Having never written a game review before and being given the opportunity to review virtually any video game, choosing a title has been no easy task. There are so many good games that I could talk about at length. But it’s not Review A *Good* Game Day. I need to pick a *great* game. So what makes a game “great” anyway? To me, a truly great game stands the test of time, immerses you in its world, and is just as awesome on the 37th playthrough as it was on the first.
And with those criteria in mind, I’ve chosen the 1990 turn-based strategy/adventure title King’s Bounty, by New World Computing. It was released on a number of platforms (including a radically different Genesis/Mega Drive version), but I’ll be reviewing the DOS version. Simply put, King’s Bounty is the grandfather of the Heroes of Might and Magic series. The core HoMM mechanic - two fantasy armies line up on opposite sides of the field of battle and turn-based combat ensues - first saw action in the many battles your hero will face in his or her search for the Sceptre of Order.
King Maximus has ordered you, a knight, paladin, barbarian or sorceress, to find the Sceptre of Order. In your search, you’ll scour the game’s four continents in search of pieces of a map showing the sceptre’s location. Like it wasn’t bad enough that the sceptre was missing in the first place, but the map to find it is torn up and scattered to the ends of the world? Bummer.
The search isn’t all bad, though; at least you’re not alone. You can spend your weekly commission from the king to hire troops for your army. At the king’s castle where you begin, you can hire standard soldiers like knights and pikemen. But these won’t be enough to fight your way through scores of wandering armies and lay siege to the castles of a slew of dangerous villains. As you explore the world, you’ll come across places to hire even more (and more exotic) units to join your army. You’ve find everything from skeletons to dwarves and sprites to giants. If you’re desperate for manpower, you can even hire some pitchfork-wielding peasants (read: meat shields).
King’s Bounty has multiple levels of difficulty, which determines how much time you have to find the Sceptre of Order. As you travel throughout the world, time ticks by with each move. Each week in the game, you are given more money to reinforce your troops. But each day brings you closer to failure. The looming deadline gives everything in King’s Bounty a sense of urgency. There are many villains to defeat and treasures to find, but if you get too involved in these side endeavors, you may find yourself with no time left to complete your primary objective.
As I mentioned before, the combat in this game will be very familiar to anyone who’s played a Heroes of Might and Magic game. On your turn, you can move your units and order them to attack. Then your opponent does the same. Rinse and repeat. However, the sheer number of different units in the game makes it much more dynamic than your average rock/paper/scissors fighting mechanic.
Speaking of dynamic, the most impressive aspect of King’s Bounty may be its replayability. Each time you start a new game, the locations of the sceptre and all of the villains are randomized. It’s truly never the same game twice.
I could go on and on about more features of the game, like how various unit types don’t get along and may cause sections of your army to ignore your orders. But if you don’t want to play this game after reading the above, I’m not sure how else I could convince you. The world owes King’s Bounty a debt of gratitude for paving the way for Heroes of Might and Magic. But it’s a phenomenal game far beyond that association with its popular descendents. With a huge world to explore, an epic quest with a finite time limit spurring you on, castles to siege, all kinds of units to recruit, and a replay factor that’s hard to beat, I think that King’s Bounty earns the title of great game.