Platform: Nintendo Wii
Developer: Cing/Town Factory
Publisher: Xseed Games
# of Players: 1
Rating: T (Teen)
Brilliantly conceived, beautiful and brash, Little King's Story is a near-perfect blast of fresh air absolutely worth buying a Wii for. The game grabs you right away with its gorgeous art style and a smartly localized script chock full of references that in the know adults will appreciate more than the wee ones. Don't be fooled when looking at the cover art, screens or movies into thinking this is yet another budget-priced kids game you'll blow through in a few hours. Developer Cing makes itself a household name here with a fine mix of simulation, light RPG and real-time strategy that's as amusing as it is addictive. Once the game gets its hooks into you, there's never a dull moment and when you finally manage to drag yourself away from the TV, you'll probably have super-colorful dreams about your growing kingdom. And gold... sweet, golden gold.
The story is simple and simply told through some truly lovely cinemas that look as if they're from a hand-painted, animated storybook. You're Corobo, a young boy in a poor village in the land of Alpoko who one fine day, happens upon a magical crown. Once he pops it on his head, he's suddenly seen as a real king, getting himself in no short order, a royal adviser and a few helpful retainers. Now, Corobo has to act like a king and turn Alpoko from a dump full of clueless unemployed nobodies and ramshackle flats into a kingdom... well, fit for a king.
The game drops you into a fast tutorial that's easy to grasp and gets you up an running in no time. In fact, nearly every aspect of the gameplay can be picked up quickly thanks to the developer's absolute understanding that great games are rarely frustrating even for novice players. That's not to say you'll be blowing through this one with your eyes closed. There's a gentle balance to the early part of the game as you train your subjects in different skills necessary for your gold-gaining purposes.
These formerly dopey folks aren't mere drones - each of them has an interesting little life you'll want to keep an eyeball on as the games progresses. some will marry and have children, some will buy the farm in any number of ways. There's an interesting nod to games such as Black & White or Doshin the Giant (one of my favorite import GameCube games) as you'll need to deal with your now powered-up peons own necessities from time to time. Happy villagers are indeed productive villagers, you know. As you train the townspeople, you soon find out that monsters lurk around your kingdom and need to be dispatched before you can do that expansion you've been planning.
The real-time combat in the game is fast-paced and at first glance, a bit like the Pikmin games as you throw your small force at any baddies in the area. However, given that your troops aren't as expendable as in Nintendo's classic, you'll need to try your best to keep as many alive as possible by retreatin' before they're eaten. Given that you start to care about your guys and gals, seeing some of them "bite the dust!" or "buy the farm!" makes for an amusing, yet slightly grim moment. At first, death isn't too permanent, as a formerly dead villager will wash up on the shoreline none the worse for the wear about a day later. On the other hand, the number of funerals you'll attend makes that aspect of the game a clever lesson on mortality for younger players (and older folks who just can't let go).
Controls are excellent and intuitive, with the one exception of when it comes to herding large numbers of soldiers around or fighting multiple enemies in a small space. Here's where the Wii Motion Plus add-on would have added even more accuracy to the game, but given that the game was developed before the add-on was ready, you'll have to mildly suffer these moments. It's not all that bad, especially if you've gotten good at getting your guys and gals around. There area few pathing problems that force you to retrieve the occasional stuck villager from behind an object, but again, it's not a game-breaker.
The visuals, and overall presentation are a joy to behold. I'll go on record as saying this is one of the best looking games on the Wii to date. The different villager types, monsters and wacky (but sometimes a bit scary) sub-bosses and guardians ooze personality and you'll get a chuckle or two out of the oddball stuff such as the King's "steed" (a cow!), over-sized fighting fruit and the super cute (yet deadly) horned demons. I love the fact that your "castle" goes from a dump (complete with a huge pair of band-aids on the curtain) to a much prettier space as you make progress. A selection of popular classical music makes up the game's score and although tracks repeat, I never got tired of listening to the tunes. Everyone speaks in an intentional gibberish that fits perfectly and recalls Love-de-lic's amusing Japan-only games moon or UFO: A Day in the Life (two truly bizarre, yet fun imports that beg for a decent localization one day).
The US has some great bonuses, such as tons of hidden artwork that's a whole side-quest's worth of hunting (hint: kids in the game are good for something) and a harder difficulty mode that changes up things something fierce. The game is so entirely engrossing that it doesn't need any multiplayer modes, but I can see a few players wishing they could take their kingdoms online for some one on one action. Then again, that's why sequels get made, I guess. In any event, if you have a Wii, you absolutely need to bop on down to your nearest game shop and pick up this gem of a game. Xseed has some other fun Wii exclusives coming your way this year, so definitely support these guys and gals so they can keep bringing more unique imports stateside.