Succeed and it’s a glory few strategy games offer. Sorry to sound like the Little Red Hen, but we earned the cash, we built the armoury, we trained the troops and we outsmarted the beast. And we actually did it all – not by proxy though drop-down menus. Admittedly, it does ask a lot of you – particularly your D-pad control. Keeping it together, especially when things go wrong, is tough. It’s all too easy to cycle through the troops in a panic and begin sending farmers to their untimely deaths while soldiers look befuddled at what they’re meant to do with the radish before them.
You’ll learn to deal with the controls, but you’ll never get over those deaths. The game isn’t big on punishing you for failure – dead soldiers wash up the next day on the beach as young children – but man alive, will you punish yourself. Returning to town knowing that you’ve next to depopulated the place (if only for an evening) is terrible. It reminds us of the guilt of killing Pikmin, only this time the Pikmin have human faces. And the game never lets you forget, those lapses in ability being immortalized as dips on the population line graph, the jagged line a sad memorial to the dead.
There’s so much life in Little King’s Story, we can’t help but weep. Farmers farm, miners mine and the unemployed schlep around. These are no more than AI character routines – the number of each profession has no actual effect on your town – but the illusion is clever. They rise in the morning, celebrate your victories and mourn the passing of comrades. A handful of brilliant side characters (see ‘Are You Local?’) spice things up further; the regular barney between the priest and the man of science is a wonderfully sly observation.
While the game nails small characters, the star attractions are surely your rival kings and the other guardians who roam the land. Guardians are rollicking sub-boss fights (played out to the William Tell Overture) that put your command of troops to the ultimate test. Rival kings, on the other hand, are some of the best bosses we’ve ever encountered. From the drunken king of parties to a mountain-based climb-off, these are dazzling comic setpieces that rewrite the rulebook with a gleeful abandon. If the game wants one to be a game of pinball, it’ll be a game of pinball.
Whether observing these strange characters or listening to the laugh-out-loud-funny turns of phrase (disgusted letters from citizens about your many wives, for example), this is one of the funniest games on Wii. But that’s just one tiny part of a game with a whole lotta love poured in. It has meaty gameplay that you can tear away in belly-filling chunks. It has a musical score that makes your journey across Alpoko into a literal trip through the works of Beethoven, Strauss and Rossini. It has charm and challenge in equal measure.
But most of all, when everyone else is mucking around in blood and guts, Little King’s Story has the tenacity to be an actual game you can play and play and play. The first true essential of 2009, this little king towers above the competition.
Apr 24, 2009