Being king is certainly no easy task, but Little King’s Story makes it a whole lot of fun
Ever since the dawn of the Nintendo 64 era, one stigma has been following Nintendo incessantly: the one that claims the company has a hard time garnering third-party support. Like most absolute truths, though, such a statement only holds if its intricacies are not analyzed very carefully. While lack of third-party games did indeed plague, to a large degree, both the Nintendo 64 and the Nintendo Wii U; saying the same about the Gamecube and the Wii is unfair. These two systems were able to build a respectable collection of non-Nintendo software, albeit in completely different ways: the former did it by receiving games that also starred in other platforms, whereas the latter achieved that same goal with quirky little exclusives.
From a creative standpoint, the Wii’s method of constructing a third-party library was far more interesting; after all, the side-dishes to Nintendo’s own juggernauts took advantage of the system’s numerous idiosyncrasies, hence being able to be high water marks of innovative gameplay design. However, the fact most of those exclusive gems had neither Nintendo’s bright seal nor the big name of a popular franchise attached to them meant they were quickly – and often unfairly – shunned towards a pit of obscurity. Out of all those titles, Little King’s Story may be the brightest one.
The comparisons to Pikmin are, naturally, immediate. After all, Little King’s Story is the tale of a boy (named Corobo) who, upon finding himself in some dark forest, discovers a crown that suddenly makes him the king of Alpoko Kingdom, thereby gaining the power to command an army of citizens to do as he sees fit. However, the real-time strategy elements are not the title’s main meat – as they are in Pikmin – but the starting point for the putting together of an adventure that borrows elements from Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing, and a whole bunch of RPGs and wraps them in a watercolor art style that is utterly perfect for the fantasy setting the game aims to bring to life, and a brand of humor that takes some rather unexpected and dark turns.
Although Little King’s Story setup resembles something that jumped out of the pages of a sugar-coated fairytale, being the king of Alpoko Kingdom is not a dream come true, but a burden that incurs more work, deadly battles, daunting journeys, and political decisions than a child should come into contact with. At first, players’ humble realm is so tiny and poor the royal residence resembles a small shoe box and only a couple of possibly starving and certainly clueless citizens are awaiting their liege’s commands. The journey towards prosperity starts by giving them something productive to do.
By wandering through the kingdom, gamers can press B to recruit citizens. Initially, all of them are carefree adults that do not do anything throughout the day and can be found sleeping on the sidewalks or benches; that is, if the kingdom has any of those lying around, otherwise they will probably happily settle for the grass. So in comes the king to throw them inside training facilities, which need to be built, that will give them a purpose in life: a job.
The game offers a huge variety of 20 jobs, each one with unique abilities and weaknesses that need to be used wisely if one plans to succeed inside the brutal world of Little King’s Story. These jobs include three different kinds of soldiers, for battling enemies that lurk outside the kingdom’s borders; farmers, who dig for loot much faster than other units and can open cracks in the ground; hunters, who shoot arrows at ground foes or flying objects; miners, who break large boulders; lumberjacks, who bring down tree trunks; carpenters, who build structures at impressive speeds; doctors, who stun enemies with anesthetics; and more, including some that have humorously specific purposes, such as cooks and their ability to immediately kill chicken enemies.
Citizens are not there for the sole purpose of doing as the king sees fit: they have lives of their own when they are not on duty. Some of them like to walk around in the late hours of the night while some go to bed early; others fall in love and can eventually get married, giving the kingdom another new baby citizen in the process. Moreover, in a bizarre – yet realistic – twist, losing a life on the battlefield affects the kingdom itself, as not only will the state have to pay a certain value due to that fatality, but a funeral will also be held at the cemetery in order to honor the deceased member of the community.
After building a nice and varied army, it is time to explore the vast and varied world of Little King’s Story. Shortly after becoming the leader of Alpoko Kingdom, Corobo receives a challenge from a nearby king, upon which he discovers Alpoko is one of eight existing kingdoms. From that point onwards, the ultimate goal of Little King’s Story reveals itself: sheer and absolute world domination. Corobo must, therefore, make his way towards the residence of each of his seven rivals; beat them in fierce and creative battles; and collect riches, land, respect, and also a cute personable princess he takes as his wife. In other words, the adorable coat of paint of Little King’s Story hides undertones of polygamy, and more.
Going straight for the jaws of the other kings, though, is not the only option the game gives players. Featuring a huge world, it manages to be refreshingly open-ended for a title of its genre. Gamers can choose to expand their kingdom by defeating nearby bosses, which are unanimously creative in their design; explore the land looking for treasure that will support the construction of new structures and full-fledged areas within the ever-growing borders of the territory; take on quests that are frequently sent to Coboro by mail; or focus on defeating the other Kings that dare to stand on players’ personal path to world domination.
In order to do so, gamers will guide their army through the land in pretty much the same way it is done in Pikmin: that is, they will follow their leader around waiting to be thrown at an object or enemy they can interact with, and will quickly retreat when such command is given. Initially, it is only possible to take five citizens with King Coboro, but as the game goes on that number will be expanded to up to thirty. Sadly, Coboro’s minions’ path-finding abilities are slightly lacking, which means that occasionally they are going to get stuck on walls as players climb ramps or other structures of the sort. It is an annoying issue, but if Coboro keeps following his path those stuck soldiers will magically rejoin the other forces, which slightly reduces the occasional frustration of having a bunch of important units stuck on the lower level of a hill.
In terms of controls, what really hurts the game is the unexplainable lack of an IR interface: in other words, the pointer of the Wii’s controller – perhaps its most solid feature, and one that would have greatly benefited Little King’s Story – is completely ignored. When facing foes, players will have to turn the king in their direction so they can aim properly and throw soldiers into battle; given aiming in such a way can be a little tricky, it is common to miss. The use of a pointer would have made such a process much more comfortable and accurate. After reaching enemies, soldiers will proceed to attack them; if players notice the adversary is about to land a blow on nearby soldiers, a press of the B-button is enough to make Coboro’s forces quickly retreat.
Controlling which unit will be sent into battle is quite simple as a click on the D-pad will reorganize the army, and tiny icons on the lower-left corner of the screen will show the units that are up next. Unfortunately, on very rare occasions, during the most intense battles, players will certainly run into a few camera angle problems, as the camera will fail to automatically rotate into a better position or get stuck on a not-so-comfortable view.
Despite of its obvious issues, Little King’s Story still comes off as a major victory thanks to its nearly uncountable qualities. Firstly, it is complete paradise to those who love great boss battles, as it features more than twenty of them. Guardians, which when defeated allow the expansion of the kingdom and the building of new structures, offer simple – yet engaging and creative – combats that are satisfying not only as prizes for a well-done exploration but also for the rewards they yield. Meanwhile, Coboro’s seven rival kings are full of personality: for example, one is a drunk man leading a kingdom focused on partying; another one watches TV from an underground base; and there is also a chubby leader who likes to spend his days eating his sweet kingdom up.
Facing the seven kings is one of the game’s biggest joys. The battles are very unique in setting and mechanics alike: one happens on a pinball table; another takes place over a vast world map where the player needs to find the country where the king is located based on a short description; and another plays more like a quiz show than an epic struggle between two kings. As a nice twist, developers also made the very wise choice of allowing players to restart battles right away if they lose instead of having to walk back into the battlefield and watch an introductory cutscene one more time; a move that obviously does away with any unnecessary and frustrating backtracking.
In technical terms, the game is also excellent. Its graphics may not be among the Wii’s very best; for instance, the animation of the units that follow the king is particularly lackluster, yet understandable given how many citizens are on-screen simultaneously. However, the visuals certainly do their job, especially because of the wonderful artwork the game has, which permeates everything from cutscenes that look like moving oil paintings to the colorful and charming visuals that mask some very dark subjects the game touches upon, such as the battle of Religion against Science, and death. Additionally, the soundtrack, which consists of public-domain reorchestrated tracks, is both lovely and thematically fitting.
Finally, Little King’s Story is astonishingly successful in both its writing and content. The former is highlighted by sarcastic and witty humor that tries to sneak dark and adult themes past players, causing delight and laughter on those who catch them. The latter is not only thick, but also incredibly well-designed. Little King’s Story is a game that features between 30 and 50 hours of entertaining and highly addictive gameplay with a very nice level of difficulty, and its lengthy main quest is adorned by excellent sidequests that find their most irresistible instances in the quests that are given to King Corobo by the seven princesses, who will send him around the world looking for items they appreciate.
Little King’s Story is, then, a prime example of the Wii’s hidden treasure trove of third-party software. It may not have a big recognizable name, but it charmingly achieves a level of greatness that popular franchises sometimes fail to reach. It is an original take on the real-time strategy formula that mixes it up with world-building elements and the exploration found in the best adventure games. Being king is certainly not an easy task, especially when such a job comes with battles for world domination in its horizon; however, Little King’s Story makes it a whole lot of fun, and, if players are able to look past its punctual control issues, they will find a title that is great in size, heart, soul, and quality.