Publisher: Sierra Games
Developer: The Odd Gentlemen
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Platform: PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Disclaimer: This game was reviewed from a code provided by the developer via Steam
My first dive into episodic games provided to be not so fruitful. My introduction, through Hitman, left a sour taste in my mouth of what episodic games were, painting them in light of funding a work in progress instead of a different form of entertainment. I diligently held that thought until I dived into King’s Quest, the rehash of the classic PC adventure from Sierra games. The instant I jumped into the game, I knew that the episodic style had been nailed here, delivering a title that is not only solid in it’s own right, but capitalizes on the benefits of episodic titles and delivers where a lot of other games lack. This third episode of King’s Quest delivers fresh and funny storytelling, littered with meta humor, all wrapped up into a lighthearted, casual title.
The third episode of King’s Quest puts you back in the shows of King Graham as he struggles to remember how he met his queen. You are tasked with scaling a large tower under the assumption that there will be a princess for you to rescue at the top. That is until you reach the top and realize there is actually two princesses locked in the tower, providing quite a difficult decision. I absolutely love this take on the classic ‘knight in shining armor’ trope. The game paints fairy tales in their redundant nature initially, then flips the idea of kings and princesses on it’s head, providing a funny and engaging story.
In an episodic title like King’s Quest, the narrative is arguably the most important element of the game, and thankfully I was grinning from ear to ear throughout the entire experience. The writing is absolutely brilliant, and the idea of boredom never even crossed my mind. In a genre dominated by story, Once Upon a Climb delivers where other games fail, and stretches the fews hours you’ll spend in this episode into a full fledged experience that could arguably stand on it’s own.
Clearly there has been a jump in graphics since the original 1980 release, but I didn’t know how much I would really love the direction the game was taken. The cell shaded style breathes life into the fantasy world, with blistering colors, massive landscapes, and plenty of room for imagination to take over. While the story may satirize the fairy tale trope, the graphics certainly don’t and the art department took special care to ensure that fantasy was visually represented on screen.
The same could be said for the narrator of the story (which is old Graham). Whoever voiced him has a way of speaking that leaves the imagination to wonder what exactly is behind the voice. Not to mention the constant meta humor spewed by him. In the opening scene, as you pass through different stages of life, the narrator actually plays a game with the story, repeating parts as you backtrack with new items acquired. This little touch is reminiscent of The Stanley Parable and very well suiting for King’s Quest.
I didn’t expect much gameplay with the trend of most episodic titles, but the mechanics that were there were very well put. A dash of puzzles and a touch of platforming combine into some solid gameplay that is a joy to play through when it comes up.
And that’s the kicker; when it comes up. While I understand King’s Quest is a story driven title, I just felt slight sense of enjoyment in straight gameplay when playing through this episode. There are a couple of sections where you are sent on ‘quests’ specifically to drive the story forward. While these sections don’t make the game bad, they certainly are a missed opportunity, and hopefully they can be taken advantage of in future episodes.
Despite this, King’s Quest: Once Upon a Climb is a joy to play, and the subtle down moments are immensely made up for throughout the rest of the episode. The narrative was strong, well-written, and funny throughout and delivered in a way that not only pays homage to the original titles, but builds on them in a huge way. The narrative is accompanied by equally mystifying visuals and audio with core gameplay that is well refined and implemented beautifully.
I loved how well implemented the gameplay was that I just wish more opportunities were taken advantage of. The slow moments hurt the game in a minor way, but a small tweak could bring the rest of the episodes to life. Maybe the developers are being a little light handed in the gameplay department and I would encourage them to push harder on upcoming episodes.
— THE BOTTOM LINE —
King’s Quest: Once Upon a Climb was an incredible experience, and brought a cynic like me back into episodic titles. The slight lack in gameplay can be a bit disappointing, but what is there is pure fun, riddled with smart and funny dialogue and narration. For $9.99, it would be a crime not to pick up Once Upon a Climb, even at full price.