King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown Review

Developer: Sierra Online Inc. Publisher: Parker Brothers
Release Date: 1989 Also On: Various Systems

One genre you don’t see very often anymore and that has fallen out of style is the text or point-and-click adventure. Back in the day, especially the first decade or so when PCs got popular, they were a force to be reckoned with because it was quite cost-effective to produce a game that relied more on words than graphics. There were a number, such as the ever popular Cripple Smash or games like Legend of the Red Dragon. Out of them, one series has always stood out as a staple and legend, and that’s King’s Quest, which was essentially the first to really use a graphical environment. A number were made for a variety of platforms, and though no longer remembered by most video game fans, it was this series that put a definitive and influencial mark on the history of computers and consoles. I never really had much of a chance to play through the games, so it was interesting to see the original ported to the Master System. The result is very true to the style and feel of the first game, but I expected a bit more out of an 8-Bit system and found this port very disappointing overall.

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Graphically, I sadly have to say they didn’t improve on much from the original. Your character, Sir Graham, has been improved on in terms of detail, but I must say the original looks better because though more primitive, the programmers used the capabilities they had back then to their absolute limits. For the SMS it seems they simply updated most of the graphics with more detail, but the color scheme is generally the same and in most cases less vivid. Considering how good the recently updated version of this title looked, I know they could have done something extra to make this look good on the Master System, because it seems to me they hardly used the console’s power at all. Some of the characters are in fact downright pitiful. Most have this cartoony apperance to them that fits the environment, but overall they just didn’t do enough to port this, it seems totally lazy to me. There isn’t even a title screen, just the picture of the castle and lame text showing the copyright information, just like they did for the Apple IIe. Too bad I’m not playing that and the feeling of looking at an old PC looks ridiculous since this is a console that was supposed to be reproducing arcade fun at home and by this time had several titles with incredible graphics. Classic case of a rushed release here, my friends.

Another disappointing aspect of King’s Quest is the sound, which is absolutely hideous. The game opens at the ‘title screen’ with a weak, basic version of Greensleeves and that’s it. Sure, that’s what they did in the original, but come on, update the damn thing for the love of god, you’ve got more to work with here. In addition, there is pretty much no music whatsoever in the game. That’s fine, it gives it some atmosphere, but for the love of god add some incidental sound like birds or water to make this feel like a real environment. All you get are some bleeps and blops and occasional, pathetically short ditties to announce something good happening or something bad consisting of no more than three notes, and that’s being generous. Terrible, just terrible. There are almost no sound effects and this game is one of the best examples of how much sound adds to the gameplay because without it, especially with this type of game, it makes the experience dreadful. When you die you get the classic ‘death song’. I forget the original title, but everyone knows it, du dun dun dun, da du dun dun dun dun du. Here, it’s wonderfully rendered with only one or two notes. Great job guys, I love it, can’t get better than this.

King’s Quest does keep the classic format from the original without changing much of anything as far as I remember. This is a plus for fans of the game, because you get a chance to run through it on a different system, or it simply gives someone unfamiliar with the series who has a Master System the chance to see what the first adventure was like with little difference. However, I believe this game marred by the generally poor conversion, especially the complete lack of sound. Of course, these are different categories, but they effected how I felt about playing the game as a whole. As for the actual gameplay, King’s Quest is one of the first and most famous adventure games of all time. Basically, you have a quest to complete for the King of the kingdom of Daventry collecting three magical treasures so you can save everyone. To do this, you have to navigate through a completely non-linear world looking for items and different characters. If you’re familiar with something like Maniac Mansion, it’s essentially the same idea, find items to access areas or characters and keep going to the end. These types of games can be very entertaining, but this conversion isn’t without problems.

First off, the controls are responsive, but the detection is not. Everything moves as it should, but the design and layout of some of the areas equals instant death in most cases. I’ll bet my life you’ll die at least once or twice just trying to cross the bridge at the start of the game because it’s been programmed so poorly. When you get to the stairway you have to climb later in the game it’s even more tedious since the movements required to go up them are completely unintuitive. This is compounded by the fact that, though there is a password feature, it’s way too long. A save feature would have been better, because due to this game’s terrible collision detection and programming, such as the classic “fall two feet out of a tree and die” phenomenon, you end up wanting to save after every item you discover because there’s a good chance you’ll die and then have to start all over or wherever you last wrote down a code. Some areas, this river comes to mind, are poorly situated, but let me explain. So you’re moving south and instead of programming the game to tell you that you can’t go further near the one side of the screen because a dangerous river is coming up, you simply go to the next screen and end up in the water dead and numerous instances of this happen throughout the game. You can memorize where these areas are, but when it first happens you’ll be quite angered since there’s simply nothing you can do to avoid it the first time unless you read a walkthrough and know what to expect. It’s generally a basic game overall and it has its moments, but for the most part you’ll find it taxing due to the random and unavoidable deaths you’ll face. King’s Quest has some charm and entertainment for anyone who likes these kinds of games because you can essentially go wherever you want to locate items and figure out puzzles, but again I would have expected them to redo this game entirely for the Master System. The only good feature it really has is the interface you use to perform various actions, though sometimes you’ll spend too much time figuring out where you need to stand so any of them work, even though it would have made more sense to program it so as long as you’re close something works. This can be explained by one thing, the programmers didn’t want to do much to get this released.

For its time King’s Quest was a very creative and innovative title. However, this is a simple conversion so I need to score low in this category for one important reason. Simply put, the programmers didn’t do much of anything to port this to the Master System. Surely they could have made some new songs, better graphics, added some new monsters or different areas or something, because really if you’ve played the original you’ll have no need to play this because it’s the same thing and it doesn’t play as well. Thus the creativity factor is low in this title because they just took what was there, dumped it and said screw it. Shame.

As for replay value, I’m not sure if I’d come to this game again. The ending is fairly lame and the process to get to it can sometimes be too agonizing to even consider coming back to it. Another factor here is that after you figure the game out, you’ll see how ridiculously short it is. It seriously will only take about ten minutes, if that, to complete. When you first go through it it may take longer, perhaps a couple hours, so the integration of the password feature is a good idea, but after you figure out where everything is it’s too simple and presents no further challenge. It may be tough the first way through, and considering the programming they were working with for the original it worked well, but as I already said in the creativity section, they needed to do something different with this to make it worth the while of an SMS fan. Had I owned one back in the day, I certainly wouldn’t have purchased this if I knew it was the same game as the original.

In conclusion, King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown is a disappointing conversion. Parker Brothers never seemed to get the idea of consoles down in the 8-Bit era and as far as I remember most games they released sucked, but this one is especially disappointing because the original version was so groundbreaking and entertaining. Just taking it without doing anything is totally half-assed. In addition, by this time in video game history they were already up to Part IV, which would have been a much better conversion if they wanted to straight up port it without any changes. It’s a mystery to me why they didn’t, because surely Roberta Williams would have wanted to make as many version of her game as possible, and since it only came out a year prior it would have made the most sense. However, perhaps it was too new at that time, but they should have at least picked the second one if anything if they weren’t going to change anything. The first game is just too primitive for the likes of the Master System in the form they released it and anyone interested in the series is better off playing the original because there’s just nothing to offer here that’s really worth anyone’s time.

Graphics: 4.5
Sound: 1.5
Gameplay: 5
Creativity: 1
Replay Value/Game Length: 2
Final: 2.8
Written by Stan Review Guide

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