Made by the legendary Roberta Williams, King's Quest 1 laid the foundations for what was to become the “graphical adventures” genre. Released as early as 1983, it overshadowed the text-only Infocom games in terms of technology. At the time, the graphics were astounding, resulting in a huge hit in the USA (although much less so in Europe).
Sadly enough, that’s where the positive comments have to end. Yes, KQ1 crossed many boundaries and introduced to us the foundations for a new genre, opening the door for games such as Maniac Mansion, Space Quest and other classics BUT … well, the game is crap. I’m sure the critics will chastise me for saying so, but Infocom pushed the genre forwards by making complex and involving text adventures with clever puzzles and imaginative worlds to explore when King’s Quest came along and took a BIG step backwards by undoing everything Infocom did.
For starters, the story is laughable and generic and the world is bland and ripped straight out of classic (yet also long-in-the-tooth) fairy tales and those aren’t even the worst parts about the game! No, the worst mistake is the way the game plays. You simply can’t make an adventure game that is all about exploring and investigating and yet punish the gamer every few minutes because he’s … exploring and investigating. There’s many dozens of ways to die and most of the time, it’s unpredictable and unavoidable and you’re left feeling cheated. Clever ideas don’t work and the text parser is incredibly primitive. Often, you’ll have the right idea but using the ‘wrong’ words will result in you mistakenly believing it’s not the right solution.
On top of that, the game seems to love hitting you over the head for unforeseeable circumstances. It’s very well possible to die because you didn’t pick up a certain object even if that object was in a very obscure corner of a screen. Or worse: you forgot to do something vital which results in the game becoming impossible to complete but for some reason, the game doesn’t tell you. You’re happily wandering around for hours trying to figure out what you did wrong. And don’t expect the game to give you any hints!
So in the end, as historical as this game may be, there’s no excuses for such poor design decisions. It’s not the limits of technology that makes you die so often or gets you stuck. It’s Roberta who seems to be a closet dominatrix, getting a kick out of seeing Sir Graham get killed in dozens of different ways. I can’t help but wonder why a game that seems to be aimed at kids contains so much deaths and is so unforgiving.
If you do plan to try this game, however, I can only encourage you to use a walkthrough. Without it, you’re bound to feel like strangling Roberta after just a few hours of playing. KQ1 commits about every sin a graphical adventure can make! To be fair, the other Quest series (Space Quest & Police Quest) did not do much better at first either and I have a feeling that this level of absurd difficulty was really a ploy by Sierra to sell their Hint Books (which they even advertise in their games!). Still, you’re warned. Play this to see a piece of history but don’t expect a top quality game!
Part of the King's Quest Series