Chapter 4 - Snow Place Like Home
As Snow Place Like Home opens, King Graham and his wife sleep fitfully while their newborn twins, Alexander and Rosella, tackle what newborns do best – crying in the middle of the night. His turn to tend to them, Graham sings a lullaby to comfort Alexander while navigating an obstacle course of toys, cradles and baby bottles, among other parental tasks. (Choices you made in the previous episode mean that the king is now married either to Neese or to Vee.) The domestic happiness of the introduction doesn’t last long, however, because the night suddenly turns violent when an enemy breaks into the castle and kidnaps one of the babies.
And so Graham descends into a maelstrom of fury and despair, ignoring the stacks of Daventry legal minutiae that pile up while searching for his son. Then, almost two decades later, Alexander miraculously returns, bearing a name that will be familiar to anyone who has played King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human. The young man’s acceptance back into the family is joyous and immediate, but his reactions to Daventry’s traditions and (let’s be honest) oddities show that reintegration will not be accomplished with a mere snap of a finger.
Once the past sequences end, we find King Graham in the current day, looking increasingly frail and writing letters to all his closest relatives. Something is afoot, and his advisors have urged the king to mop up his affairs. Conflict increases during a royal dinner that ends in acrimony. Young Gwendolyn is mystified by the obnoxious way her cousin Gart is treating her. The elderly Graham responds by telling a story – once again via the magic mirror – about family tensions shortly after being reunited, when his children were 18 years old and the royals left Daventry on vacation.
During the flashback journey by wagon, it becomes clear that the rail-thin, awkward Alexander is insecure and rebellious. He knows he is supposed to take over the kingdom someday from his father, and he isn't sure he'll be up to (or that he even wants) the job. Rosella is blonde, chipper, and speaks with a growly voice. She understands her father to a “T” and can cheer him up or provoke him with a mere word or two. Voice-overs continue to be compelling, particularly that of Graham in his new middle-aged, lushly bearded incarnation as well as in his latter-day, grizzled phase.
As the Daventry foursome approach the tropical resort chosen for their vacation (the same tower that once imprisoned Graham and his wife-to-be) they realize that it has morphed into an Ice Palace. Populated by frozen hotel staffers, it’s also hosted by a svelte, antlered Sphinx. The Sphinx is clearly enjoying herself as she rolls out the “L” word. Yes, it seems that part of the fun of this ice resort is its “labyrinth” theme. But relax, you won’t find a traditional maze here. Yes, a twisty, purple path winds its way throughout the grounds, however you’ll mostly encounter a linear series of puzzle rooms. You can fail repeatedly and a wrong move will freeze you and force you to restart. But hey – at least being lost for long stretches isn’t on the menu.
Of course there’s more here than meets the eye, including multiple physical dangers and a devastating encounter with the past. Graham and Alexander start the labyrinth together. As they address each conundrum, they are also working out their personality conflicts, dealing with dashed expectations, and realizing how differently they think and feel. This is important, not only because it’s a clever (and sometimes hilarious) merging of character, backstory and brain-busting, but also because it enlivens the monochromatic grey and white visuals.
The puzzle mechanisms are slightly different in each setting, and often you will work from a top-down perspective. You’ll experiment with tiles (including sliding ones), pressure-plate crystals, flippable cubes, deadly wedzels, a tricksy board game, and a three-tiered, angled collision extravaganza. Sometimes Graham and another family member cooperate to beat a conundrum. Quick Time Events are rare, brief and whimsical. My favorite challenges were near the end: the riddles and the mini-game chambers. Partly these last two seemed easier, but they were also more colorful. You could feast your eyes on varied paraphernalia and manipulate items other than blocks, statues and tiles.
The brain-teasers start out easy, but a few of the latter rooms are wickedly difficult. It makes sense that a game harkening back to past King’s Quests would contain tough puzzles (actually, it would be surprising if some serious headscratchers didn’t surface at some point). And hard-hitting conundrums in the penultimate episode suit the series’ overall pace better than if they had been introduced too early or shoved into the final episode. When Chapter 5’s inevitable drama fires up and the tale finally reaches its climax, I hope it doesn’t come to a screeching halt for a sliding tile sequence. (Or labyrinth.) Still, Snow Place Like Home at times feels like it is just puzzle after puzzle. I was filled to the brim about the same point Alexander expressed his own “enough already” doubts. Since I am about as mature as a late adolescent, I responded as he did and cheated (though in a much less magical way) on a couple of the hardest challenges. At least I didn’t have to explain my lack of perseverance to my embarrassingly enthusiastic father.
Despite this chapter’s grave themes, there’s a lot of comedic writing in Snow Place Like Home, which brightens things up. Punning is still in full force, especially in the conversations between the elderly Graham and young Gwendolyn following a death/failure. Some of these witticisms are so outrageous they whisk away the agony of defeat. I heard tons of puns. In fact, I died so often that I suspect I wiped out the elderly Graham’s quip stock – towards the end, he quieted down and instead Gwendolyn began questioning my sanity and competence.
It’s hard to give an estimate of this episode’s length. It’s so puzzle-heavy that the speed with which you get through will depend on your skills. It took me seven hours, but I could see a champion solver finishing in half that time. Or maybe even less.
I expected the fourth King’s Quest chapter to be dark and serious, forming a contrast to the blithe goings-on in chapter three. So the themes of anger, disappointment and the power of evil didn’t surprise me. What did throw me for a bit of a loop was the gameplay emphasis. Each episode so far has spotlighted a different type of challenge – lots of QTEs in A Knight to Remember, resource management in Rubble Without a Cause, frequent choice-based dilemmas in Once Upon a Climb, followed by – as it turned out – an intense series of logic puzzles in this most recent offering. Snow Place Like Home reaches its defining, ghastly moment in a sparkling but confounding cinematic. And then it ends with a hint of what’s up (or maybe down) in the finale. The suspense is killing me. I hope it persists.Continued on the next page...