King's Quest IV Review

Screenshot from King's Quest IV
The SCI version of King's Quest IV features more detailed backgrounds and sprites

  • Reviewed by: Mark Goninon
  • Developer: Sierra On-Line
  • Publisher: Sierra On-Line
  • Release Date: 1988
  • Time played: 4 hours

What is it

Every adventure gamer or gamer that played games in the 80s and 90s, would've heard of the King's Quest series and with good reason; without the series, Sierra wouldn't have become as prominent as it did and the King's Quest games pioneered many concepts with respect to graphic adventure games.

The first King's Quest was released in 1984 for IBM PCjr but was ported to several platforms over the subsequent years. King's Quest was developed using an in-house engine called the Adventure Game Interpreter (AGI); it was responsible for bringing adventure games into a new era of coloured animations, music and sound effects. In terms of the story's plot, you play the role of a knight called Sir Graham who is tasked by the king to recover missing artifacts in order to restore the kingdom to its former glory: if you succeed in this task, you are crowned the new king.

King's Quest was followed up with a sequel only a year later: King's Quest II which also used AGI. Just like King's Quest I, it too was ported to several platforms over the subsequent years. The game continues the adventures of Graham (who is now King of Daventry) as he searches for a wife and ends up rescuing a damsel in distress called Valanice.

In 1986, King's Quest III was released. King's Quest III was the first King's Quest game to feature EGA and Hercules graphics support and would be re-released a year later on the improved AGI V3 engine.

King's Quest IV was released in 1988 and is the last game in the King's Quest series to use Sierra's AGI engine: a Sierra Creative Interpreter (SCI) version of the game, Sierra's newer engine that was used well into the 1990s, was released at the same time and had several improvements over the AGI version such as 320x200 resolution (instead of 160x200), better animations and support for mouse as well as sound cards. The SCI version is the one I played for this review.

King's Quest IV is set straight after the ending to King's Quest III and has you playing a female protagonist called Rosella; she is the daughter of King Graham and Queen Valanice, and brother to Prince Alexander. Right at the beginning of the game, you find out that King Graham is terminally ill and that the only way to heal him is to recover a fruit from a faraway land called Tamir. A fairy called Genesta is willing to help Rosella but in return Rosella needs to help Genesta defeat an evil fairy called Lolotte (so it's got a very "Wizard of Oz" vibe going on here).

How I got it

As I played quite a few Sierra adventure games back in the day (including King's Quest V and King's Quest VI) it only made sense for me to acquire the entire King's Quest collection when it became available on GOG.

At one point, I wanted to discover the older games in the series because I was playing the 2015 King's Quest game by the Odd Gentlemen (the game revolves around King Graham's life after all) although I eventually discovered that King's Quest I and King's Quest II weren't very enjoyable and I eventually gave up making any more progress with the series.

As part of my Pile of Shame initiative, however, Choona wanted me to revisit all the Sierra adventure games that I haven't reviewed on this blog, so it made sense to continue exploring the King's Quest series.

Screenshot from King's Quest IV
King's Quest IV features a proper introductory cinematic

What I like:

Slightly more modern

As mentioned earlier, King's Quest IV is the first King's Quest game to be released on the SCI engine, an improved game engine developed by Sierra which allows for higher resolution graphics, better animations as well as mouse and sound card support; the game even has a proper intro cinematic, unlike its predecessors.

Female protagonist

At a time where many types of media are subject to scrutiny over female representation (including video games) it's nice to know that Sierra were pioneering this back in the 1980s thanks to King's Quest IV's female protagonist, Rosella. Sure, she was the damsel in distress in King's Quest III and she can be a bit of a domestic goddess in King's Quest IV but having a young woman that is equally capable of tackling an adventure as her father and brother in the world of computer games (and isn't just there for eye-candy) is ahead of its time.

Screenshot from King's Quest IV
A King's Quest staple: narrow, winding walkways

What I dislike:

When I first started playing King's Quest IV, things seemed good, puzzles seemed rather logical and I hadn't died yet, which is a miracle in a Sierra adventure game.

Alas, it was not to be though and I soon discovered that the game still suffers the same pitfalls of its predecessors.

Waiting in real-time for actions to occur

While I thankfully didn't encounter too many of these scenarios there was one time where I had to wait for an ogre to return to the house while hiding in the broom closet.

Looking for objects with no hints to their existence

Punishing the careless adventurer is okay in my books, but when you're punishing an adventurer that has no means of discovering what tools he or she has at their disposal, that's a pet peeve of mine.

While navigating through a dark cave in King's Quest IV you have to use a wooden board to cross a chasm. Now, the chasm itself is almost impossible to see unless you're standing right next to it which means you'll often fall to your death as you approach the middle of the screen. However, the wooden board you need to cross the chasm isn't visible so I have no idea how on Earth you're meant to know it exists in the first place!

There's also one part of the game where you're meant to snatch an eye from three witches. Now, at least you're able to make out that the witches are passing something amongst themselves but I never figured out it was an eye, which makes it extra difficult if you need to know what object to take (since you have to type the object into the text parser).

Nonsensical puzzles

There are some puzzles in this game that really don't make much sense and they also rely on random encounters (another cardinal sin that's frequently committed in previous King's Quest titles). For example, there is one part in the game where you have to wander around aimlessly waiting for a random encounter with a whale and then you have to willingly be swallowed by it. Why, you may ask? Because the whale has to give you a ride to a desert island of course where you happen to find a bridle that you need for a unicorn. It's so obvious (if you can't tell by now, my sarcasm meter has gone through the roof)!

Also, there's another part in the game where you have to enter a cave behind a waterfall: don't ask me why you would normally be motivated to do this without any incentive, but it needs to be done. Oh, and the only way to enter the cave is if you transform yourself into a frog by wearing a crown you receive from a frog prince. There's no hint that the crown actually transforms people into frogs (since you actually have to kiss the frog prince in order for him to transform back into human form which suggests that the prince was cursed and his transformation is totally unrelated to the crown), also if you try to use the crown on any other screen besides the one with the waterfall, you're not allowed to.

Ridiculously narrow walkways

It wouldn't be a King's Quest game without them. King's Quest IV doesn't fail to disappoint! In fact, to make things extra interesting, some staircases that you climb (usually the spiral staircases) will invert the keys you have to use to navigate Rosella around (e.g. instead of pressing the up arrow to go further away from the screen, it instead results in you going closer).

Dead Ends

King's Quest IV also wouldn't be a proper Sierra adventure unless it had multiple ways of you reaching dead ends. Ultimately, I use this as a yardstick of whether I give up and resort to using walkthroughs in order to complete games. I threw in the towel in this game after I failed to acquire a lamp (which turns out to be a critical piece of equipment). You see, after a Dwarf left a bag of gems on a table, I thought the proper thing to do was to track the Dwarf to the mine and return his bag. I talked to one of the Dwarves and they didn't accept the bag so I thought "fair enough, maybe I can use these gems elsewhere". It turns out you can use the gems by exchanging them with a fisherman for his fishing rod. However, doing so actually forces you into a dead end. What I did wrong was apparently attempt to give the gems to the wrong Dwarf. Make no mistake, you still needed the gems and you still needed to do use them like I did, but if you don't try to give the gems back to the correct Dwarf, you don't receive a lamp as a reward for your honesty!

Another example of how the game forces you into a dead end is a part of the game where you have to go grave robbing in order to appease some ghosts at a haunted house. Now, you're only meant to dig up particular graves however you're also only allowed to use the shovel a limited number of times before it breaks and can no longer be used. So, not only is it bad enough that you're wasting time by digging up the wrong graves, you're also punished by eventually losing the necessary tool as well. Old adventure games are brutal, man.

Score – 5/10 (Average)

Like all the original King's Quest games I've played so far, King's Quest IV was probably a fantastic title back in the late 80s but I seriously can't see anybody nowadays enjoying this title unless they played the game when it was originally released and already know the solution. King's Quest IV does have a fleshed-out plot though and the game looks and sounds better than previous titles, thanks to the upgraded SCI engine.

(I've placed the following disclaimer when reviewing Sierra games before and I'll say it again: 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 2019. No doubt the game was highly regarded by fans in the 1980s, but nowadays, things have evolved and, in my humble opinion, generally for the better).

Is the game worth $14.59 AUD?: 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 $14.59 is not only for King's Quest IV though; it also gets you King's Quest 5 and 6 too.

If you like this game, you might like…