This deep, challenging, and beautiful RTS-RPG hybrid is cleverly disguised as a child-friendly introduction to the strategy genre.
- Gorgeous visuals
- Epic boss battles
- Guaranteed to make you smile through its wit and its charm
- Layered with subtle cross-cultural references.
- Some sound effects grate after the first few hours
- Weak story.
UK REVIEW--First impressions can be misleading, and this is very much the case with Little King's Story. At first glance it looks simplistic, but this is actually a mature, fresh, and challenging game. There are references to everything from Nietzsche to Cervantes, and Douglas Adams to Captain Beefheart, as well as nods through the dialogue, visuals and music to gaming classics such as Super Mario Bros and Space Invaders. It has its foibles--a weak story, occasional pathfinding and targeting issues, and what may be the single most annoying sound effect to grace a console this generation--but it succeeds in delivering a lengthy and satisfying role-playing and strategy experience, with some truly epic fights unlike almost anything else you'll find on the Wii.
Little King's Story opens with you, the titular royal, in a rather squalid little hut, set on an island in the middle of a charming and seemingly safe little world. Your quest pits you against a few troublesome creatures that are getting in the way of you expanding the poky little kingdom that has just accepted you as its ruler. You'll be directed by Howser the Bull-Knight, who has a slightly unhealthy and poorly hidden desire for world domination, and accompanied by your trusty bovine steed, Pancho.
You head out into the world with instructions from Howser to seek out treasure to fill your coffers and so expand your domain. The gameplay itself is an intriguing combination of real-time strategy and role-playing traditions. Your ability to deal with the threats and obstacles that you encounter in the world is defined by the make-up of your group, and though this is relatively easy to do when you have only a handful of subjects with two or three job types at your command, it gets fairly complex towards the end when you're juggling up to 30 characters with more than 15 different jobs.
After easing into the game via a gentle tutorial, you have to choose a combination of farmers and grunt soldiers. The former are good at digging, while the latter are much better at dealing with any threats you come across, but completely incapable of unearthing the treasure you need to expand your kingdom. After you have amassed a small horde and defeated your first guardian--the game's mini-bosses--you'll soon have the options to create hunters, who are your ranged attackers, and carpenters, who can build stairs and bridges to allow you to reach previously inaccessible areas. Soon enough you start to encounter obstacles too tough for your grunts and farmers to simply bash out of your way, and a little more treasure--as well as the defeat of another guardian--allows you to build a logging camp. At this point you can train lumberjacks, who can smash hulking great tree trunks into manageable pieces for your less-able subjects to hack into, and later you'll gain access to miners who can do the same thing with rocks.
While this may sound a little arbitrary, it works well as a method for restricting and guiding your progress, as well as steadily increasing the complexity of your group-building without ever overwhelming you with options. With almost every mission you complete you'll be able to either expand your team, access a new type of unit, or make your subjects tougher, and so feel that much closer to being able to take on the next big challenge.
Combat in Little King's Story starts out very simply, as you have very few weapons in your arsenal; it's simply a matter of sending your grunts and farmers in to bash your foes over the head with their swords and shovels, and recalling them at the right moments if the enemy in question looks to be charging up a more-powerful attack. Your hunters have a very limited ammunition supply, which quickly forces you into creating strategies that require you saving them for times of dire need rather than simply keeping the various creatures at arm's length in an effort to stop your troops taking too much damage. Later on, more specialised combat characters come into play--Chefs, for instance, can saute a massive chicken in seconds, saving your grunts a gruelling encounter, but are little use for anything else. Thankfully there is no great penalty initially for getting these things wrong--while your troops can die they are generally returned to you the following day, as they mysteriously wash ashore of a morning. Every so often news comes in that one of those washed ashore had passed on before anyone could reach them, which prompts mourning from your subjects--seeing them wandering around in funeral garb sobbing quietly serves as a good reminder to be a little more careful next time you go into battle.
Controlling your team is a fairly simple affair, and is managed through a combination of the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The Nunchuk's analogue stick controls targeting and movement, while the Wii Remote's buttons let you send subjects out, call them back in, add to your team if you're short, or change their formation. This system works really well for the most part, making it very easy to either overwhelm single targets or spread your forces across several when attacking more balanced packs of enemies.
There are two notable exceptions to this, however. When you have several closely packed targets, it can be a little tricky to choose the one you want. Your targeting indicator, in an attempt to be helpful, locks on to the closest targets in the vague direction in which you're pointing, causing problems when you're trying to quickly prioritise and take out multiple targets at slightly different ranges. This doesn't happen that regularly, even in boss fights, but it crops up often enough to be irksome. The other issue is that once you have more than a handful of subjects under your control, you will find yourself quite regularly going back to retrieve those members who have gotten stuck behind pesky walls, fallen over small ledges, or have simply proved themselves incapable of following you up a flight of stairs.