The Kingdom O' Magic is under threat, and only a busty blonde and a surly reptilian with a thick Scottish accent can help. Released in 1996 by Sales Curve Interactive (SCi), this adventure-RPG hybrid is filled with a very blue and very British sense of humour.
It would be that humour that would divide critics upon its initial release. I vaguely remember reading a review in a PC magazine that completely trashed on it while online publishers like GameSpot were somewhat more positive. Its crude humour certainly isn't for everybody, and while there are some similarities in tone and setting with Terry Pratchett's verbose jokes in the Discworld games, it's not nearly as clever.
The game boasts the talents of John Sessions, a somewhat lesser known British comedy legend you younguns may recognise as 'that person from that thing', but for everyone else, he'll forever be known as one of the best O.G. regulars on Whose Line is it Anyway. He conjures up a number of characters in the game and as he tends to voice the best moments in it, I suspect his improvisations and ad-libs played a role. His most defined performance is that of one of the two main playable characters - Thidney the Scottish space-lizard. He's infinitely better company than Shah-Ron (played by Lani Minella, the voice of Bubsy, Nancy Drew and Sonic's Rouge the Bat), whose only characteristics are that she's big-breasted and sarcastic about it.
You can perform a number of actions using the verb wheel (left).
You can equip and use items in your inventory (right)
There are three different quests, each with their own difficulty. The Good Old Fashioned Traditional Quest, where you have to slay a dragon, is the easiest while the difficult Bizarre and Slightly Twisted Quest has you stealing some Lava Lamps from King Afro. No matter who you choose to play as, the quests remain roughly the same. The only difference is their inconsequential starting screens and that Shah-Ron starts with a sword and some spells while Thidney possesses nowt but a hammer. By the end of each quest, you'll have everything anyway, so it ultimately comes down to which of them you find funnier.
Most of the game is played in the traditional point-n-click way most adventures go with. Click on an object or person with which you can interact and a wheel pops up highlighting what you can do with it. The usual verbs are here such as 'Pick Up', 'Look At', 'Talk To' etc, but there's also 'Fight'. While rarely needed (though often used in my sadistic playthrough), this is where the basic RPG elements creep in - and it's a lot more basic than other hybrids like Quest for Glory. You can fight almost any kingdom dweller as they roam the lands on a loop through a robust day and night cycle like it's Groundhog Day. You have no direct control over the dust cloud caused by your thuggish ways so the outcome is determined by some unseen stats and sheer attrition. You'll soon find out that most of them are a lost cause, maybe because you'll need that character at a later time but probably due to some immortality bollocks with a pinch of bad game design. If you are to win a fight, most are won not by brute strength or endurance but by wits (read: the possession of a specific item). At least it was with Thidney whom I spent most of my play time with. Even when I briefly played as Shah-Ron, the mime in the courtyard on the very first screen proved too much for the skimpily dressed blonde, so I suspect this design is universal.
The arrival of day or night is signalled with a cute and often repeated animation (left).
Pac-Man where Pac is an actual man and not a pac. Or is he a puck? (right).
If you do want to win a fight, your chances are increased with a number of equipable weapons. You don't have to weigh up their stats like a fully-fledged RPG, but even the simplest of players will know that an inch-long knife is inadequate compared to a well-endowed sword. You can bring up the stats of each potential opponent by looking at them. You'll then be presented with mostly useless information that's only there for comedic effect, but you'll also see what items they're holding. Win the fight and they'll be yours.
The puzzles are generally inventory based, although there are a few stand-alone ones such as mazes or mini-games here and there. Otherwise, they tend to be of the use-this-obscure-thing-on-this-obscure-thing variety but most are commendably signposted adequately enough. For example, you'll find a granny relaxing on a rocking chair chilling with her baby grandson who's locked in a birdcage. She'll harp on about how unnaturally hungry that infant is, going so far as telling us he devoured his twin brother in the crib. Although twisted and grim, you can deduce from this tale that he is key to defeating a rather violent gingerbread man later on. This is indicative of how the humour itself provide clues to the otherwise insane cause-and-effect moon logic of the puzzles.
This example is also a place where you can get stumble into an unwinnable situation if you're not careful. Speak to granny the wrong way and she'll take the baby inside never to be seen again, effectively causing you to start over. There are too many areas where you can accidentally lose, sometimes without knowing it. If you're not frugal enough with your coins, you cannot buy that 70s outfit for the dance club. If you don't pick up a royal action figure, you'll be arrested when you inevitably kill its real-life counterpart. Without a walkthrough, it can seem like luck if you actually get anywhere so I recommend saving often using a number of different slots. Personally, I feel trial and error gameplay that leads to such dead ends has no place in an adventure game. I know Kingdom O' Heaven isn't solely an adventure, but it mostly is - enough for me to class it as one - so my assessment still stands.
The droll narrator chimes in every now and then to provide commentary (left).
Goliath the Dwarf's stats. He holds no items, but at least you know his secret skill (right).
Graphically speaking, it hasn't aged well. One could argue that it was ugly 20 years ago too, but back then the CGI look was still something of a novelty. And there's a lot of CGI and FMV filling up the two CDs to the brim. There's even some strangely chosen royalty-free clips from old movies in there. The in-game locations vary from inviting to acceptable to ugly as all hell - the mountain in particular. Computer created graphics may have been expensive, but this looks cheap as chips with repeated textures, angular designs and blank facial expressions. In my opinion, a hand-drawn style would have certainly looked better.
There's a lot of issues with Kingdom O' Magic, but with the focus being so much on laughs, none of them will matter if the jokes hit. The comedy on display is either low-brow toilet humour, bad puns or obvious pop-culture parody. If you find any of that funny, you won't mind the clunky animations, odd character designs or repeated areas and cutscenes so much. Many punchlines will be lost on you unless you lived through the 90s and paid attention when you did so dating the game more so than the visuals, but its biggest target is a lot more universal - fantasy tropes and Lord of the Rings in particular. A dragon will politely ask you to be dinner. You'll stumble upon the craggy boudoir of a lustful gorgon. The Ringwraiths who are on the lookout for non-existent magic rings would be a comedic highlight if they didn't beat up everyone they come across in their search.
Even back in the day, it was hard to get a grasp on whether Kingdom O' Magic was praiseworthy or not. Is it the videogame variant of a cult classic like Monty Python or Freaked or is it absolute trash like the Movie movies? It's certainly doesn't reach the high watermark of Discworld or Monkey Island, but I got a few chuckles out of my playthrough. For some, that's more than worth a few hours of play.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 985 Mb. Install Size: 1.21 Gb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Kingdom O' Magic is © Sales Curve Interactive (SCi)
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me