Heavy, and funny, is the head that wears the crown.
The first chapter of the new episodic King's Quest game by developer The Odd Gentlemen was an absolute delight, and one of my favorite games of 2015. I would have been happy with more of the same, but I have to hand it to The Odd Gentlemen for taking a risk in part two. This second chapter takes a darker, more challenging turn, and the charming supporting characters are imperilled in ways that create significantly more emotional depth.
The second chapter of the new episodic King's Quest adventure picks up where A Knight To Remember left off in present day continuity. In the story-within-the-story, Graham is now king, and it's a stressful job. To escape the weight of that responsibility, he goes to investigate the goblins that were stealing mattresses in chapter one... only to find himself responsible for the lives of his subjects and friends... and Mr. Fancycakes the majestic unicorn. The goblins assign you menial chores, which is your opportunity to save as many people and majestic unicorns as you can. I don't think you can actually save them all, which means, no matter what, there will be feels.
Structurally -- and in some of the jokes -- Rubble Without a Cause takes after King's Quest III, so you have to accomplish certain tasks on the sly, under guard. The game also marks how many days it takes you to escape the goblin prison, and penalizes you for getting caught with contraband. The game actually calls it contraband. It's pretty funny.
Overall, Rubble Without a Cause is masterfully bittersweet. The game adds valleys to the plot that add poignancy to the comedy peaks that carry over from part one. The other expansion I enjoyed in Rubble Without a Cause is that it relies less heavily on references to the classic King's Quest games and starts charting its own path in continuing King's Quest's fractured fairy tales format. The Princess and the Pea, Cinderella, and the Pied Piper are all woven into the puzzles in a delightfully self-aware way. More and more, the modern King's Quest is a meta-story about stories and storytelling.
But don't worry, those classic game references are still there! Potions that turn people into cats, giant rats you have to feed, foliage that reaches up to the sky, and even the Beast's garden from King's Quest VI are all homaged. A memory of the Beauty and the Beast quest from that game is especially helpful in solving a particularly complicated puzzle that becomes a lot less complicated when you remember a critical detail of that sequence in the past game.
Speaking of past games, definitely play part one first! Preferably multiple times with different choices, so you can see how that changes the way characters interact with you in part two. Some elements are radically different.
- As soon as you wake up in the first day in the goblin caves, copy your save file and put it in an empty slot. That way, if you get too frustrated with how things are going, you can start over.
- There is always a solution no matter how dire things seem. You can't get stuck and unable to complete the game.
- There is a fair bit of revisiting old areas, so keep notes on places you've been to but couldn't do anything with.
- Unless you try a rescue attempt, the goblins usually won't put you back in your cell unless you're willing to go. Make sure you do as many things as possible in a given day.
- With the counterweight puzzle in the theatre, timing is everything.
- The porridge pipe in your cell has three bolts that can be removed. That's a bit easy to miss.
- The room with the Cinderella goblins has a lot of important things hiding in plain sight. To the left, to the right, and dead center.
- Kissing frogs doesn't do much. But getting someone to lick one before you use froggie for his obvious purpose is a good idea.
- The story-telling puzzle near the end is, I believe, based on the layout of the buttons on the controller as if they're a compass. Also don't forget about the companion in your pocket!
Though the general gameplay is the same as A Knight to Remember, Rubble Without a Cause is way more challenging, at times to the point of frustration. It's something of a risk to spike the difficulty this early on, but the game's writing is so good that you'll get enjoyment out of it even if you need to rely on a walkthrough. Personally, I think it's better to just experience the game organically. It's dark for a King's Quest game, but they never get all that terribly dark. (And I've offered some handy play tips at the end to reduce the frustration.) Don't worry, there's still plenty of goofiness to go around in part two, and I recommend it for its charm, comedy, and continued understanding of the heart of the King's Quest series.
This game was reviewed on PS4 using a code provided by Activision.
Images courtesy of Sierra Entertainment.