King's Quest returns with another entry in its episodic reimagining. In the last chapter, we aided King Graham in his endeavors to find love. In Episode 4: Snow Place Like Home, some years have passed and Graham and his wife have had children, the twins Rosella and Alexander. However, all is not well because the recurring villain Manny has returned to seek revenge by kidnapping Alexander! This, however, is not the plot of this chapter. If you want to know how Alexander finds his way home, you'll have to play King's Quest III: To Heir is Human. One of the aspects I adore about this new King's Quest series is how rich it is with references to the old games. Every chapter shows more and more how much passion the developers have for this franchise.
Snow Place Like Home tells the story of how Alexander was kidnapped, who Manny really is, and the more than awkward return of a son who was kept as a slave his whole life. The story begins with a very dark tone compared to the rest of the chapters so far, and it's a very welcome tone. The chapter retains it's humorous aspects but the change of pacing was quite refreshing. In the modern day setting, where Graham is old and we follow the story of Alexander's daughter, Graham is struggling to accept that someone needs to take over his role as king. These modern day segments show a lot more character than they ever have before. We even get to meet Rosella and Alexander as adults, and we get to see the tension increase between their children (Graham's grandchildren) over who will take the throne.
The actual story follows Graham and his family as they take a vacation to learn about their reunited son. They become trapped in an icy fortress where they are forced to solve puzzle after puzzle to find each other. Graham is partnered up with his son, and he begins to realize that Alexander isn't the puzzle loving archer that he himself is. Instead, Alexander is a magic user who prefers the fast route instead of the satisfying one.
While this chapter is quite rich in character development, story and references to the original King's Quest series, the gameplay is worse than it's ever been. King's Quest at its heart is an adventure series, the kind where you find items to use in places, which yields new items to use in new places. That's how the old King's Quest did it and that's how the new King's Quest started. In all the entries prior to Snow Place Like Home, there was a mixture adventure style exploration, puzzle solving and quick time events, but there was a good balance between all the gameplay elements.
In this entry however, there is nothing but puzzle solving. It's not even a variety of puzzles, most of them involve a single game mechanic that boils down to a slide puzzle challenge. Every other type of puzzle is a rehashed or reworked mini game from previous chapters, like climbing stone walls or bouncing arrows off of shields to hit an opponent. It's not that these puzzles are easy, in fact, many of them are quite challenging, but they aren't interesting. The best kind of puzzles in any game, old or new are the kinds that make you think outside the box. It's not a matter of "These are my pieces, how do I solve this?" it's "What do I have, and how can I use them?". That's what made Sierra games great in the first place.
Another bizarre exclusion is the lack of choices throughout Snow Place Like Home. In every other chapter before this, there was a heavy focus on choices, choices that would impact how the characters in the game treat you and how your story is told. These often revolved around being courageous, compassionate or intelligent and all of that is completely thrown out the window in this chapter. There is one "choice" in the beginning of the game, where you have to decide who you want your son to meet in town, and it has absolutely no consequence or impact on anything.
Snow Place Like Home was more frustrating than anything else. This chapter lacked the creativity that makes King's Quest unique, it's what made all of Sierra's adventure games as memorable as they are, and it's something that this series had but sorely lacks in this chapter. If the developers want to focus more on the storytelling more than anything else, that's their decision. For what it's worth, the storytelling has exceptionally good and I'm eager to see how the rest of the game pans out in the last chapter, but I can't go into it with the same enthusiasm I had when I started this series.
King's Quest continues to show it's love for the original games, but it fails in the gameplay department. It lacks any real adventure style gameplay and is padded out with two dimensional puzzles and rehashed gameplay.
- Rich Story
- Solid Character Development
- Boring Puzzles
- Lacking Gameplay
- General Padding