GAME REVIEW | Choose Your Own Princess in 'Once Upon a Climb'
Continuing its tenure as the most diverse episodic adventure game currently on the market, King's Quest has shaken up the formula yet again for episode three. Favoring relationships over exploration, Once Upon a Climb tasks a newly buff King Graham with finding a companion to help him rule over the kingdom of Daventry. Decisions from earlier episodes play a factor, new overarching story details are revealed and hearts are won, making this an excellent continuation of this standout reboot.
Exploration was a major factor in the first two episodes of King's Quest in this season. Whether you were wandering the country roads of Daventry or finding your way around the goblin prison, finding items to solve puzzles was the main progression point. In this third episode, Once Upon a Climb, the focus is shifted instead towards building a relationship with two lovely princesses and ultimately, depending upon your compatibility, falling for one of them.
The trick is actually fairly clever, King Graham's granddaughter Gwendolyn wants to hear the story of how he met his wife Queen Valanice. At the suggestion of his magic mirror, Graham ascends a tower to meet his true love. Upon reaching the top, he meets two princesses: Princess Vee and Princess Neese. The majority of the remainder of the episode is spent trying to figure out which of these ladies will end up being Graham's true love. As you may have guessed, this is completely up to you as either will reveal their full name to be Valanice if they end up being the one.
Both the shift to relationship-building and the fact you are trapped in a tower does strip away the exploration aspect of the series a good deal. You are usually one or two items away from triggering the next cutscene at any point. This made my play-through of this episode shorter than the others, but doesn't diminish the satisfaction of the episode at all. Instead, the episode feels like a long personality test in a way. If you, the player, favor one princess over another, it's easy enough to steer the game in that direction and I certainly did so. This is not to say that the decision was easy. In honesty I tried to at least be nice to both of them, but in the end there was one I preferred over the other.
Honestly touching moments are no easy feat to pull off in any video game. Thus far, King's Quest has done a superb job of nailing these moments and Once Upon a Climb is no exception. Tales of friendship and love are so easy to phone in, especially in an instance where more than one option is possible, but I have to admit that my heart-strings were tugged a number of times in this episode. This is a mark of the excellent storytelling that has been present through this entire reboot.
Puns are one of the hallmarks of the King's Quest series as a whole. I get that this legacy needs to be continued and I have a moderate tolerance for them, but they are beginning to get a little pun-ishing. Okay, I did that one to myself, but in all seriousness even I found myself starting to roll my eyes and groan a bit. That being said, the game still does a great job of being funny overall.
The actions sequences, though improved from the first episode, could still use a little work. There is a particular sequence that requires a bit of haste and I ended up getting a little hung up on it. Figuring out what to do wasn't the problem, but executing it on time was more demanding than it should have been given the controls. This resulted in me having to start over a number of times and repeat the majority of a lengthy, and not especially fun, sequence. The puzzles, on the other hand, felt very well-balanced if a bit simple. I was never stuck for too long, which was perfect for the narrative focus they were going for in this episode.
- Still absolutely gorgeous painted visuals
- Some very touching moments
- Still shaking things up and keeping it fresh
- Action sequences could still use some work
- Feels a bit shorter
- The puns are starting to get to me
There are so many stories out there right now with harrowing situations and bleak outcomes. It's nice to always be able to come back to King's Quest and be able to just smile. Gorgeous art, likable characters and diverse episodes make this one of, if not, the best adventure series currently running. Once Upon a Climb keeps up the standards set by the previous episodes and has me looking forward to what comes next for King Graham and now Queen Valanice. You can download King's Quest Episode 3: Once Upon a Climb today for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.
Review code provided by Bill Linn of Sandbox Strategies.