Little King's Story - Staff Review  

Tiny Iron Fists
by Adriaan den Ouden

Click here for game information
20-40 Hours
+ Fantastic visuals and audio.
+ Lots of places to explore and things to do.
+ Really unique boss fights.
- Some boss fights are needlessly lengthy and frustrating.
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   Once upon a time there was a lonely little boy who was startled by a pesky family of rats. The boy chased the rats into a mysterious forest where he found a magical crown that made him king. This is where Little King's Story begins, but far from where it ends up. The tiny young monarch then proceeds to take seven wives and systematically conquer the known world while being aided by a child-like God that provides hints in the form of colorful crayon drawings. That's right, he's Napoleon Bonaparte meets Henry VIII in a cartoon fantasy land.

   Tyranny and polygamy aside, Little King's Story offers up a charming, kid-friendly (no matter what the ESRB says) tale that sees the adorable protagonist lead his loyal citizens into battle against monsters, dragons, and some of the strangest rulers ever to lead a nation. What it lacks in depth of plot it makes up for in strength of character. A hefty cast of cute, bizarre, and goofy characters support a gorgeously detailed and original fairy-tale kingdom, and the tale wraps up with one of the few examples I've seen of a perfect ending.

   Little King's Story is yet another example of a game style that seems to be becoming much more common. Little King joins Pikmin and Overlord as a real-time strategy RPG where you command an entourage of helpers to fight enemies and solve puzzles. In this case, your helpers are your kingdom's many citizens. They start out as carefree, lazy good-for-nothings, but as the kingdom expands, new jobs become available that can be assigned to them individually. There are a total of twenty different jobs, though seven of them are one-time-only deals, and an additional three are simply upgrades of an existing job. Each job has something in particular it excels at, and bringing along the right crew of citizens is integral to success. Soldiers are terrific at fighting, but not particularly useful for anything else. Animal hunters are able to use bow-and-arrows to strike enemies in high places. Other jobs have more support-oriented capabilities. Farmers can uncover hidden hot springs to heal the rest of the team, carpenters can build bridges, and miners and lumberjacks can destroy large boulders or trees that may be in the way.

Long live the King! Long live the King!

   Once the king has assembled his army, combat and puzzle solving are fairly easy to work with. A dotted line extends from the king outwards along his line of sight, and the A button will send citizens along this line to whatever target may lie in its path. There's also a loose auto-lock system in place, so it's easy to keep focused on moving enemies. It also helps that combat is fairly slow-paced. Enemies all move very slowly, and when one is about to attack, angry little fumes appear over its head, giving you plenty of warning to call your citizens back before they get hurt. And that pretty much covers the basic tenets of the game. The king sets out with his army, explores the world, finds treasure, and expands his kingdom.

   Of course, expanding a kingdom isn't easy when there are other kings standing in your way. The game has a large number of boss fights that come in two varieties. Guardians are discovered through quests given to you by your citizens, and successfully defeating them opens up a whole new tract of land to build on, usually providing access to new job classes in the process. These fights are always fairly quick and thoroughly enjoyable. Kings, on the other hand, rule the outlying lands surrounding your central hub. Unfortunately, they don't always end up being as much fun as they could be.

   At the very least, one has to give credit to the game's designers for coming up with a series of incredibly unique boss battles, and they are fairly fun. The issue is that they're simply too long for their own good. Several of them last as much as fifteen minutes, and the chances of dying increases dramatically as the battle progresses. And thanks to the way they're designed, it's not really possible to speed things up once you've figured out how to win. For example, one fight takes the form of a quiz show featuring nine questions. Answering correctly brings on the next question, while answering incorrectly draws the ire of an angry flock of roosters. Once you know the answers to the questions, it's easy to make it through, but you can't select the answer until the game finishes asking the question, which takes up a surprising amount of time. Other battles are designed in a similar manner. In general, most of the king battles throughout the game could have had their length cut in half, and the game would have been better for it.

The magnificent kingdom of Alpoko. The magnificent kingdom of Alpoko.

   One of Little King's Story's greatest strengths lies in its artistic appeal. Despite the Wii's technical limitations, the game is stunning to look at. The environments are wonderfully detailed, and the character designs are cute and whimsical. Most impressive, though, are the cutscenes scattered throughout the game, which feature a rather unique filter that makes the game look like an animated oil-based painting. These scenes occur regularly, and every one of them becomes available for reviewing later in the game.

   As amazing as the visuals are, the audio is by far the game's biggest surprise. Rather than scoring original compositions, Little King's Story makes use of a huge arrangement of classical music, everything from the Nutcracker Suite to Night on Bald Mountain. The classical music only helps to enhance the game's charm, and provides a pleasant feeling of familiarity. Even if you can't name the songs as they appear in the game, the chances are you've heard them before and can still hum along. To top it off, the game also features some of the strangest voicework in gaming history. Rather than opting for traditional, understandable voice-acting, the game uses an almost random mish-mash of languages from all over the world, intermingled into a form of gibberish that only the most linguistically capable people would have a hope of deciphering. Occasionally you might hear a few English words you understand, or perhaps even a word or two in a foreign language you recognize — I heard a fair bit of French and Japanese myself — but the rest will seem like nonsense. The sheer weirdness, for lack of a better word, of the voice-acting just makes the game all the more enjoyable.

   Despite a few issues with the boss fights, Little King's Story is an adorable and surprisingly challenging game that can easily addict a person for its twenty to thirty hour duration. The game has an adjustable difficulty, including a hard mode and an unlockable tyrant mode for the truly masochistic, but the normal difficulty should provide more than enough challenge for most players, and many may want to drop it down to easy simply to shorten the length of the boss fights. But if you can manage to muddle through the more frustrating ones, you'll find plenty of quirk and charm lying just beyond, not to mention a huge array of sidequests and ongoing collection missions, including one that requires you to track down the ninety-nine pieces of artwork from the art contest held for the game last year. As Mel Brooks once said, "It's good to be the king."

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