Down with the crown
The Odd Gentlemen’s King’s Quest reboot made quite an impression on us when it released this past summer. The debut chapter, A Knight to Remember, was an exceptionally well crafted introduction to the series’ protagonist Graham and the wild and imaginative world that serves as the backdrop to his over-the-top exploits as an adventurer. The episode managed to wow me with its clever puzzles and biting humor, all while delivering a striking new visual style and smart mechanics, including a multitude of high-energy platforming sequences that breathed fresh life into a genre that usually eschews interactivity for tightly scripted progression. Simply put, A Knight To Remember was essentially the perfect way to reinvigorate Sierra’s beloved point-and-click series for a modern era.
King’s Quest: Rubble Without a Cause marks a pretty major departure from the first episode in The Odd Gentlemen’s five-part series. While A Knight to Remember dealt with Graham’s adventures as he sought to gain the title of a Knight of Daventry and ultimately inherit the crown of King Edward, Rubble Without a Cause puts players in the shoes of a newly-minted King Graham, overcome with the burdens that come with his lofty title. As it turns out, running the day-to-day operations of a kingdom are a far cry from the footloose exploits of a young adventurer, leaving Graham at a crossroads as he ponders if he made the right choice in assuming the throne. However, before long, Graham and the entire village are whisked away by a goblin horde and tossed into confinement in a dank underground prison, allowing the new King to trade his crown for his trusty adventurer’s cap once again, this time in a much darker chapter in Graham’s story.
While King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember tossed players into a surprisingly large and open world to explore, Rubble Without a Cause instead pits players within the confines of the goblin’s subterranean lair. Due to his height, Graham is tasked with performing menial chores for his diminutive captors such as feeding a massive rat and wiping away cobwebs that line the caverns of the prison. As Graham explores the limited grounds of the prison he’ll gain access to the cells of his companions from the previous adventure, each of which offering their own solution to escaping their present predicament.
Clever puzzles may have been the crux of the previous chapter, but Rubble Without a Cause instead opts to quite literally focus on the brute force approach – at least for most of the chapter. That’s not to say the episode is entirely free of cerebral shenanigans, but the implementation of a new health and strength system serve to drive the action forward in this episode. See, every captive in the prison has their own health system represented by hearts. As each day in prison passes, a heart is depleted. If a character manages to starve, they’re removed from the prison, ensuring you’ll no longer be able to use their proposed plan to escape. During this chapter you have to make tough choices regarding which players to allocate your daily food ration to, which will restore several hearts, at the expense of you consuming the food yourself to gain strength, which will allow access to new parts of the prison and new solutions to puzzles. While this push-and-pull approach to progression adds significant weight to each decision you make, it doesn’t take long before repetition sets in, as there’s only so much you can do in a day before you hit the hay and rinse-and-repeat the previous day’s routine with little tangible difference to show for your actions.
Despite its repetition and the significantly stunted environments you’ll explore, Rubble Without a Cause does succeed in building upon Graham’s relationship with his subjects. The Odd Gentlemen’s writing is as sharp as ever, and the meaningful sense of growth you feel when tending to the needs of Graham’s friends is far more engrossing than you’d expect from the pun-filled mischief that made up the bulk of A Knight to Remember’s writing. That’s not to say this episode is entirely free of silly antics — the fairy tale-obsessed goblins are consistently hilarious with their raving gibberish and wild animations — but the more mature tone is certainly a major departure from what I originally expected after experiencing the previous episode, and it does a solid job of grounding Graham and his allies as meaningful characters you can’t help but grow attached to.
A Knight to Remember was certainly a gorgeous game to look at, and while Rubble Without a Cause features just as gorgeously drawn characters and visuals, the subdued subterranean setting that makes up the backdrop of this episode fails to dazzle in quite the same way as the previous chapter. This makes sense given the chapter’s intentionally squalid setting, but a few visual issues also reared their head in this chapter, breaking the game’s lush cartoony illusion. Late in the episode, a mob of goblins in a cutscene blindly walked into a wall until a pipe burst from the wall, only to jerkily vanish to the other side of the room where the continued to meander awkwardly until I regained control of my character. A tense platforming segment also suffered from random flashes of the previous screen after every move, making me fear my PlayStation 4 was about to burst into flames. However, after multiple attempts it became clear it was a problem with the game itself.
Few episodic adventures deliver quite the punch that King’s Quest: A Knight to Remember did when it came out swinging in July. Having said that, it’s not exactly surprising its followup trails a bit behind the successes of the series’ debut. Even still, despite a few mechanical and performance missteps, Rubble Without a Cause does an admirable job of shaking up the foundation of the previous entry to deliver something new and unexpected, all while expanding on the relationships that exist between Graham and his friends. Even though the chapter would have undoubtedly benefited from a few more more action sequences like the A Knight to Remember offered to spice things up, what we’re left with is a more somber and pensive entry in Graham’s saga that still manages to provide a healthy blend of challenging puzzles — some of which will even force you to bust out your pen and paper!– and touching narrative that has me eagerly anticipating the next entry in the series.
King’s Quest: Rubble Without a Cause proves the folks at The Odd Gentlemen aren’t scared to rattle the cage a bit when it comes to this long-awaited reboot of Sierra’s classic adventure series, and we’re excited to see where Graham’s journey takes us in the third chapter. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait another five months to find out!
Final Verdict: 3.5 / 5
Available on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4 (Reviewed); Publisher: Sierra Entertainment; Developer: The Odd Gentlemen; Release Date: December 16, 2015; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $9.99 per episode ($39.99 for the “Complete Collection”)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of King’s Quest: Rubble Without a Cause provided by Sierra Entertainment.