Chapter 2 - Rubble Without a Cause
It’s a dark and stormy night in the Kingdom of Daventry, and thunder has awakened Gwendolyn, who scurries down to her grandfather’s room for reassurance. Her cousin Gart soon joins them and the children beg King Graham for another story, and he tells of his second quest using the magic mirror that places the player directly into the heart of his past adventures.
The tale in Rubble Without a Cause begins as young Graham, who has newly ascended to the throne, realizes that it’s harder to rule a kingdom than it is to gain one. Taking a break from some weighty addendum dilemmas, the king drifts alone in the pouring rain into the village, only to discover that goblins are seizing anyone they can catch. Unable to defeat them, Graham finds himself a prisoner deep underground in the goblin realm. The goblins aren’t the most empathetic of jailers; the villagers are slowly starving and succumbing to disease in their cages. Graham, who is released from his cell every day to perform menial chores, must figure out how to heal, feed, and free all or at least some of his captive subjects.
Our hero is soon weakened with hunger himself; his nose and cheeks aren’t as rosy or his expression as innocent as when he was a knight-wannabe, and stubble is emerging on his chin. Wente and Bramble the bakers, Amaya the blacksmith, and the Hobblepots are also prisoners of the goblins. Their life philosophies are sorely tried in prison, causing the kindly Wente to consider violence, the tricksy Hobblepots to reveal hidden compassion and athleticism, and the feisty Amaya to take an unnaturally passive role in the face of danger. Voice-overs continue to be excellent and the writing is lively and sharp. The pun factor from Chapter 1 has been toned down (though it isn’t entirely absent). Some of the funniest lines in the game occur if you wait outside the Hobblepots’ cell and listen to their attempts to make the best of their freaky situation.
The Merchant of Miracles is also rotting in the goblins’ prison, but he takes advantage of the situation in order to complicate Graham’s efforts and enrich himself with valuable goods for sale (old habits die hard). New non-speaking (or at least unintelligible) goblin characters are introduced – since they don’t have faces, they are distinguished by their hats or weapons or repeated actions. The king of the goblins is particularly memorable, with his white beard, boulder-shod feet, and rear wheel.
I am always wary of games that take place primarily underground since the environments tend to be dark, dull, and repetitive. Thankfully, that is not at all the case in Rubble Without a Cause. The goblin caves and tunnels are festooned with florescent crystals, coral-like growths and strange fungi. Occasional animations include twinkling lights, dust motes, and the movements of the guards. The goblins, in addition to their dungeons and wallpapered bedrooms, have constructed a theater, a library (I had no idea that goblins like to read – or to be read to), a throne room, and a walled-in garden. Exploring all these places provides a glimpse into goblin culture and an explanation for their fascination with certain objects like mattresses and glass slippers.
Gameplay in Chapter 2 is more traditional than in the first episode; Quick Time Events have been dropped entirely, as have the shooting sequences, and the only seemingly timed challenge turns out to be more about efficiency than moving quickly. A significant improvement: you can now skip cutscenes and dialogs by pressing a button or key. Graham can still die, though death is rare. There are quite a few inventory-based challenges which are rather clever, with items used unexpectedly and seeming solutions leading to startling (and sometimes humorous) results. There’s also a music puzzle that can be solved visually, a blackout maze with glowing lizards providing help and hindrance, and a column-hopping pattern. I welcomed the variety of conundrums and the lack of reflex-based challenges. Overall puzzle difficulty is about average – I was only once stuck for an extensive period when I repeatedly missed an item hotspot.
The diciest part of this game is keeping all the prisoners alive and safe before an escape can be managed. This requires careful consideration when using food, coins, and sleep (sleeping advances the story to the next day). In my first playthrough, which took almost five hours, I lost two of the villagers plus Mr. Fancycakes almost immediately. The second time around, which took three hours, I sacrificed Mr. F but managed to keep all the villagers healthy until late in the game when, despite careful planning, I lost one. (Apparently desserts don’t qualify as food under the strict Daventry Nutritional Guidelines.) I know there’s a way to “save” all the villagers – there’s an achievement for it – but I haven’t yet figured out how to do it. Losing people inevitably tugs at the player’s heartstrings, right up until the chapter’s finale.
The story ends with a twist and (for me) a sense of satisfaction, plus a nip of a teaser for Chapter 3. I was surprised that decisions made in the first episode didn’t significantly influence a lot in the second one – the only carry-overs seem to be brief references to earlier events in the dialog. As in the previous episode, choices made while playing young Graham’s adventure affect the events in the elderly Graham/Gart/Gwendolyn ending.
Rubble Without a Cause is less of a comedic romp than A Knight to Remember, delving into the dark lining that underscores the silver clouds of the first chapter. Times when there are only bad choices bring anguish, and King Graham – with his brilliant-to-nutty improvisations – runs smack into the wall of his own limitations. Still, even in the dungeons there are chuckle-worthy moments, instances of triumph, and places of peculiar beauty. Given the playful yet thought-provoking path carved out so far, I’m expecting the next King’s Quest installment to continue to jolt and beguile me.Continued on the next page...