The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Little King's Story is one of the most intriguing games of the year, and for good reason. At its best it takes the good things about Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing – the feeling of controlling and interacting with a virtual world – while giving you some actual gameplay and a sense of purpose. From atop the throne, you can oversee your expanding empire, build new homes and industrial buildings (useful for creating new unit types like merchants and miners), and even preside over marriages for lovestruck citizens. While the game isn't extremely deep, it creates a great sense of place, especially when you see NPCs taking part in post boss-fight celebrations or solemn funerals.
While village life is engaging, the meat of the game takes place on the road, exploring for new items, treasures, and taking on enemies to conquer the six rival kings that populate the land. In this portion of the game, Little King's Story plays like Pikmin, which has you leading a gang of followers and issuing basic commands like attack and retreat. At first, it's basic – just face the baddie and send your minions running. However, as the game opens up you must make decisions about which units to take in your squad (each unit has special abilities, be it the hunters' ranged attacks or the miners' ability to break through rock obstacles). Later on, you can upgrade your units, either through further construction of buildings that spawn advanced units or through dropped items that give stat buffs. Eventually, you can use different battle formations and techniques to give you a further advantage.
When everything works, it's a great balance. The city building/sim elements are light enough not to bog down the momentum, but keep you invested in building your kingdom. While the combat and world exploration aren't exactly deep, there is a layer of strategy in play when determining which units to take with you on the next missions. In addition, the boss battles put you to the test using classic attack/defend patterns gleaned from old-school platformers.
Sadly, things don't always run as smoothly as they should. Your troops are plagued by control and pathfinding issues that make combat a frustrating experience at times. You hold down the Z button to bring up your king's targeting cursor, which is so erratic you frequently send troops running towards nothing instead of the enemy one inch in front of them. The pathfinding issues are worse; your troops can't manage to circumnavigate even the smallest obstacles, meaning that battles frequently devolve into total chaos. While certain unit types are more effective against certain enemies, there's no good way to quickly change between unit groups.
While it's not perfect, the more I think about Little King's Story the more inclined I am to focus on the good things than the bad. While I'm certainly hoping for a more refined control scheme next time (perhaps using the pointer functionality of the remote), I can't fault a game that offers such a fun, engaging, and lengthy adventure on the Wii.
Email the author Matt Helgeson, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.
A kingdom run by the edicts of pre-teen royalty may sound like a disaster, but after spending some time with the Little King, I'm ready to bend my knee and offer my allegiance. Little King's Story is a fascinating game that skims from the top of multiple genres to create an addictive adventure in a world teeming with activity. When you aren't engaging in Harvest Moon-style simulation, you're leading a battalion of specialized citizens in a quest to explore and unify the world under your kingdom's banner. The variety in available jobs is impressive, and I loved the light strategy involved in deciding which ones to bring along for a particular expedition. You can spend hours gathering treasure and completing side quests before advancing the story, but the pacing doesn't suffer since the game does a good job enticing you with other goals. For all of its charm, Little King's Story hits a wall when it comes to the control scheme. Touchy and inconsistent targeting completely ruins certain fights and even poisons some non-combat scenarios. The endearing gameplay overcomes these problems and provides a great experience regardless, but a proper interface could have transformed this quirky underdog into a king among games.