Throwback Thursday: King's Quest VI on a rainy schoolday morning
Have you ever gotten up and gone through your morning rituals and dressed up for work and suddenly fantasized about taking the day off? Yes?
Now, have you ever gotten up and gone through your morning rituals and dressed up for work and suddenly fantasized about taking the day off to play games?
I did so just this morning, and I didn’t even have any particular game in mind. I just wanted to plop down and put my feet up and rewind a couple decades back to rediscover some happy sensations from the past.
Here’s an observable relationship I just made up: the sleepiness of any grade school gamer kid is directly proportional to how early it is during a school day. Said kid’s sudden adrenaline rush of pure energy is also directly proportional to how early it is when school gets called off due to bad weather or any other happy coincidence. On the coldest, gloomiest, earliest school mornings, my mood-o-meter used to snap from zero to hero at the blink of an eye the moment my school was mentioned on the radio during the weather report.
Sweet, merciful, sublime rain.
After running through the length of the house while whooping wildly, I would plunk myself down in front of the computer -- much to my mother’s chagrin, I’m sure -- and fire up a game. No-class weekdays were even more special than weekends: I would never have been awake early enough on a Saturday morning to play the entire morning away in a flurry of outwardly serene clicking and clacking. I went through many a title back in the day largely thanks to our unpredictable tropical weather: Ultima Underworld 2, Day of the Tentacle, and Dark Sun: Shattered Lands are only a few that I can recall.
And then there was King’s Quest VI, which was the last King’s Quest title released by Sierra Online during adventure gaming’s golden age from the late 80s to the early 90s, and certainly the best entry in the series.
It was not a particularly rainy morning in July or August 1994 when classes suddenly got called off. We didn’t even have the radio on to check -- another parent called to give us the good news. Imagine my elation.
Look, there’s something to be said for anticipating something so badly and the rush that the final payoff provides, but getting handed a free pass when you thought there was none at all? Even better. After taking a few seconds to process and savor the reality that I was indeed not going to get on the school bus that morning, I hurriedly tore off my uniform, put on a nice loose-fitting shirt, and booted up the computer, all the while cheering and carousing like a drunk pirate.
Minutes later, I was on the phone with my friend as we discussed how to solve the Cliffs of Logic. This was how things were before the internet existed.
KQ6 was my flavor of the month at the time -- the game my dad bought me when I hinted that it had been a while since he bought me a new game. It was tremendous for the time -- it came on nine (9! IX! NINE!) 3.5” floppy disks, it had pre-rendered 3D cinematics and speech in the intro (jaw-dropping and in hindsight quite terrible), and tucked away in the options menu was a brief preview for the ballad Girl in the Tower, which got my attention both for being a proper-sounding song in a computer game, and for being unbelievably cheesy. Sierra Online had been running a promo back then where you can request participating radio stations to play the full song over the air.
How the world has changed.
King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow is the story of Prince Alexander and his search for Princess Cassima, whom he apparently met at the end of the previous game (which I never finished) and is now trying to woo.
This is not an easy task considering a) she has been locked inside a tower, and b) said tower is in the Land of the Green Isles, which is far away and unknown to Alexander’s homeland of Daventry. After a glimpse of the beautiful princess through a magic mirror, however, Alexander figures out that he can use the stars outside her window to navigate to wherever she’s being held, and our adventure begins.
Actually, no. Prince Alex gets a ship and a crew to man it, and he sails off to find Cassima, navigates his ship right into a storm, and gets shipwrecked. Then our adventure begins.
Back in 1994, my 11-year-old self found all this to be very exciting and adventurous, and certainly thrilling to experience while curled up into a ball in my chair, the seat comfortably cold in the stormy weather. King’s Quest has always been about mixing up various fairy tales into one strange world that didn’t make much sense, but King’s Quest VI actually got cool fairy tales that I never considered kiddy or sissy: for the price of admission, we got a powerful genie, an evil vizier, creatures based on clever wordplay (a “dangling participle”, anyone?), a picturesque garden full of sinister death traps, the Queens from Through the Looking Glass, a cult of crazed druids, and much more. It was the game that managed to be kiddie-friendly and cool before Pixar even existed, and I found it to be a perfect fit at my awkward age. It was a refreshing look into more serious stories for me as a child, and today, it’s a refreshing look into how family-friendly the games of the past used to be.
The game itself is quite the work of art. The hand-drawn visuals are still attractive, although of course very low-res. The puzzles are satisfying and well-designed, although the game still suffers a bit from the Sierra syndrome of killing the player for getting a bit too curious. Thankfully, most of these deaths can easily be avoided this time by exercising a bit of common sense -- something that could make you feel clever indeed.
Death, on the other hand, is entertainingly portrayed by an “epilogue” scene where Prince Alexander’s spirit enters the underworld, his quest unfinished, before the standard Restart/Reload/Quit prompt appears. I got very acquainted with this underworld scene over the course of the game, which made it much more pleasing when the plot actually sent me to the same place later on as living, breathing Alexander.
King’s Quest VI was a bright, entertaining, and enjoyable quest that I greatly enjoyed playing on that cold morning -- it’s a feeling I don’t think I’ve encountered much since. I miss the imagination and the writing that went into it, and I certainly miss the feeling of being a kid in front of a monitor on a weekday, devouring dialogue (unvoiced in the floppy version, of course) like my head was buried in a comic book.
This morning, on my way out the front door, I gave my gaming corner a brief glance and flashed back to 1994 and the shipwreck and Prince Alexander’s quest. Maybe one day, I can come back and relive it all over again. Preferably while it’s raining.
King's Quest VI is part of GoG's King's Quest 4+5+6 pack, and you can purchase it today for $9.99.
Girl in the Tower can probably be heard on Youtube or something. I was too scared to look it up.