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PostPosted: Mon Dec 30, 2013 1:23 am 
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Kingdom II: Shadoan review (Mac OS Classic)

As I posted here in the review thread, my fiancée and I recently beat Kingdom: The Far Reaches on the 3DO, after setting it aside for a year. With Christmas coming up, I thought it'd be nice to pick up the sequel, Kingdom II: Shadoan, which unfortunately never made it to 3DO (though it was released on the CD-i).

The DVD version sounded cumbersome and we don't have any DOS machines in the house, so I ended up purchasing a sealed copy of the Mac OS Classic version on Ebay from a very nice seller, and that's what I'm reviewing here.

Others may want to go with the DOS or CD-i versions, and I expect those are similar, but I've read that the DVD version doesn't offer savegame functionality. If that's correct, it should be avoided -- trying to play through Kingdom II without being able to save is a surefire headache!

Packaging (it's nice!)

This Mac OS version was released in the late 1990s, and comes in a typical "big box" (roughly 10" x 9" x 2") with a 5" x 7" lenticular hologram card mounted on it that, depending on your viewing angle, can show up to five different images of Lathan in combat with a dragon. This was a pleasant surprise! Apparently the card can be removed from the box, but we didn't try.

Inside the box are:

  • the game's two CDROMs in a slimline case with artwork;
  • a 40-page full-color manual, 5 1/2" x 8", with a glossy cardstock cover and full-color map in the center;
  • and a "7 Secrets Strategy Guide" that's really just a folded sheet of paper, sealed with a red sticker, with seven hints inside that were written by Dustin Gannon, a 15-year-old kid (!). We didn't open it until after beating the game, and it wouldn't have helped much anyway.

The exposed side of the strategy guide sheet also has "Important Notes" to tell you about the removable card -- and the game's signature song, a sappy number entitled "Where Do We Go From Here (Calaces Song)". The back of the box claims the "soundtrack [is] being distributed to 3,000 radio stations" and features "the first hit song ever to come from a video game"...yeah, not so much.

A note for Macintosh users (everyone else can ignore)

tl;dr: To play the 1990s Mac version of Kingdom II: Shadoan, you really need an older Mac, unless someone can patch the game to fix the mouse problem in Classic.

Almost everyone has Intel Macs these days, but a few folks out there still have PPC machines. In case someone might consider trying to run the 1990s release of Kingdom II: Shadoan on their PPC Macs in Classic mode, let me warn you: it will boot, but won't work properly, and based on my experience I assume you need a Mac that, at the very least, can boot into OS 9 or earlier.

My fiancée has an iBook G4 running OS X Tiger, which she pulls out when she needs a laptop (she's mainly an iPad user these days). She occasionally uses it to play old CDROM games like Oregon Trail II, and outside of one or two small quirks, they generally run quite well in Classic. Naturally, we hoped Kingdom II: Shadoan would work too.

The game did install with no problems and boot right away, but everything seemed painfully slow and the FMV wasn't playing. After tweaking some settings -- reducing the display to 640x480 and 256-colors, plus a couple minor changes in QuickTime which may or may not have had any effect -- we got the FMV to play fairly nicely.

But now we ran into a second problem: no matter what we tried, the cursor was horribly laggy, and seemed to only be updating once per second. As soon as it reached the edge of the screen and turned into a normal Mac OS pointer, no problem, but as long as the game's custom cursor was displayed it was unplayably jerky. And in a game like this, you need fairly quick, accurate cursor movements, or you're toast in the timed puzzles.

Next we tried a Mac G5 that I have, in hopes that throwing a lot more CPU power at the problem would help. Nope, no difference. Clearly, there's some kind of issue in the game's mouse polling code, and a patch would be needed to make the mouse work properly in Classic.

I made a futile attempt at getting SheepShaver up and running -- what a headache that one is! -- before I finally tried one last thing: an old PowerBook 1400cs running System 7.5.5, which I'd given up for dead years ago because of a battery/power problem, but suspected I could bring back to life.

Long story short, it worked! We had to set it to 256 colors and keep subtitles off to get full-speed FMV playback without stuttering, but after that we were fine.

The Game

If you've played Kingdom: The Far Reaches on 3DO, it won't take you any time at all to get used to Kingdom II: Shadoan. Heck, you pretty much pick up exactly where the first game leaves off, right down to your inventory. While the interface is slightly different, the basics are all the same, and you even ask Daelon for the same types of scrolls (more on that later, though!). One upgrade in the Mac OS version is that you get unlimited save slots, which is obviously very helpful for testing out different approaches to each puzzle (or for seeing how outlandishly you can get poor Lathan to die).

The map in Kingdom II includes the three kingdoms you explored in the first game (Weigard, Iscar, and Illes), but you won't be able to visit any of them, even with a Traveling spell. Instead of going back to Daelon's house to get scrolls, you make contact with him through a special Portal, but otherwise he only shows up occasionally.

The quality of the animation is about the same as the first game, but some of the graphics are noticeably different. In particular, the boyish figure from Kingdom: The Far Reaches now looks like a man in his early 20s, and sports a mullety 'do akin to a bright-red version of Egon Spengler's haircut in "The Real Ghostbusters". I'm not sure when the drawing and animation for Kingdom II were done, but if they did them in the 1990s, they did a good job of keeping the style more or less the same.

The music and sound effects are also comparable, but I think the quality of the voiceover work in Kingdom II: Shadoan is noticeably better. Anyone who's ever met Nordon the Huntsman knows how bad some of the first game's line readings can get, and several important bits of dialogue in Kingdom: The Far Reaches were borderline incomprehensible thanks to poor audio or excessive use of effects. Those issues are pretty much absent from Kingdom II; everything is crisp, clean, and easy to understand. About the only exception is early in the game, when Lathan encounters a potentially misleading road sign; his confused response sounds for all the world like a stoned teenager.

In addition to the paper manual, Kingdom II: Shadoan offers extensive in-game resources, including a book for you to take notes and a set of reference works that talk about the game's characters, places, and so on. Oddly, those references make a point of singling out a female character for a detailed description, but she's extremely minor and has no speaking lines or significant action. Perhaps this relates to the back-of-the-box text, which talks about the game's "rare appeal to the female audience", but that's a joke at best: if anything, it has fewer significant female characters than the first game.

I won't talk extensively about the puzzles in Kingdom II: Shadoan. It's easy to get started, the game is quite lavish with hints, and the number of red herrings is quite small. If you hit a wall, you can pretty much always solve it by either reading the manual more carefully, systematically visiting previous locations and searching for things you missed, or trying every item you're allowed to use until one works. Even watching the game's promo materials can offer a small hint. And several puzzles have multiple solutions, or randomly vary between playthroughs -- and in at least two cases, you have to pay careful attention to subtle details, or risk failing when you're tested later on.

Problems

However, just as we got completely stuck in the first game, we were totally stumped by Kingdom II: Shadoan. Now, when we got stuck in Kingdom: The Far Reaches, it was our fault for overlooking a location and missing an important early item tucked away there. Playing on Apprentice mode actually made our mistake harder to figure out, since a lot of puzzles were removed, but the dialogue associated with those characters was left in, which ended up being confusing. Once we played on Wizard mode, the game actually made more sense, and so paradoxically was less challenging.

We also played Kingdom II: Shadoan on Apprentice mode at first, and everything seemed to be going well, but one thing didn't make sense: no matter what we did, Daelon wouldn't give us any more scrolls. Even after making it through over half of the game's puzzles, we still weren't getting anything from our wizardy friend. This made us tear our hair out with frustration: what on earth did we need to do in order to get him to cough up a set of scrolls? Had we missed something? We even tried restarting from scratch, again on Apprentice: no dice.

Well, since playing Apprentice mode actually threw us off in the first game, I thought that might be the problem here too. And sure enough, as soon as we switched over to Wizard mode and started a new game, Daelon was as helpful as a VIP concierge, giving us scrolls right away until we had the full set in no time. With those in hand, we blasted through the game in just a few hours.

Afterwards I looked at a walkthrough, and it says that tons of puzzles are supposed to be removed in Apprentice mode -- but on our attempts, we were hitting all of them. Our best guess is that either the whole Apprentice mode is bugged in the Mac OS version of Kingdom II: Shadoan, or (total speculation) we caused a glitch by asking for a scroll that we don't need to beat Apprentice mode (but do need in Wizard mode). Who knows what the problem is, but it's an inexcusable game-breaking glitch, and probably drove some poor kids to drink back in the day.

Speaking of kids, by the way, there's a parental install option that omits the goriest scenes from the game. Even on the default settings, there's nothing that traumatizing, but I suppose it's a reasonable way to make the game accessible to a younger audience.

Finally, the biggest and best battle in the game actually happens about halfway through. The final battle is short and easy by comparison, and a bit of a letdown.

Bottom Line

If you played Kingdom: The Far Reaches on 3DO and enjoyed it, it's well worth seeking out a copy of Kingdom II: Shadoan and finding out how the story ends. I can only imagine what it would have felt like to play the laserdisc game Thayer's Quest in the arcades -- or to be one of the bare handful of people who owned the ill-fated Halcyon system! -- and have to wait fifteen years for a resolution, albeit with renamed characters.

(Speaking of Thayer's Quest, my understanding is that version of the game has been reissued as well, but is kind of a mess.)

Copies of Kingdom II: Shadoan are very inexpensive, especially the DVD version, but it's worth holding out for the big-box version of the game to get all the extras that came with it. Just be warned that if you want to play it on Mac OS, you'll need an old computer that can boot Classic natively -- unless you can write a patch to fix the mouse bug, of course!


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