Review: New Little King's Story
If there's anything the entertainment industry has taught me, it's that being a king is hard work. Between banishing favourite daughters, overcoming speech impediments, and forcing prostitutes to torture each other at crossbow-point, there's hardly any time left in the day to really let your hair down and do the things you love. You know, like flinging villagers towards giant snails and evil sentient radishes. Thankfully for the modern monarch on the go, there's New Little King's Story for the PS Vita, a half-sequel half-remake of 2009's Little King's Story for the Wii, featuring all the throwing-villagers-at-evil-radishes gameplay you could crave. New Little King's Story is a charming game with an adorable design and fun gameplay, though several annoying flaws keep it from being a must-have title. It's also really fucking weird, and not just because of the radishes.
In New Little King's Story, you assume the role of Corobo, a young king whose castle is conquered by demons at the beginning of the game. A king without a kingdom, your job is to slowly rebuild your kingdom with the help of your villagers and lead the world's most adorable little uprising.
At the outset of the game, you can train your villagers to be farmers, builders, and soldiers. In essence, the farmers harvest supplies, the builders build new structures, and the soldiers attack enemies. By going into the wild and harvesting, building, and murdering, respectively, you can gain new territory. As the game progresses, you gain more followers, can teach new jobs (such as chefs, hunters, and miners), and take over more areas of the map. Think Genghis Khan meets Pikmin.
In addition to expanding your territory, you must also rescue seven princesses who were kidnapped while visiting your besieged castle. Each princess, upon being rescued, will then join your kingdom and can offer unique bonuses. Disney-esque Princess Apricot grants Corobo improved attacks, for example, while candy-loving Princess Amabile can restore health. There's even a cyborg princess who can launch missiles at enemies.
Controls for the game are fairly straightforward, though you wouldn't know it from the tutorial. The majority of the game involves, as I said before, hurling your villagers at resources, buildings, and enemies while you explore new territory. According to New Little King's Story, you achieve this by aiming with the control pad so that you're facing your target, then pressing square to send out your first follower. However, this is made frustratingly impossible by the fact that if you're even slightly misaligned, your follower will run right past his or her target, not stopping until they crash into a wall or give up in confusion. There's absolutely no room for error, yet the controls are so imprecise it's practically impossible to get followers to do anything you want, particularly when you're also trying to run around to avoid enemy attacks.
Of course, this would all be easier if the game made use of the touch screen, allowing you to simply tap where you want to send your followers. The thing is, the game does also allow that option, they just never tell you, instead making players wrestle with the impossible button control scheme. Thankfully I managed to figure it out, but judging from some justifiably outraged reviews I've come across, not everyone picked up on that. In addition, there were several other gameplay mechanics that the game spent no time whatsoever explaining, such as how to activate princess abilities. Some of these I figured out on my own, others I needed to look up online. Bottom line, though, is that the game needed to better convey its gameplay to its players in order to avoid frustration.
Esoteric controls aside, the game itself is a lot of fun, though it can get repetitive at points. There's something exhilarating about sending waves of followers out to overrun an enemy, particularly when you can customize the outfits of your followers to look, say, like giant panda bears. However, there really is very little change to gameplay throughout the entire experience: go out, harvest, build, kill. Repeat as necessary. That being said, as the game progresses additional unit types and buildings provide some nice variety, and different parts of the map have distinctly different aesthetics, so you also get a constant change of scenery. There's a bit of a grinding aspect, particularly if you want to achieve all the side quests and fill out all the encyclopedias, but when has grinding ever not been a repetitive affair?
Design-wise, there's a lot to like about the visuals of New Little King's Story. While it won't be pushing the graphical limitations of the Vita, the game still looks great. Some fans of the original Little King's Story may decry the new, somewhat more detailed aesthetics, but I'm a fan of the new look. Most of the dialogue is told using illustrations of the characters, and while I'd usually prefer cutscenes, the illustrations themselves are well-drawn. Frame rate drops once your retinue grows beyond about twenty citizens, but while it's annoying it's not a dealbreaker. The music is charming and basic, consisting almost entirely of pre-existing classical tunes. The design of the creatures, on the other hand, is fairly imaginative. Among the different types of monsters you'll encounter are the ubiquitous demonic Onii, the aforementioned giant evil radishes, as well as possessed livestock and giant evil sunflowers. And then some enemies are truly bizarre, such as the creepy Owl Hag, as well as the enemy that basically consists of four Onii carrying a cow carcass.
But as weird as that is, the element of the game that truly had me at a loss was the romance system (Warning: Some ending spoilers in this paragraph). After you rescue each princess, they generally just hang out in your castle unless you take one of them out on missions. While waiting in your castle, the princesses can talk to you, assign quests, or just make out endlessly (one quest involves kissing the cyborg princess 20 times). The princess you bring with you for the final battle determines which princess you'll eventually marry. This is all well and good, until you take into account that these potential lovers include the aforementioned cyborg (who refers to you as “master”). As weird as living your life with a sex-bot is, it still is less problematic than other options, such as the Japanese schoolgirl and candy-loving princess Amabile, who's approximately eight years old. “I'll try my best to be a good wife... so please, treat me well, OK?” she begs in the closing scene (half your age plus seven, Corobo!). Of course, if you unlock the “best” ending, you just get to marry... all of them.
Add to that several other little eccentric touches (the ability to pass laws forcing citizens to wear school swimsuits, for example), and what you get is a very quirky little game. Aside from some frame rate issues and poor conveyance of mechanics, this is a pretty charming game. If you enjoy Pikmin-style gameplay coupled with the absolute power of divine sovereignty, then New Little King's Story is the game for you.