Rating: 4/10 - More frustrating than the first game.
(My King's Quest series reviews: I: Quest for the Crown, II: Romancing the Throne, III: To Heir is Human, IV: The Perils of Rosella, V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder!, VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow, VII: The Princeless Bride)
In King's Quest II (KQ2), King Graham, hero from the original game, sees a vision of a beautiful woman in his magical mirror. Naturally he travels across world and solves strange puzzles to find her. He finds a magical door floating in a field. It will lead to the mysterious woman, but he'll need to find three keys. Graham will run around a nonsensical world, featuring Little Red Riding Hood, Dracula, a genie, a mermaid.
Adding graphics apparently made Sierra sloppy about simple English. The game uses quotation marks as scare quotes, so I know it can support them, but fails to use them for dialog mixed with action. The game lacks many useful synonyms. For example a winged horse cannot be addressed as "pegasus." Infocom was doing vastly superior work at the same time.
KQ2 keeps up the cruelty level. There are again places you can accidentally move to, using the cumbersome keyboard, and you'll die instantly. In particular, at several points you'll walk onto a new screen, and only have a brief moment to stop Graham's mindless forward march before he plummets into a chasm. This isn't fun, it's creating a "puzzle" that amounts to fighting the user interface. Similarly, at another point Graham needs to climb down a ladder. The ladder is at a slight angle because of the perspective of the scene. However, the ladder is supposed to be straight. Because of the crude movement system, Graham needs to move move partway down, then scoot over a bit to adjust for the perspective change. This is jarring and frustrating.
It's possible at several points to fail the game without realizing that you've done so. To take one highlight, I was pretty far through the game when I encountered a maze of poisonous brambles. I spent a long time tearing my hear out trying to navigate it, thinking it just a stupid "don't fall to your death" puzzle. Eventually I turned to a hint site, only to discover that a mistake much earlier had doomed me. I had been blocked from advancing by a snake. I had a magical sword, so I killed it and moved on. However, the correct solution was to throw a bridle onto the snake. There is no reasonable clue to do this, other than that you have a bridle, so why not. Doing this will transform the snake into a winged horse, who will give you a magical sugar cube that allows you to resist poison. There is no possible way that standing at the bramble path I could reasonably realize that my mistake was not throwing a bridle onto a snake much earlier. Completely unacceptable.
Amusingly, Graham is capable of swimming, but won't unless you actually type "swim." If you don't, he's flail around for a bit and eventually drown. I find it hard to care about someone so completely lacking a self-preservation instinct.
Another cruel puzzle is a rickety bridge. You're warned that it looks unsafe. But you must cross it to continue. The cruelty is that you can only cross the bridge eight times before it collapses, killing you. To finish the game, you must cross the bridge eight times. So there is no margin for error. And if you make a mistake and recross the bridge unnecessarily, you've failed the game, but with no clue until you revisit it again later.
KQ2 is riddled with "plot-driven doors," (Backup link) things that change in the world because it's time to let you access them, but not because of any logical in-game reason. A mermaid you need to meet simply won't appear until you've seen the first door. The antique's shop won't open until you've seen the second door. The boatman won't appear until you've seen the third door. None of these things are logically connected to the door. While these plot-driven doors do simplify things, freeing you from the complications of areas you are not ready to deal with, they are conspicuously nonsensical.
KQ2 makes moderately heavy use of large trees and other decorations that Graham can move behind. Unfortunately this frequently means you'll be staring at the screen, unable to find Graham, and guessing at which way to move so he'll appear.
In the end, Graham faces another silly fetch quest. Instead of three magic items, he's tasked with fetching three keys. The world remains nonsensical, the puzzles cruel. Again, only recommended for historians or game designers looking for clues on what not to do.
2009-12-27: Typo fix.
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