A Diamond In The Rough
It doesn’t happen all that often, but now and then the Wii has gotten some truly exceptional original titles. Little King’s Story is one of them. Developed by some of the veterans responsible for hits like Harvest Moon, it has a hint of that game’s obsessive compulsive game design, mixed with the simple but fun strategy elements of Nintendo’s Pikmin series. It’s all presented in a cute and charming graphical style, with music almost entirely from the catalogs of classical composers (which proves quite fitting). As you survey your land buzzing with inhabitants, it’s hard not to believe there is a small world living inside your television.
The game puts you in the role of a small boy named Corobo, the would-be ruler of the kingdom of Alpoko. At first your realm consists of a dusty shack and a few peasants, but with a little elbow grease you’ll quickly expand to the nearby river and beyond. Villagers begin as layabouts called carefree adults, but by summoning them with a twirl of your scepter, you can send them into buildings where they’ll take on specific job classes. Building stuff takes money so at first you’ll need to dig up some treasure to pay for things, but eventually the loot from quests will be your bread and butter. Then you can build farmer’s huts for faster diggers, soldiers’ barracks to get some grunts, and carpenters for building bridges and stairways.
Conquering the monstrous guardians in the lands just beyond the protection of your borders (which include silly giant frogs, musky mushrooms, monstrous ambling sunflowers, demonic cows and chickens, turnip-headed mandagoras, and little imps called Onis), you expand your territory and new job classes become available. The game ramps up in complexity at a good pace, which allows players to familiarize themselves with its nuances. Hunters can pick off enemies from afar with their bows; lumberjacks clear away gigantic tree stumps blocking your path; and miners break down rocks standing in your way. Specialty classes like gourmet chefs can take out pesky giant chickens with ease, while savvy merchants can unlock hidden treasures. Once recruited, your units will jog along behind you in selectable formations to hell and back.
The trick is bringing the right combination of units with you into the great unknown. You’ll need a farmer to dig up holes, which can yield health-restoring hot springs or valuable treasure. A handful of soldiers are a must to take down the many foes you’ll encounter; and one of each of the specialty classes could come in handy. Individual citizens aren’t nameless units; they can be upgraded with more life and power, and can each carry one special item which boosts their stats or makes them invulnerable to certain status effects. Later, you’ll get upgraded classes that are stronger and faster than some of the initial ones.
Thankfully, unlike most strategy RPGs (such as Pikmin), if a unit bites the dust on the battlefield, there is a strong chance they’ll wash up on the local beach the next day good as new. Even so, they don’t feel quite as expendable as units in similar games, since there is a chance of permanent death (citizens will hold a funeral). This unhappy event can and should be avoided by resetting and reconsidering your strategy. Most of the time, beating a hasty retreat to regroup when an enemy is steaming mad (an indication they are about to attack) will prevent your units from taking damage. New citizens can be generated by sending two units who have fallen in love into the local church, who will promptly wed and have a kid. The kid can be turned into an adult by sending them to school, at which point you can assign them any class.
You can spend hours just monster hunting (via the suggestion box), but to make headway you’ll have to venture into enemy territory and conquer their ruling kings. There are seven kingdoms in all, and each features a different theme and wildly unique boss encounters. One plays like a pinball game; another like a round of trivia; yet another tests your knowledge of real-world geography. It’s all incredibly well done and can be quite challenging, and always entertainingly book-ended by cinematic movies. And if you happen to fall victim to their unusual attack patterns, the game lets you continue to try again as many times as you’d like.
For every kingdom you conquer, you’ll rescue a princess who will give you some side quests to fulfill, which result in a special scene upon completion. Earthquakes threaten the safety of your growing population, which means a special airship must be built, requiring special parts. Paintings – artwork by gamers who entered an online contest – are scattered around the world and are rewarding to collect. These objectives, along with the aforementioned suggestion box mail, mean you’ll easily spend between 30~40 hours playing the game. Most of it is completely optional, which means players can spend as much or as little time as they want doing the extras.
I thoroughly enjoyed Little King’s Story, but it does have its share of frustrations. The game doesn’t make use of the Wii remote’s pointer functionality, which could have made sending troops at specific enemies much easier. You’ll have to do some backtracking in the beginning, before you are able to set up warp points. The bosses feel a bit unbalanced in their difficulty, even on the “normal” difficulty setting. The storyline isn’t as developed as other RPGs. These are all pretty minor issues in the long run, and shouldn’t prevent you from enjoying the game. To be honest, in the first hour or so I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it, but when the game clicked with me there was no turning back. If any of the above sounds like fun to you, you should take up the crown and scepter and get the game.
(This review is a repost of the review @ http://www.plasticpals.com)