Quest for Camelot isn’t the first kusoge that Nintendo has put on one of its Nintendo Switch Online retro catalogs, but it may be the strangest. I mean, was it that easy to get permission from Warner Bros? Surely, no one asked for this. No one at Nintendo could have possibly been looking at a list of GBC games and zeroed in on this as something that absolutely needed to be on the service. I think every game, regardless of how bad, deserves to be available on modern platforms, but from a business sense, why would anyone choose this game?
What actually convinced me to play it is the fact that it’s developed by the bane of my existence: Titus. As I always say, “It ain’t no fun if there’s a fox on the box.” But, more strangely, it was published by Nintendo themselves. That may be part of what helped it get its spot in the Switch’s Game Boy Color channel, but it also raises more questions.
We eat ham and jam and spam a lot
Quest for Camelot is a 1998 film that I remember existing. I remember watching it, but I don’t remember anything else. So, I did what any games journalist would do: I read the plot synopsis on Wikipedia. As it turns out, the game (also released in 1998) kind of sort of follows the plot.
You play as Kayley, who dreams of following in her dead father’s footsteps and becoming a knight. Meanwhile, Ruber has his own ambitions of stealing Excalibur from King Arthur. Mistakes happen, and Excalibur falls into a Forbidden Forest. Kayley then embarks on a quest to obtain the enchanted cutlery and defeat Ruber, because revenge would just be so sweet.
The game itself borrows heavily from The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, which is probably the nicest thing someone could say about it. The inventory works largely the same, with you mapping specific items to the two buttons. It doesn’t use the same world design, instead choosing a level-based structure with a lot of very context-specific items. I guess what I’m saying is that it doesn’t benefit whatsoever from copying a better game.
The second nicest thing that could be said is that its moment-to-moment gameplay isn’t that bad. You hit things with your sword, and those things die after a few hits, and it feels okay. You gain experience and level up, but there’s no way to view how close you are to the next level. And that’s about it. That’s the moment-to-moment gameplay. Everything beyond that is awful.
I don’t often expect much from movie tie-in games. There are certainly examples of some good ones, but they’re crowded out by the more common cash-grabs. It’s not difficult to understand. Developers often work under strict deadlines to meet the movie’s release, publishers can have some unreasonable expectations, and it’s hard to get excited when working based on a license they might have no interest in.
Quest for Camelot largely exudes that. It is such a slapdash game, that I had to use a guide to figure out its logic. For instance, at the end of the first level, you fight Ruber. After swatting him enough, he starts spinning on the spot before launching toward the top of the screen. I followed him, only to see him give another pirouette before disappearing entirely.
Then I was left standing there. Nothing had happened. I waited for the level to end, but it didn’t come. I circled the room, looking for a way out, but there was none. So, it was off to find a guide. As it turns out, I had to walk to the very bottom of the room, then a hole would open up, and I was supposed to fall into it. Oh, right. Obviously.
Further on, after one of the worst top-down platforming sections I’ve yet to encounter, I had to collect dragon eggs. I was sure that I had them all, but the dragon just kept telling me to go get all of them. Closer inspection of the guide was necessary. I had to exit the cave I was in and then jump right to an exit that looked like it shouldn’t exist. There was no spot to land. It looked like any other non-specific barrier in the game. I would have perpetually wandered in circles before even thinking to jump over there.
These sorts of moments crop up throughout the game. There’s one level where you have to backtrack from one end to the next just to get a horse so you can return back to where you were. One of the worst moments involves a boss that requires you to use a stick to harm it. However, the collision detection for the stick requires you to get within a single pixel of the boss in order for it to detect. It’s excruciating.
The moments where you’re not having issues like these driven beneath your fingernails feel so refreshing. That’s despite the fact that Quest for Camelot is crammed with technical issues. I’m not certain if these exist in the original release, but the Switch version has visual glitches (like when my entire inventory turned into Missingno) and noticeable load times. Generally speaking, it’s not bad looking game. Although, Kaylee seems to walk with a limp that I don’t think was intentional.
It’s always bizarre to see loading times in a ROM-based game. But while simply going back and forth between levels leads to a few seconds of waiting, talking to a character involves some hesitation as well, just to bring up the dialogue box. These aren’t terribly long, mind you. However, it does make Quest for Camelot feel a lot more sluggish than just about everything else of the era.
Sweet mercy of death
Death in Quest for Camelot is also pretty nasty. There’s no checkpoint system, so the only way to continue is to do so from a save. The save system, however, is tied to an item in your inventory. That’s no so bad, but then you have to pay 30 gems just to use it. Then you have to wait for all the loading screens, so eventually, I just turned to using the Switch’s save states. It’s kind of neat that you can’t even rely on the bare minimum when it comes to Titus games.
In general, Quest for Camelot isn’t the worst movie-licensed games I’ve played. I still can’t believe I played through the entirety of Total Recall on NES. However, it’s still not very good, and it’s based on a license that wasn’t great to begin with. The only reason I see for it being on Switch’s Game Boy Color channel is that it was initially published by Nintendo, but that still means they’d need permission from Warner Bros. I’m guessing they’re not all that protective of the license.
Titus was also planning an N64 game based on Quest for Camelot but canceled it in 1999. I feel like that is probably a blessing, but at the same time, I’m always curious to know the answer to the question, “Just how bad could it possibly be?”