There’s no business like snow business
The penultimate chapter of Sierra and developer The Odd Gentlemen’s King’s Quest reboot starts out strong. Taking a hiatus from battling dragons and embarking on quests for shiny relics, the chapter begins with Graham and his new queen in the thick of their most perilous journey yet: caring for a pair of newborn twins. As a parent myself, I found the episode’s opening sequence to be brilliantly executed, as our sleepy Graham tends to a pair of pint-sized despots unwilling to let our hapless hero get a night’s rest. However, it isn’t before long that the honeymoon is over and trouble rears its head once again. The meddlesome Manny returns once again, stealing Graham’s son Alex away in the night. It’s a great way to set the stage, striking a masterful balance of playfulness and desperation that leaves a deep impression on anyone who’s found themselves a newly-minted parent. It’s so well done in fact that I have to admit it left my wife and I scrambling for the tissues during a particularly touching lullaby scene. Yeah, I’m a softy. I’ll own it.
The majority of King’s Quest – Chapter 4: Snow Place Like Home takes place 18 years after Alex was abducted. Alex has escaped Manny’s clutches and returned to Daventry. Hoping to make up for lost time, Graham insists the reunited royals take a vacation at the sunny resort of Avalon. However, when they arrive they find the city is a far cry from what’s depicted in the travel guide. Avalon is a frozen ruin occupied by sentient snowmen and a mysterious sphinx. Without going into spoiler territory, the gang eventually gets separated, and Graham and Alex must work together to uncover the secrets of a frozen labyrinth. It’s a decent setup, but a wealth of unambitious puzzles that the pair are forced to overcome holds it back from achieving the same success as the previous episode.
The heart of Snow Place Like Home’s story revolves around Graham and Alexander’s fledgling relationship. Graham wishes for Alexander to embrace his love for puzzles and and grand adventure, while Alexander, raised by the magic-wielding Manny, is an introvert who prefers to overcome his obstacles with his knack for arcane abilities, much to Graham’s chagrin. Watching their nascent relationship develop over the course of the chapter’s roughly two-hour span is without question the highlight of the episode, though it’s not quite as well executed as what we saw in the phenomenal Once Upon A Climb.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this chapter is the setting itself. Each room of the labyrinth presents its own puzzle for the father and son duo to solve. While that’s fine and well, they are all inevitably solved using the same mechanism: tracing a glowing line in the ground to unlock the door at the other end of the chamber. Suffice to say, it doesn’t take long before these rooms all blend together. And while they progressive get more complex in their execution, no amount of block pushing or environmental trickery is really enough to keep them engaging throughout the duration of the chapter. Honestly, The Odd Gentlemen could have cleaved off 4 or 5 rooms from the total package and the episode would be all the better for it.
There are a handful of puzzles that break the trend, including a devious multi-tiered conundrum involving suits of armor and shifting tiles, as well as an interesting real-life take on the archery-themed board game Manny and Graham played during A Knight to Remember’s tournament. While a nice change of pace and a great deal more ambitious than the rest of the puzzles you’ll come across, these breaks from the tedious execution of the rest of the chapter are sadly too few and far between to keep things interesting from a gameplay standpoint.
Middling puzzles aside, Snow Place Like Home does have its share of surprises that are sure to excite those who’ve stuck with the series up to this point. The Odd Gentlemen have proven time and time again that they’re no slouches when it comes to spinning a quality yarn, and this is no exception. The Sphinx, Graham and Alexander’s mysterious adversary for the duration of the episode, proves to be perhaps the most interesting of the bunch. Additionally, towards the chapter’s conclusion we’re introduced to one truly gut-punching scene that may have you reaching for the Kleenex.
While Snow Place Like Home admittedly feels like a step backwards for the series, it’s still well worth experiencing. It’s often plodding. And the episode may not deliver the most compelling puzzles we’ve seen so far, but when it comes to storytelling, The Odd Gentlemen have once again hit the mark. Graham and Alexander’s relationship and understanding of one another grow is truly heartwarming. And the finer details in the overarching narrative that are revealed over the course of the episode do a great job of setting the stage for what’s sure to be an heartwreching finale. It may not be a perfect precursor to the final chapter, but I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never been more excited to see where Graham’s story takes him next. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another six months to see the story reach its conclusion. I’m not sure my poor heart can hold out that long.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4 (Reviewed); Publisher: Sierra Entertainment; Developer: The Odd Gentlemen; Release Date: September 27, 2015; ESRB: E for Everyone; MSRP: $9.99 per episode ($39.99 for the “Complete Collection”)
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PS4 review copy of King’s Quest: Snow Place Like Home provided by Sierra Entertainment.