Following last year’s Kingdom: New Lands on Switch, side-scrolling resource management game Kingdom Two Crowns (no colon this time) is a conscious effort to streamline the roguelike and make it, well, a little less like Rogue. In this third entry in the series from developer Noio – now partnering with Coatsink – losing your crown to the encroaching ‘Greed’ (thieving grubblies that assault your camp from both sides) still ends your reign, but now an heir will take the throne (or more accurately, the saddle) to rebuild the kingdom from the remnants of the old. Your defensive towers remain intact; a great help as you repair barricades. As a concession to accessibility, it’s a successful change in a game which otherwise builds only modestly on what’s gone before.

Beginning life as an expansion of New Lands, there’s much about Two Crowns which is similar, if not identical to its predecessor; you still control a Medieval monarch on horseback directing construction and defence of a 2D settlement along an expansive, procedurally-generated shoreline. You still hold ‘A’ to spend coins as minions cut down trees, erect and upgrade defensives or construct farms on irrigated land. Your archers still attend the Clancy Wiggum School of Marksmanship – seriously, they’re spectacularly rubbish shots and you’ll need a group of at least three to guarantee hitting attackers who materialise once the sun goes down.

NPCs camping outside your base are incentivised to join your cause with a coin; recruits mill around basecamp until vendors craft tools and weapons, at which point they’ll grab them and set about building, hunting, farming and collecting more coins. Treasure chests, unique structures and portals that spawn the otherworldly invaders lie in wait at the furthest reaches.

Admirably light on tutorial elements, it’s up to you to muddle through the strategy with good ol’ trial-and-error. Constructing on every available patch of land is not the best way to apply the game’s build, expand, defend mantra. Screwing yourself over is easy in the beginning; camps, for example, disappear after cutting down surrounding trees – and with them your only source of new recruits. New players would do well to restart after half an hour of learning the ropes. As your hamlet grows, defences are upgradable with more robust materials. Constructing and crewing a boat enables you to set sail for one of four other islands to begin anew and, with any luck, return later laden with gems to unlock new structures and goodies.

Even with the embarrassment of retro-aesthetic riches on Switch, the pixel art here is standout. Starting on horseback on a moonlit night after a lengthy initial load, the lighting and the ever-present reflection in the foreground water are immediately striking. Despite the retro facade, there’s a lot going on beneath, which may explain disappointing patches of slowdown. It’s relatively well-disguised – animated elements like trees have an intentionally low number of frames – but you’ll notice some stuttering while galloping, especially as you move further afield. It’s not a massive issue, but a noticeable one.

Beauty is an integral component of Two Crowns; be prepared to spend a long time gazing at scenery as you canter from one end of your territory to the other. Night turns to dawn, day to dusk in a lovely cycle of light, weather and seasons. While some may find it monotonous or one-note, its tranquillity grows on you – we found it to be a perfect bedtime accompaniment.

It’s not without frustration, though. Of course, strategy and management games stretch your resources and attention, but Kingdom takes that very literally, pulling you between two distant fronts. Sometimes minions refuse to go where you want, and the rapid day/night cycle means they may take a whole day to traverse your territory, leaving no time to do anything useful. Come nightfall, anyone caught outside the walls is robbed of their tools and coin, becoming drifters once again awaiting recruitment.

Fortunately, there’s help at hand – the answer’s in the title. Local split-screen co-op allows a friend to don a second crown and help out on the opposite front. Using just two buttons and direction input, Two Crowns translates well to a single Joy-Con, and after struggling on your own, having a friend drop-in almost feels like you’re gaming the system. It doesn’t run appreciably worse in split-screen and you can alter the zoom from the menu. Online co-op is scheduled to arrive early next year, but the shared couch experience on Switch works beautifully, reducing stress and opening up the game to a wider audience.

A host of other small changes include a variety of mounts, some with surprising abilities. We quickly dumped Dobbins in favour of a stag, an early favourite that seduced all other deer we passed, luring them back to camp for our incompetent archers to miss. Also new is Shogun, a variant on the main game with a feudal Japanese setting (choose the logo covered in cherry blossom on the first screen to access it). Essentially a gorgeous ‘reskin’, the same basic principles apply from the main game, although you’ll see bespoke NPCs, units and minor variations; it’s a nice change, though hardly a fundamental shake-up.

The key question is whether this is worth your time if you already played New Lands. It’s certainly a better introduction for new players, and if you loved the previous game, finding every small addition here will be thrilling. However, if you’re already spent from legging between two eroding fronts, you’ll find little here to spark interest again.

Conclusion

Kingdom Two Crowns offers a hell of a view, but you may find its brand of light strategy too sedate if you’re not one to ‘smell the roses’. Give it a chance, though, and it really grows on you. Disappointing framerate aside, it’s a great introduction to the series, and valuable split-screen co-op adds a fresh, more relaxing dimension to its tower defence. If you bounced off New Lands, this won’t win you over, but if the last game piqued your interest but passed you by, Two Crowns is a much easier recommendation.