King Graham is in a funk. Now that he’s made good on his goal of ruling Daventry and proving he’s a capable leader, what else is left? Judging from the not-so-subtle hints from his guards, the answer is clear: a partner. A quick look at his throne room’s magic mirror confirms it, and he sets out to find the love of his life. As he (and the player) is about to find out, however, there are several complicated steps between meeting a maiden and living happily ever after.
Whether you’re known as Graham the brave, wise, or compassionate, your travels take you to a far-off tower to meet the love of your life. Unfortunately, the mirror only told part of the story. When Graham finally scales the structure, he discovers a pair of princesses. Vee is pragmatic and clever, while Neese is exuberant and compassionate. The tower is an equally complicated character of sorts, and without spoiling too much, Graham finds himself as trapped as the princesses he was hoping to rescue. Fortunately, there’s lemonade to be made from the otherwise sour situation, and the three seize the opportunity to get to know each other better.
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King’s Quest’s first chapter featured a sprawling kingdom, and the second followed it up with a sizeable subterranean network of goblin caves. The action in the Once Upon A Climb doesn’t take place on as large a stage, but the charming characters get a lot of use from a smallish hub section and a variety of single-screen locations. Given the mileage I’ve had to put on Graham’s boots over the first two chapters, I was frankly relieved to get a break from the back-and-forth traveling that seems necessary in adventure games.
Much of the action (and associated puzzles) revolve around the characters playing off each other. One highlight is an extended section around a board game called Moral Quarrel, where each of the three provides answers to a variety of ethical dilemmas, and they have to anticipate how other players will answer. You get to explore outside the tower via several one-on-one outings, where Graham and Vee or Neese have to (surprise!) solve puzzles. I got a weird feeling like I was on an episode of The Bachelor at times, especially when moments popped up where I could tell that my actions were being scrutinized. When a fierce-looking beast approaches, growling, should I feed it an arrow or take Vee’s advice to hold fire? Would Neese be more impressed by working through an obstacle using my puzzle-solving skills or brute strength?
Actor Wallace Shawn reprises his role as Manny, but even if that weren’t the case, a Princess Bride vibe runs throughout Once Upon A Climb. The series continues to be charming and funny, and this chapter’s comparatively smaller scope results in more focused puzzles. I groaned at a solution after thinking about things too hard a couple of times, but overall it’s tricky but fair.
Moving forward, I’m curious to see how my choice of a partner is reflected in the game – especially since we know from the classic games that Graham’s eventual wife is named Valanice. Are Vee and Neese’s names simply clever wordplay to accommodate player choice, or is something else going to happen in the future? My playthrough of chapter two included a pair of deaths, but they were glossed over in the latest entry. To say that it was jarring to talk to these characters again as though nothing had happened would be an understatement. The Odd Gentlemen could have intended for the character departures to be a fake out, but it felt more like a copout. Even though I wasn’t happy that they died, it feels cheap to find out that, well, they didn’t. Dead people walking aside, the effects from chapter to chapter seem to be subtle overall. Characters refer to my compassion and occasional missteps, and that’s fine by me.
In addition to telling its own capsule story about how Graham got his groove on, Once Upon A Climb also continues to propel the narrative about Manny and his brother, which has been a continuing thread – along with old Graham’s failing health. Judging from Graham’s condition, it seems ever-so-likely that this tale will have a bittersweet ending. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the journey.