Review: Little King's Story (Wii)

When I started Cing/Town Factory's Little King's Story, I expected to find a cute, very charming little strategy game whose flaws prevented it from greatness, like most games this heavy on the quirkiness factor. I was blindsided by how much fun I continued to have through hours of play. It's rare for a game to be this cute and odd, but also this good. I found this game utterly magical, and I hate strategy games.
Little King's Story is an action-strategy game on the order of Pikmin or Overlord: your character, a young boy whose magical crown suddenly grants him the throne of a tiny kingdom, gathers trasure and defeats monsters by tossing skilled minions around. In this case, the minions are subjects who have been trained in various occupations at your command: farmers, merchants, carpenters, and dozens more, each with a different specialization.

The game doesn't allow you to see these citizens as a disposable resource. Everyone in your town has a name. When not at work, your subjects talk to you about the kingdom and send anonymous letters telling you just what they think about your leadership style. Your subjects live their lives around your castle town when they aren't fighting for you -- you'll see your farmers tending to the land, your soldiers marching through the town, a carpenter working on a roof. And sometimes, people in your traveling party will fall in love. Send them to the church, and they'll get married and have a child.

The rest of Little King's Story exhibits just as much personality, from the staggering variety of adorable monsters (including turnips, cows, and most notably the tiny Onii) to the art on the castle walls, all of which comes from a fanart contest. But while the cute crayon-style cutscenes and semi-playful taunting from neighboring kings are entertaining, they are only supporting elements of a deep but simple-to-understand game system.

The game starts you off with the ability to command only a few people at a time, and a small kingdom populated by "Carefree Adults" who know how to do nothing but digging. They follow behind you, running out to take are of whatever is directly in front of you at the press of A. Dig up enough treasure and you can build more facilities to train first farmers, then guards, carpenters, and more. Your minions' abilities open up more areas, where new creatures live. Clean out the monsters by destroying a boss and those areas become more habitable, so you can increase your population by building residences there, and increase your skills by building more work structures. As you expand your kingdom, you discover neighboring kingdoms, which must be conquered for the unforgivable crime of being there.

The game progresses rapidly enough that there will be some new territory or job type or ability opening up pretty much every time you play, keeping gameplay from ever becoming stagnant. At multiple occasions, I found myself irritated with some limitation of my abilities (for example, an inability to gather all of a specific type of subject at once), only to be presented with the option to unlock that ability within a couple of hours.

It's obvious from this progression that a lot of thought went into the design of this game, and the result is what can only be described as a delightful experience, one that expertly mixes action, strategy, and role-playing. I wasn't able to finish the game for this review (Disclosure: I played for about ten hours, enough to get a very representative sample, but the game is long), but I intend to go right back to it.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.