We gave free, fan-made King's Quest "tribute" a try - should you?

In case you missed it earlier this month, you can go out and download The Silver Lining right now, absolutely free from the developer’s website. That fact alone is something to celebrate, considering the well-documented legal battles and disputes that nearly prevented TSL, an entirely fan-made game designed as an “unofficial sequel” to the King’s Quest series, from ever seeing the light of day. Clearly a lot of fan-love has been poured into every aspect of the game, and the game’s production values certainly approach the quality you’d expect from a professionally made King’s Quest sequel. Cool beans - but if you’re not a rabid KQ fan, does The Silver Lining have anything to offer you?

All point-and-click adventures control pretty much the same, typically to put more emphasis on storytelling, which is where the genre has always shined. And The Silver Lining - Episode 1’s story is adequate. It’s clearly trying to appeal to the fans familiar with the series’ history but it doesn’t completely alienate those who’ve never played a King’s Quest game before. This is largely due to the game’s effective opener - a mysterious cloaked figure crashes a royal wedding, inflicting a magic-induced coma on both Princess Rosella and Prince Alexander. As Graham, the former king and father of the bride, you must save your children and (inevitably) the kingdom as well. With this setup you get: clear conflict, easily identifiable villain, no confusion with regards to motivation - but on the other hand, you don’t feel a real deep connection to these characters unless you already know and love them from past King’s Quest games.

The game’s presentation (both in the music and the voice acting) is completely melodramatic, and yet somehow still kind of joyless. Even the narrator, who traditionally provides all the deadpan fourth-wall-breaking humor that makes clicking on random stuff in adventure games so much fun, is voiced less like a straight (wo)man to your zany antics and more like a nanny scolding you for wasting her time. You can always turn off the narrator’s voice and pretend that it’s John Cleese reading all the text, but regardless, we hope that later, post-tragedy episodes will have a quicker pace and more levity in the writing. TSL is made by adoring King’s Quest fans - why do we feel like they’re not having as much fun with the property as they could be?

At only about a solid hour of play time, Episode 1 isn’t really so much a standalone “episode” as much as it is a glorified demo. Right in the middle of a quest, just when things are getting interesting, the episode abruptly ends. Before that, you’ll explore a handful of locations, get a few items and use them to solve one, maybe two puzzles. Even with so little to actually do, we still managed to get stuck and needed to look on a forum for help; this is a tribute to King’s Quest, after all, so expect to have to click every last object to find the one little doodad that solves all everyone’s problems. Most of the experience in TSL involves exploring the locations and watching the cutscenes, all professionally and artfully crafted. Honestly though, there’s not really much of a game there just yet.

But hey, it’s pretty, it’s free, and it has a ton of promise. Why look a gift horse in the mouth? Give it a try, if only to be wowed by just how dedicated and talented these fans/developers are. And if you’re a fan of the series already - well, you don’t need us to tell you to check it out.

Jul 16, 2010