King’s Quest Chapter 4: Snow Place Like Home Review – The Cold Shoulder (PS4)
Holy wait time! The King’s Quest reboot first began its iterative release schedule back in July of 2015. At five months between each chapter, we are finally seeing the fourth part, but the first chapter is still the pinnacle of the series to me. It expertly blended comedy, a story with plenty of heart, varied characters and environments, and puzzles that felt integrated right into the plot. The environment and puzzles were traversable in a nonlinear fashion which felt decidedly King’s Quest as you scrambled across the world trying to figure out how all the pieces fit together. Chapter Two kind of killed the story, feeling like it had no real purpose by the end, and Chapter Three did away with a lot of the deeper puzzle elements in favor of pursuing a great and emotional narrative.
Snow Place Like Home initially picks up shortly after the conclusion of Once Upon a Climb. Graham is married to the princess of your choosing from the previous chapter (Team Vee!), and is now father of twins. There’s a light puzzle, not part of some great quest or adventure, but simply figuring out how to get two babies to stop crying a sleep. Hint? Don’t step on the mess of toys and cry out, or you’ll wake the little ones. Soon little Alexander and Rosella are fast asleep and Graham smiles, not a happier man to be found in the world. The perfect life doesn’t last long before Manny, now asking to be called Manannan, uses dark magic to enter the castle and steal Graham’s son. Cue the “18 Years Later” header.
18 Years Later
After nearly two decades of searching for his son, Alexander returns to the castle, seemingly having escaped Manny’s clutches. His family finally complete again, a now bearded Graham attempts to reconnect with his wife and kids through a family vacation that quickly takes a turn for the worse, not just for Graham, but for the players as well. Line puzzles and block pushing mechanics fill the remainder of chapter as Graham and Alexander attempt to traverse the treacherous icy labyrinth in addition to navigating their own relationship. Simply put? It’s boring. The cold and icy environment quickly gets uninteresting to look at (much the same way that the dull cave environment in Chapter Two left a bad taste in my mouth), and though there are some slight variations to the puzzles, they mostly rely on pushing blocks so that there is a line to walk along to the door, rinse and repeat. Hardly captivating.
The icy fortress is filled with frozen figures, allegedly other adventurers that had failed to solved these puzzles, or perhaps they simply opted to freeze instead of slogging through another dated block-pushing, line-following puzzle in one more cold, blue, soporific room. Graham is trying to show his son that legitimate puzzle solving can be fun, but these aren’t exactly the best puzzles for schooling him on the family legacy. I was quite relieved in one room when Alexander used his magic to destroy a chunk of ice, making shifting the blocks around a little easier. Later on, Graham must solve the exact same puzzle in the exact same room without dark magic to help. Repetition of puzzles that are already repetitive in their very nature? It may not seem so bad if King’s Quest had not already shown it was capable of doing things so much better.
There’s a certain darkness to the themes, particularly the ever present frozen adventurers that the old King Graham doesn’t really want to comment on during his storytelling to his granddaughter. A certain disconcerting moment near the end caused me to do a double-take, audibly gasping at what had happened, but Graham and his family appear to easily overlook it as the game’s final puzzle is presented — arguably the most interesting puzzle in the chapter too, having a bit more to think about than just pushing blocks and walking along lines. The moment is briefly explored afterward, but it’s a bit of a shocker nonetheless, and could have been addressed in much less of a detached manner.
The Choice Is Yours
No two ways about it, choice is notoriously absent in Snow Place Like Home. While getting ready for the family vacation, Graham can choose to take his son into one of the three shops in the game, but it isn’t clear that this is a choice until the game moves on after going into just one shop. I “chose” to go talk to Amaya and Whisper in the blacksmith shop, but subconsciously I was just trying to go left to right in order of the shops, not actually choosing Amaya as the one shop I would visit, and looking at various guides for this chapter, it seems like the shops can be closed based on prior decisions (likely who was saved in Chapter Two, but the game fails to clearly link these things at all). I personally got a special gift from Amaya — a golden arrow made from melted down coins I had paid her — but I’ve also seen things like a special pie recipe given from the cooks. At the end of the day none of it really matters or plays into this chapter at all, and there are no other decisions to make throughout the rest of Chapter Four.
While it is cool to finally see some of the payoff of earlier choices, the ending mural that usually shows a portrait of decisions made in the chapter was filled with things that couldn’t have actually been decided in part four, and that linearity combined with the dull puzzles and environmental design make Snow Place Like Home seem like the laziest chapter in King’s Quest yet. After five months of waiting to see what comes next, I was severely disappointed with how lackluster it turned out to be. There are some awesome cultural references, like a trophy popping right after Graham and Alexander talk about the current generation wanting trophies for everything, but the moments hardly do enough to pull the whole thing together.
If rumors are true that we’ll see the conclusion of King’s Quest before the end of the year, I’m concerned that it will be rushed out too quickly for its own good. Or maybe it’s just the odd numbered chapters that are the knockouts, offering great story and puzzles. Time will tell how the story concludes, but Snow Place Like Home is the weak link in the King’s Quest chain, with weak environments, terrible puzzles, and a lack of any real immersion in the narrative choices as Chapter Four gives players the cold shoulder.
King’s Quest Collection review code purchased by reviewer. Reviewed on PS4. For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.