked after we finished the game that it was meatier than a typical Telltale episode (and this is King's Quest by way of Telltale, make no mistake), but I'd estimate at least an hour of my five- or six-hour playthrough could be trimmed if it were easier to get around the world.

This sluggish pacing hampers even the best parts of the game. Christopher Lloyd is predictably delightful as King Graham narrating his story (even providing the puns that are a hallmark of narration in the series), but there's no way to skip dialogue you've already heard, so I ended up grinding my teeth through a lot of observations I enjoyed the first couple of times.

Poor pacing also sapped a lot of the fun of puzzle solving. There aren't a lot of particularly strenuous mental challenges in "A Knight to Remember," but they start to feel downright grueling when you have to walk through 10 screens of well-explored terrain just to try something out.

We're spending quite a few inches on pacing issues, but that's only to reflect the extent to which the well has been poisoned by them. It's a shame, too, because there's a lot of good stuff in between the dry spells.

A cast of talented vocal performers (Wallace Shawn, Zelda Williams and The Spectacular Spider-Man's Josh Keaton as young Graham) and a solid script really help King's Quest hit the right balance of goofy humor and heartfelt sincerity. (That said, longtime fans may feel like it goes a bit heavy on the irreverence: There are a few more shades of The Princess Bride and Monty Python here.)

"A Knight to Remember" has wonderfully odd character design and a lovely storybook aesthetic, finally delivering on the visuals that King's Quest box art has been promising since the early '80s. Even the UI is a smart evolution from the noun-verb text input and icon-driven interfaces of previous games.

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Christopher Lloyd is predictably delightful as King Graham

Am I forgetting any high points?

Samit: The writing is rarely laugh-out-loud funny, but more so than the humor, I appreciated — as strange as this may sound — the world-building. While "A Knight to Remember" tells a pretty self-contained story, the Daventry that the episode introduces feels like a place with its own history and culture. The baker laments the kingdom's violent traditions, while the tournament officials proudly uphold them; the bridge trolls go on strike to protest a raw deal.

King's Quest: A Knight to Remember - Graham crop 480

Moreover, the developers let you do a little world-building of your own. "A Knight to Remember" implies that your actions can change the story, but I didn't realize until you and I talked that it's possible to finish the episode in very different ways — complete with alternate solutions for a few puzzles. It's really cool that there isn't one correct path through the story; some of the solutions you told me about never occurred to me. The puzzles in this chapter don't create many "eureka" moments, but I love that they allow for different approaches.

But my favorite moment in "A Knight to Remember" didn't involve much puzzle solving at all. Graham's first visit to the dragon's lair as a knight-in-training consists of a platforming segment in which the taciturn knight Achaka begrudgingly shepherds you through the cave. Graham and Achaka manage to overcome the language barrier between them to make it to the dragon together, in a sequence that's reminiscent of Nathan Drake's nearly wordless spelunking with Tenzin in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

Justin: Those parts aren't particularly challenging and feel a little odd in a game bearing the King's Quest name (Mask of Eternity notwithstanding). But I found the few action setpieces really cool and hope we get to see more of them in future adventures, provided they don't start to replace the puzzle solving at the game's core.

Wrap Up:

'A Knight to Remember' is hampered by some significant issues, but shows promise

Justin: I'd extend that same conditional optimism to the whole of King's Quest. The things that The Odd Gentlemen have gotten right are very, very right; they just happen to be severely bogged down by some technical and executional missteps. Here's hoping as the story continues that, like the future Sir Graham, King's Quest stays sincere and silly while growing just a bit more competent.

King's Quest: A Knight to Remember was reviewed using Xbox One download codes provided by Sierra. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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