King’s Quest is back in a charismatic new game that suits the 30-year-old series to a royal tee. The marvellous first chapter in an original tale, ‘A Knight to Remember,’ succeeds not because it exhumes a classic ever so delicately, but because it breathes the spirit and visual storytelling that carried King’s Quest into the history books. You need no familiarity with the kingdom of Daventry to enjoy this funny jaunt - just a craving for conundrums and a proven tolerance for puns.
King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember is framed as the vibrant recollection of King Graham, a greying ruler now nestling beneath blankets and a food-catching beard. His granddaughter, Gwendolyn, listens with adoration while Graham (voiced by a breathy Christopher Lloyd) recounts his steps: from awkward beginnings, through traps and dragon’s teeth, all the way to Daventry’s throne. This chapter in particular takes us back to Graham before he was a handsome knight, a skilled archer, or even a halfway-decent hero. The first thing he does is fall off a cliff, so you know he has a long way to go.
The lanky teen Graham is just so darn likeable, though, marching like a spindly marionette trying to shake off its red cape. Graham moves forward in the way that one usually does in adventure games - by exploring, meeting odd folks and sussing out the exact kind of puzzle logic that governs the world. While he discovers Daventry and attempts to unravel its recent problem with vanishing bridges, Graham also learns there’s more than one way to attain greatness, be it through empathy, deception, or (with alarming regularity) the use of actual bees.
Practically, this makes for an adventure game with multiple outcomes appended to its puzzles. Graham can, for instance, attempt to replace a broken carriage wheel by purloining a circular shield from a blacksmith, or lifting a round table from a knickknack shop, or helping himself to a rotund loaf of stale bread. It’s nice enough having different ‘flavors’ of solution, but this choice and others like it give puzzle solving a tinge of emotion - the 'aha' of what needs to be done is paired with a bit of a 'hmm' over how it’s to be done and what it says about Graham. Whether you leave some money behind, or just pilfer as you please, is important too.
The flashback framing in King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember works well, but what makes it truly elegant is in how the story’s tendrils reach into both Graham and Gwendolyn. When Graham butts heads with other would-be knights in a tournament, you get some subtle authorship over his personality and history in how you choose to outsmart them. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn draws inspiration from grandpa’s tales when dealing with her own problems. As Graham, I thought twice about cheating in a competition, knowing it might, in some small way, corrupt the adorable audience to his story.
The clever construction of King’s Quest dodges the overdone quandaries of good and evil. What you get, instead of WHO LIVES and WHO DIES, is a sense of texture and believable flourishes on characters as they grow. It’s especially apt for a game bursting with watercolors and whimsical flair, as if Daventry was planted deep in The Middle Ages Presented by Don Bluth. The deliberately staccato movements of the kingdom’s citizens, who make bold gestures and slip into dramatic poses as they speak, communicate a lot in a short time. Even the brief bits of push-button action are pulled off with so much giggling and panache that you’ll trail off before muttering “how DARE they put a QTE in my adventure game.” Oh, they dared.
Though it isn’t laugh-out-loud funny, King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember does create a wonderful air of humor with inescapable wordplay and curious character tics. Think: bridge trolls who explicitly warn you not to cross them, archers who make others quiver in excitement, or a battle of wits inspired by The Princess Bride. Actually, scratch that - the game sometimes just plain IS The Princess Bride. I submit a more genuine highlight in Graham’s pairing with a foreign knight called Achaka. The partnership they form while escaping a gauntlet of puzzles is beautifully drawn and developed, perfectly capturing adventure gaming’s own partnering of storytelling and problem solving.
King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember mostly does away with the sudden deaths of Sierra’s adventure games, though there are a few hidden ones well worth discovering (if it seems like you could do something stupid, please do). The game lasts longer than you expect at about 5 or 6 hours, and it unfurls quickly to reveal numerous areas, items and puzzles to be solved in parallel, just like the old days.
Of course, you can’t join the adventure family without also inheriting some of its problems. Getting stumped is inevitable, no matter how good a job King’s Quest does at telegraphing many of its solutions, and it’s here where you’re most likely to be frustrated. The loading times start piling up when you’re wandering back and forth, and the walking speed starts crying out for a run button. A Knight to Remember also forgets when to be really, really explicit - it’s hard to know when characters have moved to other locations and opened up new dialogue and possibilities. These instances are rare, though, and only frustrate because they peck away at the story’s momentum.
You could say it goes with the territory, but King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember doesn’t otherwise feel slavishly devoted to the adventure ideal or to recreating every little bit of King’s Quest. It curates, it considers and it loves the spirit of the old games more than it seeks to summon nostalgia. Graham’s new tale is light of heart and foot, clever and a sincere nod to anyone who likes a good story.
This game was reviewed on Xbox One.