Friday, February 18, 2011

bargain.bin retro review: King's Quest (All formats)

When King's Quest was originally released for the unsuccessful IBM PC Jr. in 1984 it was groundbreaking. Its amazing graphics, interactive 3D environment and fairy-tale/fantasy plot had never been seen before. In fact, it was such a ground-breaking game, that despite being released for a doomed platform, it went on and became a smash hit, while being ported to everything that could load a game and defining a new genre; the modern graphical adventure game.

Designer and Sierra co-founder Roberta Williams had created in the original King's Quest a flawed but unique masterpiece, that managed to awe gamers throughout the 80s. Players, assuming the role of valiant Sir Graham, had to help the benevolent yet tragedy-stricken King of Daventry reclaim the three magical treasures that would help save the kingdom and suggest a proper heir. Hence the game's subtitle Quest for the Crown, which trivia lovers will be thrilled to know only attached itself to the game after 1987 and its Amiga release.

The game itself used the now classic, familiar and always limited Sierra parser, whereas King Graham could be moved around the screen with the help of the cursor keys. The puzzles were mostly tough, though admittedly solvable with the help of the more widely know fairy-tales, helping create a most whimsical atmosphere, despite the countless deathtraps awaiting for Graham. Then again, the animated 16-colour graphics, the dozens of screens, a passable -then impressive soundtrack- and the novelty of the whole thing made sure any limitations were overlooked.

King's Quest I spawned seven, mostly brilliant, sequels and went on to become one of the defining pillars of adventure gaming. As for its number of ports, well, that was also quite impressive, as KQI appeared -as far as I know- on the PC Jr, Tandy 1000, DOS PCs, Apple II, Amiga, Atari ST, Sega Master System, Mac and Apple IIgs. Then it got itself an official Sierra remake using the SCI engine and finally a brilliant, fan-made VGA re-imagining by AGD Interactive. Quite impressive, eh? Well, not so in CGA:

Where to get it:
King's Quest (all formats):,,, Steam
Remake: AGDI's amazing effort

More info on King's Quest:
More bargain.bin retro reviews:
Target Renegade (8-bits)
Berzerk (Atari 2600/VCS)
Sensible Soccer (Amiga)


  1. Its funny, I remember looking at every detail on the screen with these games. Everything on the screen had to be explored, clicked on, etc.

    Today's games with so much detail loses alot of that awe that we had back then. Sure they look great, but you don't see people going around looking at bushes and trees to see if something will happen.

  2. I love my King's Quest I for the IBM PCjr. It looks more like business software than a game ;)

  3. @ Blake: And everything could be anything. A lump of pixels could be a stone, a poodle or even a petrified fairy, and, you are right, things did feel quite text adventure-y and detailed.

    @ Chris: Absolutely. Think IBM never really could do entertainment properly. Think they even patented the serious-looking game box.

  4. Ha! I was just thinking how conservative that game box looks. About 50% gray with "Entertainment Family" in a banner strip across the top. Very proper. Looks like it could be a spreadsheet program - cutting and pasting against the evils of poor accounting practice.

    I had no idea they actually had a version on the Master System. I thought it was strictly a computer game.

  5. What's more rumours speak of an actually good SMS version of KQ. Can't imagine playing an adventure with a joypad me, but you never know.

    As for IBM's aesthetic choices, one never ceases to be amazed...

  6. I can confirm that the SMS version of King's Quest is fantastic... EXCEPT for one thing -- inputting text via the joypad is horrifying. (i.e. writing the gnome's name to get the gold key). Also - the SMS version has some truly fantastic (Disney-esque) artwork on the front of the box.

  7. Thanks a ton for both the confirmation and the extra info Chris. Crucial and to the point as ever. Guess I should have a look for it.