“There’s a part of me that would love to see a modern AAA Point & Click Adventure game released in 2019 with the same fanfare that Sierra and Lucasfilm games were released back in the day, just like there’s a part of me that wants to go back and finish Zak McCracken & The Alien Mindbenders or Kings Quest 3, but in both cases I know it’s not going to happen, and I can understand why.”
That’s what I wrote at the start of this week in an article on genres of games that should make a comeback in 2019.
But then I thought “Why not go back and finish them? There’s no harm”.
And so with that, I loaded up my RetroPie box – and hey, I do that with no feelings of guilt; I’ve bought both games at least three times over the years so LucasArts and Sierra have got my money – and put on King’s Quest 3.
As a bit of backstory, this is a game that I have tried my best to get through fairly and without assistance on a number of occasions, but it just felt impossible. I could barely make any progress. So this time, I thought I’d just sit down with a walkthrough and grind my way to the end, just so I could finally put to bed a game I first played on the Atari ST a full three years before my girlfriend was born (I just put that in there because it’s a recurring in-joke that so many TV and game reference predates her existence. Don’t worry, there’s only 7 years difference.)
In a way I wish I hadn’t bothered, for reasons I’ll get to, but in another way I’m glad I did.
Stuart’s Late Review – King’s Quest 3: What Is It?
King’s Quest 3 is a Point & Click Adventure made by Sierra in 1986. It’s the third in a series – duh – of games in which you play as a young boy who would or could be king, and fight dragons or whatever the fuck, as Jim Cornette would say.
In this particular game you play as Gwydion, a servant boy kept as a slave to the evil magician, Manannan. Once you manage to get free of Manannan (which is no easy task) it turns out you’re the long lost heir to the throne of the region and must slay a dragon and free the Princess it was keeping captive.
Oh, and it’s not actually a Point & Click Adventure, as this game predates that. Instead, it’s a game where you move the character using the Up/Down/Left/Right buttons on the keyboard and type in exactly what you need to do. And yes…we’ll get to that.
Stuart’s Late Review – King’s Quest 3: How Does It Play?
I think the expression to sum up my feelings on it is “Fucking Jeeeeeeeeesus”.
Now sure, this game was made a long, long time ago, and its style is totally obsolete in 2019, but even then, it’s an absolute train wreck.
The restrictions put upon the player are nonsense from the get-go and are incredibly frustrating.
Unmentioned And Ridiculously Restrictive Time Windows
So the first Act of the game works like this…
In the first 5 minutes, Manannan sets you some arbitrary task like cleaning the kitchen. Then he announces he’s off on a trip, so that gives you time to plough through the game as much as possible. After 25 minutes he comes back and if you are not back in his house and haven’t hidden away all those magical items you’ve collected then he just kills you. Even with a walkthrough this wasn’t made clear and having constantly saved my progress, I knew that being so far away from the house at the game’s 30-minute mark, I had no choice but to start again.
This routine continues until you finally make a spell that turns him into a cat.
The thing is, I was doing this with a defined list of what I needed to collect from each screen. Without that guide, this game would be impossible.
There’s also a point later in the game where you have to wait for the pirate ship to reach its destination. There’s nothing really to do other than wait so I went away for 15 minutes to fill my dishwasher and clean my kitchen. I shouldn’t have to do that.
Now like I say, this is a game from a by-gone era with obsolete controls, but even at the time, they must have been considered as an overly frustrating joke. To even go up a wide flight of stairs in Manannan’s house you have to employ a bizarre method of pressing up/right/up/right/up/right because the stairs are diagonal and there’s no automatic way to move diagonally.
So if it’s difficult to walk up a wide staircase with bannisters, imagine how awkward it is to climb down a narrow path on a mountain, or up a thin set of stairs in a cave?
Yup, mostly King’s Quest 3 is about continually saving your game when you manage to move an inch on screen.
Random Ways To Halt Your Progress
If you make it down the mountain you’re then faced with random events like a band of thieves attacking you and stealing all your possessions, or later, a shark killing you in the water.
You Have To Collect Specific Items That Are So Poorly Pixelated That Without Knowing Their Pinpoint Location, You’re Screwed
At its heart, King’s Quest 3 is a game about collecting specific items. You need to create magic spells and so you must collect every single ingredient required or it’s game over. So to get the dog fur you’d need to
Spot the mistletoe
find the dog, pick it up and pull some of its fur out. That’s ok because that is part of what an adventure game is. However, some of the items are almost impossible to get unless you know in advance where to find them. Take mistletoe for example; that is represented as a green blob on a tree. Maybe gamers were more attuned to stuff like that back in the day, but I doubt it. Without knowing that’s the mistletoe, you wouldn’t be able to progress.
You Have To Type Exactly What The Game Wants You To Do Or You’re Screwed
Again, you could argue that I’m looking at this with my 2019 glasses on, because games like this worked by you typing the right thing in – within reason – to solve a puzzle.
But King’s Quest 3 takes that too far. When it comes to making a magic potion, you have to look in the accompanying copy protection book and type exactly the right words in the right order with the correct spelling or you will be killed. So for example, one potion is made by typing this…
LOOK PAGE XXV
PUT MANDRAKE ROOT POWDER IN BOWL
PUT CAT HAIR IN BOWL
PUT TWO SPOONS OF OIL IN BOWL
PUT DOUGH ON TABLE
PAT DOUGH INTO COOKIE
mandrake root and hair of cat
mix oil of fish and give a pat
a feline from the one who eats
this appetizing magic treat
If you make a single spelling error you die and have to start from the beginning.
I felt like I was defusing a bomb rather than playing a game.
And that’s the underlying point of it all…
King’s Quest 3 isn’t enjoyable. And it’s not enjoyable because the only way to make the game challenging is to make it frustrating. There aren’t really any puzzles and there’s no requirement for critical thinking, which I would have thought was the point of an adventure game. Instead, you’ve just got to collect stuff, and unless you get lucky, the only way to know how to get that stuff is to have a walkthrough. In the 1980s you could buy a walkthrough or phone a helpline; that was how Sierra made money. Nowadays we have in-app purchases but back then it was a case of “Here’s a door. You don’t have the key to get through that door, so you have to buy that key from us”.
If the game didn’t have those restrictions or the relentless mountain paths that you would fall off again and again, then the game would have nothing to it.
But that’s not how a game should be released. They should have done away with the grind elements and offered players the chance to use their brains to solve the puzzles the game should have had.
So Am I Glad To Have Finished It?
Here’s the greatest kick in the teeth of the lot; I didn’t finish it. It was impossible to finish it.
Looking at a walkthrough it would appear as though all I had to do left was to escort the newly freed princess back down the stairs in the cave, and when I did, I’d watch an epilogue and that would be that.
The fateful penultimate screen before the princess stood in front of me and prevented me from completing the game
But the walk downstairs includes multiple screens and when you move to the second of those screens, the Princess stands in your way and so you can’t actually walk down any further.
At that point I just said “Screw this” and went to bed.
So although I finished it, I didn’t finish it, which I’ve managed to come to terms with.
In a sense though, I’m happy to have laid this ghost to rest; completing King’s Quest 3 was always something that I had failed to do, and now I know that had I not used a walkthrough I never would have come close.
For all intents and purposes, it’s done now, and I can at least say I saw it through as much as possible.
The last thing I’ll say on the subject though is this…
In 2016, King’s Quest 3 was voted by Time magazine as the 50th Greatest Videogame of All Time.
Time Magazine can go fuck itself.