We've all dreamed of being King or Queen of our own miniature Kingdom: sat upon our thrones, dishing out orders from on high, pleasing our loyal subjects and amassing loads and loads of money. Sadly, for anyone other than the bosses of Nintendo Life, this is destined never to come true, but don't despair, regal wannabes! Little King's Story is here to ease your pain.
The game opens with a thoroughly charming introduction showing the main character, Corobo, as he plays with his puppets and eventually finds a mysterious gold crown. As soon as the crown touches his head, he becomes the true King of the land of Alpoko and is met by his new advisors, who lead him to survey his new Kingdom. Sadly for Corobo, the “Kingdom” is just a ramshackle castle and a few pitiful houses, but chief advisor Howser has a plan – by leading his carefree subjects out into the field, Corobo can find enough treasure to start improving his Kingdom, starting with a farm.
It might seem surprising for a cartoon-styled game, but one of the main problems in Alpoko is unemployment. Its lazy citizens will happily idle all their time away, so it’s up to King Corobo to find jobs for them, a simple matter of building a training school and sending the subjects inside with a quick press of . Once graduated, you can use their new farming skills to dig up cracks to find more treasure, which you then spend on building a guard hut. It’s a classic progression – each new skill gives you more treasure to buy more skills – but it’s beautifully paced, and means that each new day will always give you somewhere new to explore or a new skill to utilise. Once your grunts are trained, you can start to take on the UMA, a race of evil monsters who obstruct your Kingdom’s expansion.
A lot like Pikmin, your time is spent between exploration and combat, and the controls for both are very similar. You recruit citizens to follow you with , send them straight ahead using and recall them to you with another tap of . Unlike Pikmin, however, it’s much more difficult to set-up individual teams to tackle tasks simultaneously – if you leave your carpenters building a bridge, for example, walking too far away makes them abandon their work and return to you, resetting the bridge back to square one. Even if you’re careful not to wander too far away, pressing to recruit more followers also recalls any workers, meaning you can only really focus on one job at a time. However, this isn’t Pikmin, so it’s not such a problem – as a much smaller scale game with only eight or twelve followers to begin with, it’s much less necessary to split your squad between tasks.
Once you’ve explored a few regions of the Kingdom you’ll be able to afford a town square with a suggestion box, which is where you receive feedback from your citizens at the end of each day. It’s a great feature that’s one of many striking similarities to classic Gamecube launch title Doshin the Giant, as your subjects tell you what they like about you and your rule, and often send in rumours of quests for you to embark on. Clearing each quest is usually a matter of defeating a boss, which then allows you to expand your lands and explore the game further. With combat playing such an important part in your progression, it’s a relief it’s so enjoyable and intense. Using the same controls as in the field, you send your subjects out to swarm all over skull-headed cows, giants frogs and other bizarre enemies, learning their attack patterns and co-ordinating your squad accordingly. The first few bosses are a simple matter of sending your men out with , recalling them with at the right moment and repeating until the enemy is defeated, but they quickly become more difficult with multiple enemies to take care of and projectiles battering the ground.
One of the game’s features that lifts it above Pikmin is extremely simple – the use of people instead of plant-creatures. Each citizen has a name, will greet you with a cheery hello or fearful scowl depending on their views of you, and keeping the same members in your Royal Guard can even result in them falling in love! Above their little heads floats a group of blue orbs, which represents their HP, so when little Lily’s health is getting low you can send her to the back of the pack with a tap of Down on the D-pad. Sometimes battles get so frantic that this isn’t easy though, and if one of your party members runs out of HP a little ticker scrolls across informing you they croaked or kicked the bucket, which can be genuinely disappointing when they’ve been a loyal servant for a long time.
Although it would be an exaggeration to say that each of your followers is a strong character in their own right, they do certainly lend a lot of charm to the game as the guards strut around, farmers till the fields and even the cows and chickens nod reverentially as you pass. The animation and graphics, although a little fuzzy sometimes, are fantastic, with a rich and charming storybook feel that many people will misconstrue as childish. From its adorable introductory movie, fantastic colour palette and brilliant touches of animation, Little King’s Story oozes class and it’s a real treat to watch.
Musically the game excels too, using famous pieces of classical music to match the tone of each scene. The introductory movie uses a vocal arrangement of Ravel’s Bolero and the title screen calls you to stand proud at Pomp and Circumstance. There’s also some fantastic original pieces, particularly the tune that accompanies you in the fields surrounding Alpoko Castle, and the sound effects are every bit as sweet, particularly the strange gobbledegook your advisors speak, a strange mix of backwards Japanese and Animal Crossing-style Bebese.
Waking up to Morning from Peer Gynt, each day greets you with something new crawling across on the Alpoko News ticker, usually a new building finished or a new area available to expand. Like Harvest Moon and Pikmin before it, Little King’s Story masterfully convinces you to play just one more day, as there’s always something new to accomplish or see before you head back to the castle and save your game. The game has drawn criticism in some quarters for not allowing you to record your progress in the field, but then this is no different from the two games referenced earlier, and means you always start your new day in the middle of your Kingdom, greeted by your loyal subjects. What could be better?
Little King’s Story is a gem in the Wii’s catalogue; full of charm, style and addictive gameplay, it deserves to sell much more than New Play Control! Pikmin 2, coincidentally released on the same day. With a fantastic script and localisation, greater variety in the tasks involved and dozens of moments that will bring a beaming smile to your face, Little King’s Story outdoes Miyamoto’s garden game on every level. The King is dead – long live the King!