July 7, 2010

Catching Up With Little King’s Story

Filed under: Editorial Rants — Tags: , , , , , — Jamie Love @ 8:07 am

Little King's Story
It only takes a few quick minutes to be bitten by and become smitten with Little King’s Story. Words like magical and charming get tossed around plenty with videogames, and certainly I’m as guilty as anyone in generating hyperbole when the right title sways me. This time around I want to suggest that both those words apply, insomuch as Cing offers an earnestly heartfelt passageway into the storybook premise, preying on the lingering traces of childhood imagination by not drowning the player in cuteness. It’s a fine line, a complete matter of opinion, a general sense of using only so much narrative tradition as is required to feed the play of the game itself, and allowing space for results and rewards that help the narrative and play blossom together to put an earnest smile on the player’s face.

A young boy follows a pack of pastel colored rats into a ragged kingdom, sparsely populated by a handful of idol subjects and a few cows. It’s a tiny Kingdom for a tiny King, captured in scenes of colored pencil sketches that curiously remind me of the shorts the National Film Board substituted for cartoons during my early morning Canadian television years. The result is an introduction I immediately wanted to show to others, and I certainly dragged more than a few people to watch it, after taking so long to finally dive into the game myself.

Like plenty of others, I allowed Little King’s Story to pass me by when it originally released for the Wii late last year. I’m at a loss for a good reason aside from the sheer volume of titles vying for attention, but recently I’ve wondered if the cute aesthetic played into it – that the visual style that proved love at first sight didn’t punch through the box art hard enough to mark the importance of the title.

Despite the dismal sales associated with third-party Wii releases, the game is already on plenty of must play lists, and all I can do is add a voice to the choir, affirming the game’s worthiness of that praise, and perhaps alleviating a bit of guilt for not having done so sooner.

Little King's Story
Even a passing familiarity with Nintendo’s Pikmin franchise is preparation aplenty for ruling over the fledgling kingdom players take the scepter over here. Rather than color coded skill sets, a growing number of buildings allow a rising population to be trained in job roles that aid the further growth of the kingdom – beginning with the standard farmers and soldiers, and expanding to include distance ranged soldiers armed with arrows as well as the carpenters and lumberjacks that aid in very specific building requests expanding the reach of exploration and further social development.

Little King's Story

As with Pikmin, this imperial expansion is funded by a healthy dose of regular treasure hunting, locating spots on the map where cracks in the ground can be dug out to reveal treasure, and where slain monsters offer cashable rewards along with the larger treasure scores earned through boss battles.

Cing doesn’t reinvent the wheel or rectify any of the issues Pikmin presented. The controls are familiar and simplistic, requiring few buttons to grab a party and set off in search of treasure and battle. There’s a constant need to reorganize selected units for specific tasks, causing players to invest plenty of time in tracking back and forth between the frontier and the Kingdom in order to manage groupings and slowly stumble through the fog of a growing world. One happy perk is that the clock here doesn’t set any real time demands on the player, slightly adjusting the presence of wild creatures during the night more than anything.

For all the similarities, Little King’s Story has a dual focus that has me dubbing the game “Pikmin with a point,” which becomes clearer as the Kingdom begins evolving with the player’s progress. The point of exploration is in expanding the borders of the Kingdom, and as a result the player watches accomplishments in the field slowly come together as their Kingdom grows to meet with the vanishing frontier of unexplored territory – in ways that make the spaces already covered every bit as time consuming as the spaces still left unknown.

Little King's Story

Certainly there are plenty of games where civilizations grow, but the small scale perspective puts a very personal connection to it. Each citizen can be found wandering around the Kingdom as new buildings are constructed, the town square slowly becoming more intricate and detailed with every new victory of expansion, the castle itself growing and offering a few diversions in redecorating. Job classes increase, love affairs emerge and demand decisions, and other Kingdom’s threaten to derail the goal of global domination in ways that promise to keep a Little King very busy.

It didn’t really grab me until my first major victory, when I defeated a demon cow in the neighboring cemetery. The victory was celebrated that same night and I was rewarded for the fight, but the next day I walked out of the castle to find the entire kingdom engaged in celebration, the skull of the demon on a table as citizens danced around with cow masks and told me how much they loved the kingdom and approved of my rule so far – flower petals floating on the air and the game’s familiar Beethovenian beats tempting me to replace my memories of A Clockwork Orange with Poncho the cow.

That sequence was really the gateway drug that made this a long term love affair, where citizens grew in stats via simplistic life points, becoming familiar staples of my daily grinds – not possessed so much of singular identities, but grouped together into a larger personality that leaves its mark.

Little King's Story
For all the charm of Pikmin, they were a tool, a means toward an end that neither left me wondering about their daily lives aside from the labor I tasked them with or made any significant changes to the landscape they inhabited.

So much of Little King’s Story’s endearment is found in the hesitancy I had in having to bring the festivities of that day to an end in order to continue playing – so many small joys found in simply watching, of walking through the expanding Kingdom to meet the growing population, animals, and deviations like religious figures and one very stressed out astronomer. These are little invitations to focus more on the subjects under your rule, and a way in which they become increasingly less like expendable lemmings.

Keeping tabs on citizens can be a royal pain, made slightly easier by the royal podium, but I’d kill for a royal bugle that could call them from more distant points on the map. It’s also taxing to take increasingly larger squads into the wild, though formation options ease the pain a bit. There’s also every possibility that the straightforward attack and retreat strategy for boss battles leave me taking long breaks from the play, mostly because of the large amounts of time it can take to organize for said campaigns – but I seem to keep returning faithfully to my subjects.

Little King's Story
I’ve read a lot about Little King’s Story getting credited with an Animal Crossing flavor – and while it’s not quite as involved those traces are certainly present through a daily flow of mail that brings side-quests and fan letters. The magic and charm words are firmly attached to the smaller concerns, the potential guilt of losing loyal citizens in battle, paying out death benefits and hoping to find them washed up on the beach the following day as every life becomes a little more precious in the pursuit of uniting the world under your scepter.

As already mentioned, there are plenty of games allowing players to control societal growth with the hand of God, and yet I feel compelled to lend my voice to the idea that this smaller and more personal seat on the throne offers a rarer experience that guarantees a much needed refresh for any player willing to try their hand at holding the scepter.


  1. I have the game. Bought it at launch and haven’t even opened it yet because at the time my backlog wanted to be taken care of.. and still is. I’ll be taking a dive into Little King’s Story in the second week of August since I’ll have a 2 day gaming free for all and no work.

    Comment by EdEN — July 7, 2010 @ 12:45 pm

  2. This game has been on my radar for quite awhile… but price never seems to fluctuate… maybe for good reason.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — July 7, 2010 @ 2:23 pm

  3. It’s $30 at Gamestop which is well worth it. I got it pre-ordered (free anti stress figurine!) for $50 and at $30 it’s a no brainer (as is Muramasa).

    Comment by EdEN — July 7, 2010 @ 4:24 pm

  4. Run don’t walk to your nearest Gamestop!

    Seriously, this is my serious face -> :|

    Comment by Jamie Love — July 7, 2010 @ 4:32 pm

  5. Well it is $28 at Amazon (my preferred spending grounds) I’ll give it until September. Then I’ll bite the bullet.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — July 8, 2010 @ 7:10 pm

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