King's Quest I (1987) Review

This is the scene of one of the most ridiculous riddles in gaming history

  • Review by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Sierra On-Line
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line
  • Release Date: 1987
  • Time played: 3 hours

Prepare for some blasphemy. That is all I'm going to say!

Okay no, that's not all I'm going to say. You've come here to read a review so I'm going to deliver it.

So how did I end up playing the 1987 version of King's Quest also known as Quest for the Crown? Well, as some of you may know, I've been recently playing the new King's Quest game by The Odd Gentlemen. I've only just finished the first chapter but so far I think it's fantastic - however, it remains to be seen if the following chapters will follow suit. I was a bit late to the Sierra adventure gaming scene, only starting at the middle of the era (i.e. the late 1980s/early 1990s) so I've only played two King's Quest games from start to finish: King's Quest V and King's Quest VI. Consequently, even though I know who King Graham is, my only real experience of his character is when he's much older in King's Quest V; I know nothing about the character prior to this instalment.

So, I felt that I was potentially missing out on some of the in-jokes or references whilst playing King's Quest - Chapter 1: A Knight to Remember, but what pushed me over the line to replay the old King's Quest games was when I started playing Chapter 2 as this chapter is actually set after King's Quest I, unlike the first chapter which works as a sort of prequel (by an unreliable narrator of course, I mean The Odd Gentlemen need some leeway when rewriting this story, right?).

Consequently, it was about time I checked my backlog on Good Old Games and downloaded King's Quest I, the 1987 EGA version for DOS, so I could finally experience what the very first King's Quest was like (well, actually, the 5th release of the game, but anyway, you get the idea).

What I like:


A game that was developed in 1987 is obviously going to be retro by today's standards (as it's almost 30 years old): you've got the Adventure Game Interpreter's (AGI's) 160x200 EGA graphics, the PC speaker bleeping out Greensleeves, and everything was controlled using the keyboard. So if you're a gaming hipster, you'll want to be seen playing this game ;).

Text parser

I know the text parser can be kind of cumbersome (and this one is particularly primitive compared to other Sierra games - there are so many words and verbs it won't accept) but one thing I always loved about the text parser is the ability to slowly learn more about your surroundings by examining the room. With the point 'n' click Sierra adventure games, you could often end up hunting for pixels in order to find a crucial item whereas in the age of the text parser, you could just type what to look for or at least search the room so that you'll be offered some keywords to use.

You're playing a piece of PC gaming history

King's Quest was developed as a flagship title for a new home computer IBM were to release in 1983 called the IBM PCjr. King's Quest turned out to be Sierra's first animated adventure game and the first to use the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI) engine which would be used on many of their titles in the 1980s including King's Quest II and King's Quest III, Space Quest I and Space Quest II, and Police Quest. The game had revolutionary graphics for its day with Computer Games magazine giving it an A+ and stating that playing the game was "like playing an animated cartoon, but requires more than the eye-hand coordination of an arcade game like Space Ace." They go on further to suggest that the game "does more than just point the way for graphic adventures of the future - it opens up a whole new genre". Seems like the reviewer was right.

What I dislike:

Extremely difficult

There's really only one thing I dislike about this game but it's a big one: the game is simply too damn difficult. I managed to plod along through the game hunting for items and managed to get around 50 points out of the 158 but then I got to a point where I wasn't exactly clear what I was supposed to do and I had a hunch that I would be in for a world of hurt if I tried to pursue the puzzles in this game any further: it turns out my hunch was right.

Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against dying, many, many times - that's a hallmark of Sierra adventure games straight into the point 'n' click age - but what does infuriate me are these things: (a) random encounters to produce mission critical items, (b) the ability to reach dead-ends without even knowing it and (c) ridiculous puzzles with answers that don't really make any sense. King's Quest I has all of these! There are many times where you can accidentally give away important inventory items and you end up wandering around for hours not quite knowing whether you've yet to encounter the thing to help progress the plot or you've actually reached a dead-end. Worse, some critical items (e.g. an invisibility ring) can only be gained if you randomly encounter an elf on a particular screen. If you never encounter him, how would you know to keep walking back into the screen to generate the random encounter?

Finally, probably the most infamous puzzle in the game involves answering a "riddle" where you have to answer a certain character's name. Now, it's hard enough you have to guess the character's name (since I don't believe there's any indication up to that point who he actually is) but you're meant to find a note in an unrelated location that simply says it sometimes pays to think things backwards. After reading such a note, you might think (I wouldn't know why you'd think this, but you might) that "Oh! Maybe that guy's name should be spelt backwards!" Almost right, but wrong again! The answer actually involves using a cipher in order to decrypt the name into the correct answer. Seriously, WTF? The wrong answer is the correct answer? And since when is Sir Graham, Bond 007?

Look, I know this is a controversial thing to say to the hardcore Sierra fans - I mean I consider myself a Sierra fan as well - but I think there are a couple of generations of Sierra fans (at the very least): ones who grew up on the 1980s Sierra adventures and those who grew up on the 1990s ones. The ones who grew up on games like the original King's Quest will think that the current crop of gamers or even the gamers of the 1990s are too soft and are unable to do basic problem solving - and there's probably some truth in that. However, some of the puzzles in King's Quest are borderline insane and it makes me think that the rumours about adventure game companies purposefully making games difficult so that players could pay for hints through books and phone calls, might have some merit.

Score – 4/10 (Mediocre)

King's Quest I is an important game; it was responsible for a whole bunch of Sierra adventure games to follow and was a pioneering effort in the world of graphical PC adventure games. However, the only people who could possibly gain any enjoyment from this game nowadays are masochists and the hardcore Sierra fans that grew up with the game in the 1980s (and already know how to complete the game). The game also lacks much in terms of plot so if you really want to experience the first King's Quest, I'd recommend one of the excellent VGA fan remakes by AGD Interactive; they're still pretty difficult but nowhere near as diabolical as the original.

(And before I get burned at the stake by the Sierra fans, I'm trying to judge this game on its own merits, playing it today in 2016. No doubt the game was revolutionary and a critical success in the 1980s, but nowadays, things have evolved and, in my humble opinion, generally for the better).

Is the game worth $13.19?: No. Although it really depends if you're an old fan (so you've probably already got a copy anyway) and what price you would put on retro games in general. The $13.19 gets you King's Quest 1, 2 and 3 though. However, considering you can get a VGA fan remake of King's Quest I for free that actually adds a lot more to the experience, that's why I reckon your money is better spent elsewhere.

If you like this game, you might like…

[ LINK: King’s Quest 1+2+3 on Good Old Games ]