My return to Daventry in the second chapter of King’s Quest: Rubble Without a Cause was everything except what I had anticipated. The feel of the first installment had taken a coaster of emotions and ended in heartbreak and a cliffhanger, so I was looking forward to some immediate resolutions and a brighter existence for the ex-adventuring monarch. While there were story continuations and resolutions, I quickly discovered that the most jovial part of this chapter was the punny title. Prepare yourself.
As part one introduced the narrative to us as an interactive memory recounted by the bedridden king, I had therefore decided two things: he didn’t die as he is telling the story, and, two, it couldn’t be unfit for children as he is reliving it for his young granddaughter. Turns out I can be very wrong, and this game managed to break my heart in glorious 2D. I suggest playing this game with your full attention as it is challenging and unforgiving; it doesn’t care if you feel terrible for letting characters’ die. The Odd Gentleman open the game with proof that the king did survive his sudden illness at the end of the previous chapter, but that he is still very poorly. When we jump into his memories, to what appears to be his first day of ruling, there are several fun interactions and quick-witted scripting. Once Graham leaves to visit the town, however, he is kidnapped by goblins and the G-rated version of SAW commences.
The first puzzle was an intelligent introduction to what I’d assumed was a short escape sequence, probably resulting in my heroic return to the outside world where everyone had missed me. However, all the nope ensues: not only am I in the dungeon for the whole chapter, but I’m also trapped down here with the entire town (five people and a uni-goat) who are all getting closer to dying every day. When we are let out of the cell to explore and encounter each prisoner, it slowly starts to sink in that there is a high possibility someone won’t make it. As with the last game, there are no hints, and trial and error is inevitable. In this chapter, however, we have a new way to play with days passing which creates other challenges along with the ticking death clock of doom. Like before, every choice is irreversible, and some actions then rule out the possibility of others.
Almost an hour into my first playthrough, I had some harrowing voice overs from Doc Brown; I had miscalculated everyone’s health and now had a final chance to save two prisoners, with only one food ration. I kept searching for something I’d missed, tried every item I held and backtracked through the caverns until I gave in and decided the game wouldn’t let them die, surely. Nothing makes you say “Oh crap” in a more depressed way then seeing a newly deceased goat hauled away, with his cardboard horn and eyepatch still attached. Until you make another poor decision and the woman you hoped Graham would end up with also starves to death. KQ’s second chapter didn’t need fire-breathing dragons and manipulative villains to enforce the sense of dread and regret enveloping the new king; innocent lives with no way to save them all made the point clearly.
At first, I missed the fact that some of my favourite characters weren’t involved, but the escape used every bit of focus I had, and I soon forgot. Even though imprisoned and sickly, it was good to be back around Daventry’s townsfolk and their personalities. The kooky humour from the interactions broke through the tension or added unexpected melancholy to your waiting choices. Even when everything went badly, it was a more enjoyable experience to play through once reaching the end and seeing the whole picture a little more clearly. With Chapter 1, there was only one real choice that I had tried in vain to rectify, whereas the second I played several times to try entirely new strategies over the passing time. Though this installment was much shorter than its predecessor (my last run through was an hour even), it benefits from more time to explore the content to its fullest.
While it was a darker continuation of King Graham’s tale, I appreciate it for impressing such strong feelings into this portion of the saga. The chapter adds a weight and quality to the narrative, setting up what looks like an intriguing part three with at least one returning knight from Chapter 1. I’ll never get tired of the 2.5D cell shading of the KQ reboot; with fascinating detail and bursts of colour blooming even deep underneath Daventry. Once again King’s Quest has shown that point and click games are capable of just as much depth and challenge as an action game. I’m not even sure what to expect from Chapter 3, but I’m looking forward to the frustrations, humour and twists I know are coming.