PUBLISHER: Parker Brothers
DEVELOPER: Sierra (port by Microsmiths)
RELEASE DATE: 07/01/1989 – (US)
Even if you stuck to console games in the late 80s/early 90s, you’ve probably at least heard of the King’s Quest series. They were massively influential adventure games that elevated the genre from pure text-based creations to interactive graphical powerhouses. King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown started it all, providing players a fantastical wooded arena to explore, complete with leprechauns, ogres, dragons, and troll-hating goat companions.
You play as Graham, a supposed knight who looks more like a gangly bard. The king has summoned you to his castle, informing you that if you retrieve three sacred items for him – the Magic Mirror, the Magic Shield, and the Magic Sceptre – you will inherit the throne. Sweet deal! You’re then thrown into the woods and given no direction; the world is your non-linear oyster. See that walnut on the ground? Pick it up, you never know if it’ll serve you well. That’s an abnormally large tree in front of you. Perhaps you can climb it? Oh look, a giant holding a large chest. How do you defeat him? You don’t. Let him fall asleep, then take his chest. This trial-and-error defines King’s Quest‘s gameplay. There’s no combat or platforming, just the selection of actions via a menu screen. If puzzle-solving and aimless wandering don’t float your boat, stay far away.
While I never played the games as a kid, I remember seeing the oversized game boxes at the store and thinking that the games looked and sounded statelier than the lowbrow fare served to us on the NES or Master System. That you needed a computer that cost a couple grand in 80s money just to play them cemented this notion. Programmers in their mid-30s making six figures a year played King’s Quest games. Kids who scraped together allowance money to rent some crappy licensed title from Blockbuster did not.
Console gamers were not entirely deprived of the series, however. In 1989 – six years after the original King’s Quest released for the IBM Pcjr – developer Microsmiths retooled the game to play on the Master System. The port was a success, for the most part. While not a graphical masterpiece, Microsmiths took full advantage of the Master System’s expanded color palette to make the game the best it’s ever looked. And the interactive menus are the most intuitive I’ve ever seen in an adventure game port. Rather than pulling up a menu and shuffling through your options with a slow-moving cursor, pressing Button 1 brings up a menu where you scroll through options quickly with the D-pad. The actions are separated from your items, but they are placed next to each other in separate rows for maximum efficiency; line up the action with the item you need and you’re off.
But not all is well in Port Land. One of King’s Quest‘s major flaws is the lack of a straight save system. Perhaps to save on space, Microsmiths provided an obnoxiously long password system instead. And while you can generate a password at any point in the game, the mere act of writing down these thirty-one unit passwords was mind-numbing then and unthinkable now.
While not a poorly developed title, Quest for the Crown emerged at the worst possible time. A port of a six-year-old computer game to a console that hardly anyone owned does not make any sense. On top of that, the game was one of the few Master System games to see an American-only release. I could see Quest for the Crown performing moderately in Europe, but we American console gamers aren’t typically known for our adventure game appreciation.
While groundbreaking in its day, King’s Quest feels like a barebones adventure today. Many screens are nothing more than landscape stills with gentle brooks and trees, and while that does serve the atmosphere well, it also means that there’s just not a lot to do. A majority of the items you pick up along the way won’t be used at all, but you won’t know which ones you’ll need until you’re stuck. And as with all adventure games, some of the puzzles are needlessly obtuse. Why can’t you pick up the scepter and shield in the leprechaun cave? You need to lure them out with the fiddle, dummy! But not in the king leprechaun’s room, no, only in the cave entryway. And if you don’t have a four-leaf clover, the leprechauns will attack and kill you. Quest for the Crown may be the godfather of this gangster ish known as the adventure game genre, but that doesn’t mean its medieval antics have aged well.
11 replies on “King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown (Master System, 1989)”
I just started the new version of this game on PS4. It’s obviously very simplified but used the trial and error system.
Yeah, that’s adventure games for ya!
It’s interesting to compare this to the NES version of King’s Quest 5, which is a washed out mess.
A couple of years ago I played the original DOS version of King’s Quest. Since you have to type out all your commands in that version; part of the fun (for me at least) was guessing wich objects were depicted on the screen and finding the right ways/verbs to manipulate them. So a – even very user-friendly – menu based system actually feels like a downgrade to me! (Not that the MS could have offered one) … Yeah I know! Apart from doing away with cheap deaths, replacing text input with a good menu system would become one of LucasArts main innovations that revolutionized the genre in the late eighties (So in retrospect, I’m on the wrong side of history 😉 )
And talking about those cheap deaths … are they as plentyful in the MS version as in the original? If so, I easily get why long passwords are such a drag. (In the pc version you could at least overcome the problem of “constant dying” fairly easy bye “constant saving”)
Nevertheless I’m happy to see this big-shot turn up on the MS (even if not in my region). I’ve lamented the lack of westren console adventure releases before on this blog. A genre that was so popular on PC’s at that time! I still don’t get why no more attempts were made to bring this genre to consoles!
Yeah, Americans weren’t so keen on the adventure genre, at least on consoles. The cheap deaths are plentiful here, but only in certain areas. Ascending and descending staircases, for instance.
Wow! I had no clue that KQ I got a SMS release! All told, it looks like they did a pretty darn good job with this conversion, but I just don’t think old-school parser-based adventure games were ever meant for the world of consoles, at least back when console hardware and PC hardware–and audiences–were so drastically different.
Programmers in their mid-30s making six figures a year played King’s Quest games.
Or my parents, who did not make six figures. Granted, my mom needed a PC for her job, so that helped justify the insane purchase price back then. Our first computer only came with floppy disk drives, but we bought a hard drive with a cool 720KB of RAM!
With the exception of the ICOM games like Shadowgate, adventure games were ported terribly to the 8 and 16 bit generation consoles.
C+ is probably a generous rating given the password system. I’d give the PC version a C+ if I’m feeling nostalgic. It was a revolutionary game. But Roberta Williams could not design a plot or a puzzle to save her life.
I always wanted to play this game. A friend in middle school would always talk about Kings Quest and how good it was on PC. I think when this came out I had moved on to Genesis already.
Everything I’ve read about this is that it is a very good version of the game. I think most of its faults are tracked back to the original PC version and Sierras sadistic model of adventure game with trial and error. I thinks it’s cool they made a console port. The interface and graphics were an improvement. The other game that my PC friend talked about was Ultima, and Ultima 3? Quest of the Avatar also came out on SMS and will be coming up before too long. I hear that’s the best version to play of that games as well. As it plays much better than NES version, and has some improvements over the PC version as well.
At the time, this version of King’s Quest was probably the best available. But even in 1989, I imagine it felt dated.
If Quest of the Avatar is the Ultima game I’m thinking of, yes, the NES version was awful.
Cannot wait for the Ultima Quest of the Avatar review, my most difficult and enjoyable game ever. Took me three years to finish, but I did it.
I own, and played a TON as a kid, the original IBM PCjr version of this game. I played through the game dozens of times, and had so much fun with it. I would love to find and play this version someday.