KING'S QUEST 4 / Sierra / PC
It's important to keep a little historical perspective when evaluating King's Quest 4. As King's Quest basically pioneered the graphical adventure, King's Quest 4 pushed it forward to greater complexity and was an important milestone. It is also by far the darkest of the King's Quest games and thus, to me, one of the most interesting. Still, as an adventure game, It Got Issues.
As King's Quest 3 concluded, old King Graham was joyfully tossing his adventurer's cap to his two children. Turns out, just after the cameras shut off he had a heart attack, however. So now he's dying, and there's no physician in the kingdom who can fix him, since apparently he has an HMO and his heart condition was pre-existing. As Rosella pines away in the throne room, the magic mirror pipes up and tells her that the only way to save him is to journey to the faraway land of Mexico, where Digitalis and other prescription drugs can be had over the counter at reasonable rates ... well, no, actually, the magic fairy Genesta tells Rosella of a magic fruit on the magic island of Kolyma that can magically fix Graham's hardened arteries, and she proceeds to magically teleport Rosella (I don't know what Roberta Williams would have done without magic) there. The catch is that Genesta is dying, there's a Bad Fairy named Lolotte who is making a power play for control of the isle, and Rosella has to recover Genesta's magical talisman from Lolotte or its curtains for her.
The game touts a "24 hour time limit" and a "day-night cycle". Not quite. The game may actually be ticking off 24 hours in the background, I don't know, as there's no way the game will take anywhere near that long to complete (try 6 hours at the absolute upper limit). The game does transition to night at one point, which is neat, but it also only happens when certain specific criteria have been met and not before.
Everything about the game is pretty solid. For the first outing with the SCI engine, the art is great. The sprites are meh for the most part, but the backgrounds are very nice. The detail on individual objects like the trees isn't very high, but there's just a whole lot of *stuff* on every screen, and no real stretches of repeating territory. There's also a number of close-up cutscenes that are quite passable. The musical score is not among Sierra's best but it is pretty good. Puzzles tend toward the easy side but do require some experimentation and perception to solve.
There are really just three specific sequences that drag the game down, and they make up the bulk of the middle of the game. The first is a sequence that has you swimming out to Genesta's isle to get a peacock feather, which is needed to escape from a whale's belly later on. The first problem is that the whale can swallow you before you get the feather, leading to a deathtrap that isn't apparent as something that can be escaped from. When the whale spits you out, you land on a desert island which is easy to escape, but when you do you cannot go back. There's a key item hidden away from the player's view, which can only be found by standing in a very specific spot and typing "look at ground", which is just too random and counter-intuitive for something that can be so easily (and irrevocably) missed. The next sequence is a cave that Rosella has to pass through, which is a combination of horrible aesthetic design choice and lame randomization. You need a lantern to get through it, but even with the lantern lit the place is pitch black and you literally cannot see anything around you. Some smart developer threw a chasm in at the end, which cannot be seen to know where it is literally unless you fall into it once. Even after you do locate it (by dying unavoidably), it's still very iffy to get over as YOU CAN'T SEE IT. This cave also consists of four rooms in which a troll can randomly spawn, and when he does it is right next to you, and he follows you from screen to screen until you exit the cave or are caught. Having him spawn is basically a death sentence, as in the dark terrain you are sure to snag on something and thus be caught, so the only way through the cave is the ol' save-restore shuffle on each screen. The last problem sequence isn't hard, but it is tedious - you have to dig up graves to find items for a series of complaining ghosts, and the graves you have to dig in each case are obvious, turning it into an extended boring fetch quest punctuated by seemingly infinitely respawning zombies who can't hurt you but keep on trying all the same.
All that aside, for the most part, I still like the game. It is strong enough to overcome a few clunky sequences and the occasional total abandonment of logic. Worth a look for classic adventure fans, though I do not think it will become one of your favorites.
* Gameplay Video
* Possible VGA remake?