By Dave Haldane
Back in 2009, a unique strategy game called Little King’s Story was released for the Nintendo Wii. Despite a cult following and continuing good sales, it's considered by many to be a “sleeper hit” which fails to get the recognition it deserves. Don’t worry if you missed it though as it's been succeeded by a new title on Vita: New Little King's Story!
Equipped with improved graphics, a new control method and less “cutesy” visage, New Little King’s Story is a Vita title you would be remiss to ignore. Primarily, a real time strategy game it combines RPG and life simulation elements to create a truly unique experience.
New Little King’s Story puts you in the shoes of Corobo, a young King focused on building an empire, saving princesses and amassing a huge army. Why’s he doing this? To reclaim his stolen kingdom and save the world of course. I assume this is the kingdom he built up in the first title however, this isn't overly obvious at first and the game feels a little vague and assuming. Luckily, as you progress, things become more apparent and you can enjoy the story even if you haven't played the predecessor.
Whilst “light” on the surface the story is designed to reward those who pay attention. If you read notes, speak to citizens, do quests and, above all, listen when told something you’ll soon see there’s much more to the little King’s story than meets the eye. A huge part of the game's charm is the way this story is told. Full of game, TV, movie and pop culture references it never failed to bring a smile to my face whilst letting me know what was going on.
As the game begins, you find yourself King of a small village. Tasked with growing your “kingdom” you must explore the surrounding areas, purge them of monsters and collect swag. How do you do this? Like any good dictator this is done by commanding your citizens. You have the ability to recruit any citizen to be part of your “Royal Guard”. Once recruited citizens will blindly follow until you lob them at an enemy or obstacle. That’s right, in a very Pikmin-esque fashion you interact with things by hurling citizens at them. In fact, if you've ever played Pikmin before, you'll no doubt notice a distinct similarity in gameplay style; the two games are very similar.
Initially your citizens can only perform simple tasks like fighting monsters, decimating shrubs or exploring small holes however, as your funds increase, you can build training facilities to teach them new skills. Before long you’ll have miners to get you past large boulders, lumberjacks to remove fallen trees and gourmet chefs to…uh… 1 hit kill chickens. Due to the limited size of your Royal Guard good management of your active team becomes vital. Do you go for a team of grunts and hunters to decimate a boss, stick with farmers and carpenters for exploring or go for a mix?
The speed with which you can purchase these upgrades is governed by the your progress on the main story and the currency in your coffers. You progress through the main story, basically, by finding and defeating a series of bosses. Once you beat a main boss a number of sub bosses become available; beat those and you regain control of an area which opens up new options for expansion. Boss design is another area where New Little King’s Story is very clever. Whilst most sub bosses can be beaten with zerging each of the main bosses offer unique experiences. One of them’s a side scroller where you use the touch screen to knock back enemies; another is styled after a pinball game and has you moving across the bottom of the screen like Arknoid. Without explaining in detail I can’t do them justice but, rest assured, they play just like the main game but with quirks to make them unique, fun and memorable.
When not out conquering the land our King likes to kick back at the castle, managing his citizens. Each citizen can be equipped with custom clothes, hats and weapons which directly affect their combat stats. They also have a “happiness” level which must be managed and occasionally two of them will fall in love. When this happens you can spirit them off to the chapel, get them married and increase your population. Whilst I thought the “life simulation” aspect of the game was interesting the interface was overly cumbersome and the result largely unimportant. As a result I just managed the equipment/jobs for my current Royal Guard and left everyone else to their own devices.
If that’s not enough variety for you New Little King’s Story offers alchemy; this game’s version of crafting. It's another clever, yet not overly useful, mechanic where you can make weapons, clothes or items using things you collect on your adventures (e.g. wood from smashing logs, stone from rocks, etc.) You can opt to craft items by yourself or with friends via PSN. Unfortunately online functionality was not available in the review copy I had however I did create some items locally. They seemed to take a long time to complete and often failed. I would have played around with it further but the process wasn't explained well and I didn't felt there was a need; the equipment I looted from monsters was more than adequate for me to finish the game.
Unfortunately New Little King's Story has a few issues which impact the experience... and they’re biggies. The first, and most important, is the lack of instruction. Key game mechanics are poorly explained or, sometimes, completely neglected. For example; early in the game you get the opportunity to build a platform to help manage the Royal Guard. Once built you get no further instruction than “You can call all members to the platform before the castle. It’s easy to call and organise the Guard, Jobs and Teams”. The menu wasn't obvious and, without further instruction, I thought a fairly useless feature. It wasn't until about 20 hours in that I figured out how to use some of the features (and cursed myself for the time wasted running around finding citizens to scout). I still don’t get how teams or badges work and am a little confused by alchemy!
Another thing conspicuously absent is decent instruction regarding controls. Some things, like battle line-up are poorly explained and other key things like touch controls aren't mentioned at all! At times it felt like the people writing the manual thought the detailed instruction would be in game and the in game people thought it would be in the manual... so it never got added. Thankfully, for the most part, it’s easy to figure out what you have to do so, aside from a couple of instances, most gamers won't have any problems.
The final negative that I must mention is the slow speed and frame rate drop you experience when there’s a lot happening on screen. In the early stages of the game it’s not really noticeable however, once your Royal Guard reaches 20 or so, it’s painfully obvious. I decided to test the difference myself and a journey that took 12 seconds when alone took 20 seconds with a full guard. Thanks to unlockable jump cannons you won’t need to do a great deal of world navigation however it still had a large impact on my experience. Fighting bosses in slow motion is a real pain!
Aside from that the game had a few other “quirks” like poor camera angles or difficulty aiming but, on the whole, these weren't “deal breaker” issues and shouldn't affect your decision to buy the game.
Despite these setbacks New Little King’s Story still looks fantastic and plays well. Seeing your chibi style characters running around a sharply rendered kingdom is a wonderful thing to behold. Each area is distinct and has a unique, fun style. Whether your roaming through a land filled with giant cups of tea and cakes or climbing across an area filled with cardboard cutouts every stage of the game has a unique feel. The colouring in Little King's Story is a little strange. For the most part it looks rather saturated but the shifts in the time of day gave the areas a washed out/tinted appearance. The game still looks fantastic but I was left feeling that they missed opportunity to have some stunning, bright and colorful areas. In stark contrast to the cute chibi look of the playing field cut-scenes and in game dialogue are accompanied by somewhat more "adult" looking anime art. This works well as there are many adult references in the game and, despite it's initial appearance, it is a game that targets an adult audience. I still felt a bit weird playing a 14 year old boy rescuing sexy princesses for his harem though...
The musical score is unoriginal but that’s by no means a negative. A mixture of orchestral classics accompany each level and provide the perfect atmosphere for the events happening in game. The mix of classics provide the perfect backdrop for the game and atmosphere for events.
Once you finish New Little King’s Story there’s quite a bit to have you coming back for more. Aside from the joy of playing through the game again you'll have side quests to complete, trophies to collect, encyclopaedia entries to complete and 9 endings to find. Many of these tasks cannot be completed until after you've finished the game so there's a definite incentive to keep going... that and it's strangely addictive and fun. If you're a trophy hunter then you should be happy with what New little King's Story has to offer. Most trophies are easily attainable during the story and, from what I can see, none are missable. There are the obligatory collectibles however they're not simple "find 100 glowey objects" and all are fun to find. If you're up for a difficult challenge then this may not be the game for you. It's not particularly difficult and took me around 27 hours to complete with 8 of the endings (most of them were just a choice prior to the end boss).
In conclusion New Little King’s Story is a fantastic, addictive game with some big flaws that can't be ignored. It looks great, sounds great and makes me happy I purchased a Vita. It just feels like it needed that extra round of quality testing and patching prior to release. I gave it a 7.5 out of 10 however, if they fix those issues with a patch, I'd consider this a 9 or 9.5 out of 10 game. Even with it's flaws I had an absolute blast and am still playing it.