Everybody remembers what it’s like to be a kid during summer vacation. There’s no school, you’re free to play outside, and you can come up with any wacky adventures you want. When the only limit is your imagination, you and your friends can do anything you want. And simply put it’s that kind of fantastic vibes that I got from Matthew Vimislik’s interactive graphic novel, King of the Cul-De-Sac.
The story goes that you’re Karah, a plucky young girl and younger sister of the previous King. Now that he’s heading off to school, it’s time for someone else to wear the crown, and that someone just could be Karah. However, you’re not the only one pining for this glowing neon possibly metaphorical piece of royal bling, so you’d better be prepared to stop the others who may stand in your way.
King of the Cul-De-Sac is essentially a bit comic book mixed with some choose your own adventure elements. The gameplay itself couldn’t be any simpler. You click the right side of the screen to advance the story, and if you ever need to take a step back, you can click the left side. Every now and then you’ll have choices to make via text prompts so you can just click on those.
Every now and then the game will get a bit more in-depth and creative with its gameplay, but it ultimately boils down to clicking on stuff. There are a few object puzzles where clicking the right object will open a path to progression, and even a few turn based RPG battles against bosses. One of my absolute favorite moments was during the haunted mansion where Karah was fighting a monstrous clown. But instead of just punches or kicks, it used the insult fighting mechanic from the Monkey Island series where the clown would insult you and you’d have to respond with an appropriately witty comeback in order to defeat it. The writing and creativity in King of the Cul-De-Sac was definitely its strong point.
The frantic energy of the characters coupled with the over the top takes on normal things kind of reminds me of Ed, Edd ‘n Eddy, which also told the crazy stories of kids in a cul-de-sac. It’s a really nice setting and each character is genuinely memorable, with my personal favorite being the horror obsessed Bram. Something I genuinely love about King of the Cul-De-Sac is that even when dealing with crazy stories like fighting off a demonic otter or battling sentries in a pyramid shaped spaceship, it keeps things grounded in a way that nearly any kid can relate to. There was one bit where I had to raid the couch cushions for quarters so I could bike down to the convenience store and buy toys from a capsule machine. Then when I ran out of quarters I collected cans and biked to where I could recycle them for more quarters so I could bike back to the convenience and buy more capsule toys. It was a moment that felt like it was ripped straight out of my childhood, and it felt good to know this was an experience many people could probably relate to.
Aside from the writing, King of the Cul-De-Sac has a fantastic visual style. The art style is great and the game has some fantastically vibrant colors that really make it pop, with one of the most notable examples being Karah’s green hair. Certain aspects are greatly exaggerated, and it’s got a nice sense of meta style humor blended in, like when delivering multiple punches to my enemy a combo counter popped up.
King of the Cul-De-Sac is a very short game. I was able to get most of the endings in about an hour. But trying to get the different endings and seeing Karah’s relationship with the other characters was always a fun experience. Even the very first choice you make can send you on wildly different paths. On my second playthrough, I was basically recruited by the bully to take down the other kids for her. I didn’t really feel good about it, but I was determined to try and get all the endings, so I actively tried to make choices that I wouldn’t normally make, and when you do this, you’re sure to discover something new.
King of the Cul-De-Sac is definitely a game that can be enjoyed by all ages. Kids will relate to the characters, and none of the puzzles would be too difficult for them, and as I already mentioned, adults may find themselves feeling nostalgic for the after school neighborhood shenanigans of these characters. The characters are expressive, and the comic book aesthetic lends itself really well to this genre of game. It’s like reading a choose your own adventure novel, but the flow never gets interrupted and you’re eager to see how a different run will turn out as soon as you finish the first one. Whether I was chasing down an ice cream man (a man made out of actual ice cream, mind you) or listening to 40 different ghost stories, I kept finding myself pleasant surprised by King of the Cul-De-Sac. And that’s without even mentioning the game’s use of music that makes sure every moment of the game has the right tone for what’s happening.
And the best part is that you can play through this adventure again and again, until you get all seven endings, for the cost of absolutely nothing. The game is free to download on Steam, and I’m so glad I gave it a shot. It may not be a game you’ll come back to again and again once you feel like you’ve seen all there is to see, but I have no doubt players will enjoy the time they do spend with it.
John reviewed King of the Cul-De-Sac on Steam with a personally purchased copy. The game is also available on Google Play and itch.io