Have I mentioned I love this series? Because whenever an episode comes out, I feel like it just gets more awesome. Then again, I might be biased but hey, I usually don’t like puzzle solving games. I have the patience of, well, a shooter game player. Once Upon a Climb revolves around the story of how Graham met his wife and helping his granddaughter, Gwen, pick out the perfect gift for her grandmother. He settles on telling the tale of how they first met in order to help Gwen.
At the beginning of the story, the player learns that Graham took a level up in handsome. Hey, it doesn’t hurt to have some eye-candy in a video game for the player to appreciate *coughCullenDragonAgecough*. It’s sort of prominent in a fairytale game, the hero is regal and good looking whilst the villain looks like the ugly tree punched him and regretted creating such a monster.
Episode Two showed a younger Graham unable to handle his kingly responsibilities realising it was easier to adventure than be in charge of country. It could always be worse, you could be a noble in Westeros. Once Upon a Climb shows that Graham has grown physically as well as emotionally in order to handle his Kingly problems. In this episode, the magic mirror tells the King his one true love is in held captive in a tower, Graham gets the chance to play hero again and rescue a princess.
When Graham reaches the top of the tower, he discovers two princess’ trapped there instead of one. Awkward. To add to Graham’s problems, the tower has a charm around it which prevents anyone from leaving. The only way to break it is the act of true love. Now, these Princesses haven’t been sitting on their royal butts waiting for someone to rescue them. No, they’ve been trying to think of ways to get out by inventing things or just tempting the outside animals to help. By having another person arrive at the tower, the two have a higher chance of getting out.
A witch named Hagatha keeps them locked away hoping that someone will come rescue them and by proxy rescue her. I mean, she didn’t really have a great start in life when her parents called her ‘Hagatha’. She was once a beautiful princess with magical abilities which her parents saw as a threat. Even the villain is kind of pathetic and you can’t really hate her for wanting to be loved.
Hagatha’s parents locked her in a tower to which she hoped someone who loved her would come and rescue her. The years went by, she indulged in one to many ‘beauty tonics’ which eventually turned into a warty, horrible thing with a tail. I feel there’s a plastic surgery metaphor in there. Hagatha tricked both Princesses into the tower and now treats them as family members rather than captives. The goal of this episode is to choose which Princess to become queen and escape the tower.
The two characters of the princesses replace qualities of previous NPC’s which contributes towards wooing them. The first Princess is Vee, a woman who values cunning and wisdom overall, preferring to spend her free time working out crosswords or other puzzle games. Princess Nees holds compassion as her ideal, she loves to paint and play the lute, indulging in whimsical things whilst trying not to break out the damn tower. Being a decision based puzzle game, previous decisions influence how the princesses will receive Graham.
The introduction of new characters was needed but of course, they have old favorites turn up like the Hobblepots and Whisper. As much as I like the characters of the first two episodes, the addition of Vee and Nees stops the episodes from becoming repetitive. Both princesses are strong-willed women with their own way of doing things. For instance, Vee carries a bow and arrow like a badass whilst Nees tames wild wolves because she can.
Each character has been fleshed out in a two hour segment to the point it’s almost impossible for them to fade into the background. Even Hagatha has a tragic backstory and doesn’t seem malicious in her kidnapping of the Princesses. She just wants to be loved, and now she’s beginning to sound the Ice King from Adventure Time. Because of her sad backstory, the player is almost compelled to help her along with the heroes. What I’ve come to enjoy about the games is nothing is ever straight forward and the subversion of many classical fairytale tropes.
A lot of effort has also gone into creating the King’s Quest reboot, fleshing out around an already established world. The original tower in which the princess is kept is a tower ice but in Once a Upon Climb the tower is able to move. Kinda like a mash up of Howl’s Moving Castle and the legend of Baba Yaga. Even with someone unfamiliar with the King’s Quest franchise can still enjoy the well thought out story in each episode.
I suppose there is always a criticism even in a series that you enjoy. I felt like there wasn’t actually much puzzle solving until you go on a mission with the Princess’s. The episode is designed for the player to woo one of the princesses, so most of the gameplay has a stronger basis on decisions in order to reach the end. There is also a lot of quick timed a events which I personally suck at.
The episode also has a lot of cutscenes which sort of fills up the episode rather than have the player do much. I would say that this episode has about 40% actual gameplay. Sure, the scenes which we have are funny and entertaining. However, when a player wants to do a second playthrough, say where they do opposite choices, then it’s logical to skip a lot of the cutscenes. This is where I realised there was about an hour’s worth of gameplay.
Not to say I didn’t enjoy Once Upon a Time but I personally don’t think there is the same balance between cutscenes and puzzles as the first two episodes. You when you get an album from a band you like but there is always one mediocre song which you’re a bit ‘meh’ about. I feel like Episode Three is a bit like that. You may disagree with me, that’s what the internet is for whether we like it or not. In any case, I’d say the episodes have stayed consistently good and hasn’t taken a negative dip.
This episode also elaborates on the subplot hinted at in Rubble Without a Cause involving the Knight, Manny, who is making his personal mission to destroy Graham. It’s almost as bad a clickbait article, it just makes me want to know more.
I still think Once Upon a Climb is an enjoyable episode to play, a great balance of humour and visual narrative. There were a couple of infuriating moments which made me want to throw the control on the floor but what games doesn’t do that? Seriously, someone find me a zen inducing game.