The Wii hasn’t been the most hospitable home for third-party developers. A cursory glance on Metacritic will show the list of its most critically-acclaimed games is populated by Nintendo titles that sold and outside productions that didn’t. Whether those games were targeted at gamers left cold by the lack of hardcore gaming titles (as Sin & Punishment: Star Successor and Muramasa: The Demon Blade were) or the ready-made, Wii Sports-playing family market (like Zack & Wiki: Quest or Barbados’ Treasure and – the mercifully subtitle-less – Punch Out!) seems immaterial. Apparently the Wii is destined to be forever known as the void in to which developers, inspired by the innovation of motion-controls, hurled their games; the console that survived on first-party releases alone and accrued a catalogue of great games that far too few gamers would ever play.
Rant aside, Little King’s Story is intended for the latter audience. All cute Chibi heads and endearing fairy-tale world, it doesn’t seem the most natural format for what is billed as one of the Wii’s few (and best) real-time strategy games. Its developer, Cing, is one of the clearest casualties of the Nintendo’s uninhabitable wasteland of third-party support. The independent Japanese studio behind Another Code’s off-kilter adventuring and Hotel Dusk’s noir Layton-esque puzzling sadly filed for bankruptcy in March this year. All this considered, I was happy to see it land on my doormat this week, epitomising as it does what is both so wrong and can be so right about the strange gaming environment of the console.
And so, armed with an indecently-sized bottle of Becks and an empty Friday night, I decided to toast the doomed developer and see what treasures a single night of gaming could unearth.
As promised, King’s Story is a solid RTS, though more in the Pikmin sense of the genre than StarCraft. Its design immediately brings to mind the hours lost cultivating and item-collecting in series like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, and coming from such a pedigree of influences it’s no surprise that it is a joy to play
You’re dropped in to a technicolor world where you are promptly informed that the crown you discover on your head proves you are the lost king of the kingdom who disappeared 35 years ago, despite the fact your character can’t be older than 8. So begins the usual rig-morale of town-building and resource-harvesting, but what could feel like a grind is lifted by fantastic small decisions in design; such as the robust score of classical anthems that add a quaint nobility to your turnip-harvesting, or the quirky incoherent jabbering of your subjects like the elderly knight and his bovine steed, Pancho. The world is very continental in style and so the Quixotic subtitled conversations with the commoners are suitably French, the travelling troubadour quite possibly Senegalese, and the star-gazer locked in a Renaissance-esque battle with the church of the Sect of Soup, Italian.
Strictly speaking the game is nuts, and it heartily encourages you to explore and discover its eccentricities. The first hour of pottering around your soft, rounded kingdom is remarkably… pleasant. You depart on trivial assignments, return with various kinds of acquired loot and return it to Howser to mark up for an enjoyably capitalist sense of gain. Howser himself is a nice dark touch as he appears as your biggest fan and yet as he sends you back and forth on errands and tells you when to go to bed afterwards you begin to wonder who’s throne-room it is he resides in. One surprisingly sinister night scene where he manipulatively erects a construction site in his insatiable desire for expansion suggests a traitorous plot in the future that might add a little edge to this Fisher Price kingdom.
An edge which is only elsewhere present in the battle mechanics. After picking up your jobless journeymen to become members of your ever-increasing royal party you can assign to them jobs such as soldier, farmer or carpenters. Seeing the same names returning again and again in their new roles allows your cohorts to develop personalities in the same way your squad in Cannon Fodder used to, and as in that game it can be truly quite distressing when the ticker ‘Merlan is dead’ scrolls across your screen – and as each character has differing levels of health the sight of your most accident prone denizen’s name panning across your screen can become tragically familiar.
Rather than getting your hands dirty, your little dictator send his denizens off in the direction of enemies that require battling or turnips that need uprooting. Aside from deciding which skilled workers you bring along for particular quests and the tact with which you fire them off to their respective tasks (much like the coloured bubbles of Puzzle Bobble) it’s difficult to see where the strategy of this RTS comes in to play, as most battles can be won by simply learning patterns and then spamming the deploy button – a button that is unfortunately overused in this game’s controls, and can often lead to confusion between ordering your citizens and instructing your king’s own actions.
One glaring omission in the control scheme is one you would assume should have been the key reason Cing decided to develop for the Wii. RTS games find comfortable success on the PC thanks to the intuitive control of the mouse, and so the pointer capabilities of the Wiimote seem a reasonably competent proxy for such control. Yet in King’s Story you find yourself having to shoot characters off in the direction your King is pointing (again, think Puzzle Bobble with a moving cannon) and so you must clumsily navigate with the analogue stick, often walking in the wrong direction just so you can turn around and face the right way. Why exactly the Wiimote’s functionality was ignored is a mystery but it is an unnecessary annoyance in an otherwise joyful game experience.
Stylistically, Little King’s Story shares much of the magic of its town and farm-managing forebears and in terms of gameplay it offers an innocuously enjoyable plaything that proves difficult to put down. Despite the apparent lack of progress in your various wanderings you are never bored and in my play time I never tired or grew disenchanted with the magic of the kingdom. There just got to a point where I decided to call it a night.
Play length: 2 hours 52 minutes
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Possibly, though the engrossing nature of the game only seems to captivate as long as you’re still adventuring. Picking up where you left off is not an unpleasant thought, just not an essential one. Still, I’ll always remember the time we had together. A rental.