[Editor’s Note: This review covers Chapter I: A Knight to Remember.]
The road to The Odd Gentlemen’s King’s Quest rebirth has been a long, often-heartbreaking one for folks, like me, whose literal first gaming memories were trying to puzzle out the Sensing Gnomes on the Isle of Wonder or figuring out that you really shouldn’t use the golden needle to see Madam Mushka. The license has been handed off so many times that even fans who follow such minutiae can’t keep track of it all. Silicon Knights and Telltale were both tapped to produce follow-ups to the beloved series, and a five-episode fan sequel by Phoenix Online Studios is currently looking at almost four years since the 2011 release of episode four. In other words, things weren’t looking good, even scarcely more than a year and change ago. That state of affairs makes the way things are now even more delightful, then.
If you’re a fan of the old King’s Quest titles, let’s get this out of the way: in terms of presentation and clicky mechanics, this is not an old Sierra-style adventure game. You won’t be changing context icons or mixing items or running into fail-states that necessitate a load back to an old save (or, worse still, a restart of the entire game). The intro is a very linear, almost Telltale-like affair that gives a fairly inaccurate idea of what to expect from the rebooted series.
And yet, as you play through King Graham’s first adventure in Daventry, you’ll start to pick up on things. Subtle audio cues long-lost in the back of your brain will bubble up, you’ll accrue a fair number of inventory items, and you’ll meet a goofy cast of well-voiced characters. You’ll get eaten by wolves and possibly squished by a mattress (or worse). While early impressions of King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember might make you think this is going to be one of Telltale’s story-heavy visual novel-style adventures, before long you’ll fall back into long-lost rhythms of hunting around the countryside looking for items and talking to everyone you meet in the hopes that they might somehow help you connect the disparate pieces of the world into a solution to increasingly layered problems. Sometimes the solutions to these problems (or the problems themselves) are a little vague, which leads to fumbling around for things you aren’t even sure you’re searching for, but that’s in the spirit of adventure gaming, so it isn’t a huge issue.
A Telltale Games adventure this is not. Daventry is a surprisingly big place with numerous screens to explore and puzzles to solve. Much like later entries in the old series, there’s often a number of ways to resolve issues, and how you choose to do so can have amusing consequences later. The game encourages experimentation and exploration, with tons of dialogue for every possible interaction, and often more eight or nine unique lines for repeated instances of you trying to do something foolish. The game is playful like its predecessors, though perhaps leans a bit heavier on the silly, Princess Bride-like setups and physical comedy.
On the technical side, while there aren’t exactly ten million pixel-shaded, bump-mapped polyhedrogons on your SSAO HBO+GO screen, I still found the game to be a real pleasure to look at. With 3D watercolor-painted textures, the environments explode with colorful detail and beg you to poke around in them. Character models are also relatively humble, but convey tons of emotion and personality. The way King Graham’s hat pops off his head every time he takes a pratfall says more about who the young adventurer is than a hundred lines of dialogue, and every character is similarly full of colorful mannerisms. Audio is excellent, with particular emphasis on the vibrant performances turned in by the voice acting cast. Obviously a huge Chris Lloyd fan like myself was happy with his involvement, but other names like Wallace Shawn and Zelda Williams are equally charming. Most importantly, the young King Graham is the perfect combination of youthful naivete and gallant gumption, and it makes tromping around the world with him a treat. I also particularly enjoyed the music, not least of which because it features a few throwbacks to tunes from the old games.
My biggest issue with the game is one not unique to it. The complete lack of a saving system beyond autosaving is a big detriment to both the style of game and the kind of experience The Odd Gentlemen is trying to build. With multiple approaches to several puzzles, varying dialogue based on your choices, and a number of memorable moments, the lack of any way to create multiple saves is a big miss. I sincerely hope future episodes buck this particular Telltale-ism and allow for more robust, user-driven saving options.
By the end of the adventure— a lengthy 6-8 hour one, no less— you’ll realize that The Odd Gentlemen hasn’t simply slapped new shine onto dated mechanics, nor have they totally changed the essence of a series they clearly love as much as the rest of us. What they’ve done is far more impressive, distilling the experience of King’s Quest into its most essential elements and rebuilding a brand-new, often different, but ultimately true follow-up. It might look and control differently than you remember, but the moment-to-moment playing of A Knight to Remember demands the same curiosity, ingenuity, and humor that the best moments of the older games ever did, and I’m stoked that there’s more to come.