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Katy England Katy England
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King's Quest: Once Upon a Climb

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Some people's nerd cred comes from comic books and movies, but mine has its roots in video games. When I was growing up I played King's Quest II: Romancing the Throne on the family Atari-ST. The graphics were what you'd consider a little flat and you had to type in your commands. So things have come a long way, but that doesn't mean we don't miss some of the older-style games.

Chapter 3: Once Upon a Climb retreads territory covered in KQII and brings us to a hunky Graham who is looking to spend his life with someoneanyone - to the point where he starts dressing up furniture in an effort to stem the loneliness and other borderline creepy activities. So when the magic mirror tells him he will find his true love in an enchanted tower, he sets out engagement ring in hand. Except instead of one princess, there're two and they aren't exactly damsels in distress. In fact, when you propose you're turned down out of hand no matter who you ask.

There is Vee, with dark hair and eyes with a taste for intellectual pursuits and honesty. And then the auburn-haired Neese, drawn more to affairs of the heart and possessed of a penchant for flights of fancy and adventure. And of course, it's implied that your choice matters.

The rebirth of the King's Quest series is something of a dream-come-true for me. The first installment of the Odd Gentleman's reincarnation was everything I'd hope it would be. Quirky, funny and moving. The puzzles were difficult without being maddening, the graphics were rich and gorgeous and there were references to the whole game that didn't feel like beating a dead horse. But since the honeymoon phase with the first chapter, the storytelling has felt off and the chapters come off as rushed.

There's even Hagatha. For those of you who may have missed all the King's Quest Games, she premiered in KQII and she used to scare the crap out of me. If you didn't hit the puzzle just right, she'd chase you, grab you and stuff you in her boiling cauldron. And she was fast faster than any two-dimensional pixelated witch has any right to be. Her 2016 incarnation gives her more depth and soul while still making nods to some of the fairy tale roots. While she's still hideous, she's more of a tragic figure than a terrifying beast.

The high notes in this chapter are many. The scenery is gorgeous where 'Rubble Without a Cause' spent too much time in scenery that was well a cave, OUAC really showcases gorgeous views and dynamic environments. There is warmth and humor a-plenty. The puzzles are relatively simple and I will be careful here, because there is a fine line between wanting to have a challenging puzzle and not wanting to throw my computer out a window - but the fact remains it took me longer to download the game than it did to beat the game. Definitely a bummer, but that may speak more to my internet connection than anything else.

Though the choices you make in previous chapters and in this one do have an impact, it seems largely superficial. You're chided for not remembering exactly what moves you played previously (sometimes months ago) in passing conversation, then accused of lying about it when you don't have perfect recall or don't know which path (intelligence, compassion or bravery) you initially chose. It's more like I failed a quiz rather than feeling any lasting change in Daventry. It feels cheap, not immersive.

I want to not just like these games I want to love them. And I want that love to be more than skin deep. It's about more than pretty graphics and silly puns and I feel like it's not measuring up. This is a high bar, and perhaps it's set unfairly high. I enjoy the chapters when I play them, but there's still a big sense of dislocation I feel; the stories - even inside each chapter - seem fragmented, even within their own spaces.

But I still have hope. I have a feeling that the entire game will play better as one large game as opposed to all the little chapters strung out over months.

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