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SummaryThe original King of Computer Games.
The GoodWhen I read reviews that give King's Quest a bad impression, it makes me as a grown man want to cry like a little girl with a skinned knee. It also makes me mutter things like "Kids these days wouldn't know a good game if it jumped up and hit them in the face!", even though I'm not yet 30 myself.
I can only assume, for own peace of mind and faith in the human race, that anybody slamming King's Quest is doing so by today's gaming standards, and not the gaming standards of its time. Because in 1984, when Sierra first revolutionized the computer world by releasing this game, King's Quest was the crowned King of Computer Games, and remained so for many years.
From a technical perspective, Ken and Roberta Williams and the Sierra team broke so many new levels with this game, and then again with its next few sequels over the next decade, that it seemed to me as a kid that Sierra would rule the gaming world forever. In a time of text adventures and blocky monochrome arcades, they released a full color multi-dimensional game where you could actually physically MOVE the hero around a detailed fantasy world, in front of, behind, and around objects, and interface with items, terrain, and other characters in an involving storyline and several challenging quests.
Later, when other game companies picked up on the technology, Sierra released sequels that were not only more and more playable, detailed, story-rich and entertaining with each game, but made new technology headlines every time. As KQ1 was the first game to ever make use of a CGA color, PC speaker musical sound and comprehensive text parser interface, KQ4 was the first game to use detailed EGA graphics and support for the new (back then) Adlib/Soundblaster rich audio and music. And when that very quickly became commonplace, KQ5 was released with vivid 256 color VGA graphics and a previously unheard of point-and-click mouse interface instead of the old text parser.
But back to the original. A few of the MobyGames reviews for King's Quest 1 say that the game is noteworthy only for these technology breakthroughs and its historic significance in the gaming industry, but as a game in and of itself, it has almost no merit. This could not be further from the truth.
While the storyline, gameplay and quests of KQ1 may seem pale and pointless by today's standards, imagine yourself as a child in 1984. This game wasn't made for hardcore teen/adult gamers in the 21st century, it was made for kids in the early 80's. And in that light, it was magical. With dragons to slay, magical artifacts to collect, and all manner of mystical creatures from fairies to trolls to leprechauns and everything in between, King's Quest was like an interactive movie or book where YOU get to be the hero. As a kid in 1984, who grew up on films like NeverEnding Story, Legend, and The Dark Crystal, bringing the fantasy world of wizards and warriors, dragons and princesses, magic and intrigue, to the interactive medium of computer gaming - that in itself was more remarkable than the actual technological breakthroughs Sierra made with this game.
The BadAs several other reviewers have noted, there are aspect of the game that can seem bland and frustrating, not just by today's standards but even back in 1984. I feel it's important to note though, that these for the most part were simply the effects of technological barriers that even Sierra couldn't break through at the time, not design flaws in themselves. The text parser, for example, is frustratingly limited. Things need to be worded a certain way. You might see a brown CGA lump on the ground and want it, but typing "PICK UP ROCK" could very well yield you a "You can't do that - at least not now." error (prevalent throughout the first three KQ games!). But a little patience and a logical mind can always overcome this limitation. "LOOK AT THE GROUND". You'll see it's not a rock after all, it's actually a walnut. Don't try and be verbose - the parser isn't as intelligent as today's gaming AI technology. You can't tell the game "Offer to help the woodcutter with his poverty issues" without getting a "I don't understand 'offer'." error, but "HELP MAN" does the trick.
Also, one or two of the puzzles were a little too complex with too few clues for a child's mind. The only clue, for example, to the gnome's name, is a completely unrelated note found in the witch's house that says "Sometimes it is wise to think backwards". However, simply writing the most likely name for a straw-to-gold spinning gnome back to front is not the answer - at least not until the EGA remake of the game was released.
Overall though, these are tiny flaws in what was and remains to be one of the greatest computer games of our time. Even today, two decades after its original release, I once in a while dust it off and play it again - even though I know the game by heart better than I know my own mother's birthday!