King’s Quest V – Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder
Despite their flaws, I have enjoyed playing all the games in the King’s Quest series up until now (I ,II, III & IV). Unfortunately, I can’t say that I liked King’s Quest V.
This is a game that I have apparently owned for Macintosh for years, but never knew it. When I tried to install it on my ancient Mac Power PC it would not run and then promptly sold the game off on eBay (I think I got thirty bucks for it). I still wanted to the play the game, especially after finally completing King’s Quest IV. So, when it went on sale at GOG.com I promptly purchased it as part of a KQ 4-7 bundle for $3.99 (I’m still up $26.01!). As an aside, I love GOG.com, but this shopping experience was pretty bad. Firstly, their shopping cart froze when I entered my credit card info and tried to click the checkout button. I was forced to use PayPal for this purchase. Secondly, the game ran like crap within their DosBox shell. I tried tweaking everything but nothing helped the choppy sound and video. Fortunately, it also runs on ScummVM without any problems.
This is an SCI based Sierra adventure game which means improved graphical resolution and sound. The copy I bought was the CD-ROM version featuring recorded voice acting rather than text dialogs. I can’t say that it was an improvement. The voice acting is terrible. The voice of the narrator is okay, I guess, but the sound quality is on par with the garbled “Valkyre is about to die!” voice from the Guantlet arcade machine. The rest of the cast is just awkward and amateurish.
The one area where this game does shine is in its art and graphics. The images are all hand-drawn and have that lovely, blocky DOS-era look. There are no crappy 3D models or full-motion videos, just lush pixely environments and animations.
Unfortunately, the actual game play is frustrating and bad. The puzzles make no sense at all. Why is a cauldron powered by moldy cheese? Why does a tamborine make a snake slither away? I know, I know: spoiler alert! But believe me, by the time you decide eventually to play this, you will have filed these spoilers deep in your subconscious. When, forgetting you ever read this, you magically solve these puzzles, that will make two out of 260 points you didn’t need a walkthrough to achieve. Thank me later.
Also, I know dying is part of the fun of Sierra games, but the ways in which this game will kill your character are just plain unfair. There’s a desert maze which can only be passed by trial and error and dozens of deaths. There’s a boat that will sink if you don’t fix it, but nowhere in the description of the boat is there even a slight hint that it may not be seaworthy. Click the wrong spot on the screen and your character will walk off of a cliff and give you a “watch out” warning as you fall. Worst of all, it is possible to put the game in an unwinnable state very early on. These types of design decisions are what killed adventure gaming in the nineties.
Now, on to King’s Quest VI! I hear it fixes everything I just complained about above. We shall see.