I remember the King's Quest games rather fondly from my youth. Popping in the disc and playing through them in the dark on a Saturday night brought joy and wonder into my life. But these games also made me use my thinking brain because unlike some adventures, the solutions to the puzzles found within are far from obvious. Indeed, from our family's ancient dot matrix printer spewed page after page of walkthroughs, just so we could see beyond certain points in the game; we had no interest in getting conveniently stuck on a puzzle, only to discover that we lacked an item that could aid us at this time. Ah, Sierra, you pulled such dastardly tricks. In particular, it was King's Quest V and King's Quest VI that stole my whimsical innocent heart and took me to strange new lands, plastered with a cast of colourful characters, and heightened by topnotch presentation and storytelling. Truly, these were games I can honestly call "timeless".
And then I discovered there was a version of King's Quest V for the NES. Curiosity overtook me like a Wal-Mart overtakes a borough of local businesses, and I decided to give it a try. And the joy, the love, the everlasting effects of King's Quest V on my identity as a lifelong gamer... they have all been tarnished by what this stinky port has done.
Where do I begin? How about the fact that an NES cartridge can't hold even a small fraction of the same amount of data as a floppy disk, nor could it possibly possess the same level of quality graphics, sound, and design as a PC game of its equivalent time? Do you know what this means? It means that the NES game was destined to be far inferior even before a single line of code was produced. King's Quest V on the NES looks like a puréed version of its PC brethren. Terrible for an NES game? Not exactly, though it's not a treat for the eyes either. But King's Quest V required a serious, SERIOUS downgrade, and it makes me wonder why they would even bother in the first place. Gone is a lot of the magic that made the game great. And the character portraits... Oh Mylanta!
The musical score has been butchered; there are far too many instances where there is no background sound whatsoever, broken only by the shrill sound of Graham doing something right and me earning a point. Even the credits sequence is void of audio. What music remains, however, does make decent use of the NES sound chip. There's some seriously jabbing bass happening, and that's probably the best part of playing King's Quest V on the NES.
The key issue here, however, is not the fact that the game resembles an explosion at the Limited Palette Crayon Factory. It's that King's Quest V is, above all else, a point-and-click adventure. It was designed that way, to be used in conjunction with a mouse. Obviously, the NES doesn't have a mouse, which only leaves us with one result: clunk. Though I am thankful that you can use the Directional Pad to make Graham walk everywhere, I am not so enthused about the GUI otherwise. On the PC, you could easily choose whether to look at something, talk to someone, or do something productive with the hand icon by clicking first on the icon then on whatever you were going to interact with. Now, the only way to get to an icon is by pressing the B button until you reach the highlighted action icon of choice. More actions require the hand icon than anything else, so why is it the farthest to the right?! King's Quest V contains events where time is a definite factor, and having a sluggish, clumsy GUI is counterintuitive. Take, for example, the scene where a cat chases a rat along the path in front of the bakery. (Inadequate Spoiler Alert: There's going to be a cat chasing a rat.) With practically no time to react, you're expected to throw a boot at that rat. It's almost impossible given the amount of time you get and the clumsiness of the GUI. Combine this with the fact that if you miss this opportunity, you'll never get it again unless you reload your game. But if you save afterward, then consider this playthrough unfinishable because that boot toss is critical.
Also, we really could use the option to speed up the gameplay, as in the PC game. Graham moves like he actually IS made of graham crackers.
King's Next Quest: To appear more lifelike in a console game.
Now I haven't really delved into the fact that King's Quest V is rather difficult as an adventure game, period. If you miss picking up a specific item from one place, it will seriously affect your progress much farther down the line to the point where you'll have to start the game over from scratch. What if you never find that dusty discarded shoe on a seemingly random place in the ever-stretching desert? Then you'll never be able to throw it at the aforementioned cat, and the rat will never help free you after you're tied up in the saloon. You'll never get the hammer. You'll never be able to chip off a crystal shard during your trek in the snow-peaked mountains. You'll never be able to hold up that crystal piece and prevent yourself from getting fried by the laser eyes of the serpent statues in Mordack's castle. It's a snowball effect, I tell you, and there's no escape! The worst part is, not all items stand out amongst the already glutted backgrounds, so it's easy to miss a few items unless you already knew they were there from enjoying the superior PC version.
Then again, some items have also been emphasized further to show that they exist, such as the golden heart found locked away in a tree:
Not only isn't it golden, but I believe this is the one true origin of the Internet GIF phenomenon.
But there you have it: King's Quest V on the NES in a nutshell. It's a broken port, lacking in much of the charm of its source material, mostly due to very limited technical specifications. This is a game not meant to be on the NES. It should have remained on the PC to live in infamy, not get dumped on a whimpering console not capable of handling its many proud moments. Why Konami decided to get involved in this is a mystery, but then again, they're not always known for making the best decisions...