It Aint Easy Being King
By Richard Jewell
Reviewed on Xbox One
Released on August 9th, 2016 on Xbox One and Steam
Developer: Noio Publisher: Raw Fury
Greetings, new monarchs! Come sail away with me to distant, dangerous, and mysterious territories as we explore the game Kingdom: New Lands! Kingdom: New Lands is the expanded version of Kingdom, which was released back in 2015 on PC. I want to talk about the original Kingdom for a minute because it has quite an interesting backstory. Kingdom started out as a flash-based web game created by the duo of Thomas van den Berg and Marco Bancale, who also go by the names Noio and Licorice. It turned out to be popular enough that Noio took to Kickstarter in an attempt to secure enough funding to create a sequel and bring it to Mac, PC, and Android. On May 26th, 2014, the Kickstarter was canceled due to an unexpected surprise. They had been chosen to receive the Nordic Game Development Support Grant. This alleviated their immediate need for funding so they could start making the game right away. This also gave them more options to consider, as well as enabling them to work full-time for a while without worrying about money. They eventually paired up with Sweden-based publisher Raw Fury, who also helped to support the development of the game. Within a day of Kingdom’s official launch, Raw Fury announced that they had sold enough copies to pay for the game’s development. As a result, they were planning on releasing the game on Xbox One, and all future expansions would be free to those who already owned the base game. That brings us full circle to the latest iteration of the game; New Lands!
In New Lands, you take control of a king (or queen) as you explore a series of mysterious, monster-filled lands. The game plays out it a side-scrolling fashion. It’s a single-player game, with no multiplayer or online features whatsoever. It features gorgeous, pixel-style graphics and a chip-tune style soundtrack that compliments it beautifully. What really caught my eye were the gorgeous weather effects. Day and night cycles, fog, snow, rain, it really gives the game that extra oomph that you can get from having a great atmosphere. It’s one of the things that helps separate it from being just another retro-themed release to being a thing of beauty. And the water also boasts a pretty cool looking reflective effect that is a pleasure to look at! This game is definitely one of the finer looking pixel themed releases.
The title is all about building up your base and its defenses so you can protect yourself from the greedy monsters that come out at night and rush your camp, trying to steal your crown. Bad monsters! What’s a monarch to do? You only have two special abilities. You spend your entire adventure on horseback, which I find quite fitting, as true royalty like to spend the least amount of time on their feet as possible. Holding down the right trigger allows your noble steed to sprint, which is very useful for speedily carrying you AND your crown away from the grubby hands of those pesky monsters. Overuse it, though, and your horse will exhaust himself and you won’t be able to sprint again until he recovers, turning you into an easy target for any monsters lurking nearby. You are alone in a strange land, with no allies and surrounded by monsters that creep around in the dark looking to steal your crown, with no way of defending yourself. How is a king supposed to be able to sleep at night? This brings me to your second, and most important ability in any king’s arsenal; money! Why do anything yourself when you can pay someone else to do it for you? This is the main mechanic in which the game is built on. There are plenty of beggars camped out in the woods. Once you pay them a coin, they turn into a loyal peasant and they walk back to your camp. Back at your camp, you have the option to buy them equipment based on what role you want them to play. Purchasing a hammer will turn them into a builder, which is important to building up your bases defenses, repairing them after monster attacks, and expanding your camp. Purchasing a bow will enable your peasant to become an archer, which is a necessity when it comes to defending your base from the monsters. They will also hunt animals in order to furnish you with extra coins. There are more options for making the most out of your newfound peasant army, such as becoming farmers and knights, but you must upgrade your camp first.
Collecting coins is very important. Without coins, you won’t be able to build up your defenses after a particularly vicious monster attack, you won’t be able to hire more peasants, and you won’t be able to build the ship you need to use to get to a new island. Every time a monster hits you, you drop a coin. If you have no coins and a monster hits you, you will drop your crown. If a monster gets a hold of that crown, it’s game over for you. There are a few different ways of filling up your kingly coffers. In the beginning, it is wise to explore the entire length of the land, as there are usually treasure chests that contain large amounts of coin that is essential to giving your camp a good head start. Another way is having plenty of archers. During the day they roam around hunting animals for coins. Anytime you walk by a peasant they will drop all the coins they have collected for you. Once you upgrade your camp you will also be able to make farmers, which I find is the most useful way of getting coins later on in the game as the days progress. There is also a traveling merchant based in the camp, and for one coin he will go away for a bit and then come back with some extra coins for you. You should never spend down to your last coin as you might end up in a sticky situation when a monster attack leaves you with no peasants to help you rebuild.
There is a bit of a learning curve to this game. There is a bare-bones tutorial at the very beginning of the game, and that’s it! This game doesn’t hold your hand, doesn’t offer any further instructions, and it doesn’t bother to explain anything to you. For example; there are mysterious shrines dotting the island. They take coins to activate, but what they actually provide unclear, at least until you have experienced enough of the game to figure out their effects. I know it’s not for everyone, but I enjoy a game that makes you work out certain things for yourself. The flow of the game is simple. Build your camp’s defenses and expand your land. Then destroy the portals the monsters pour out of or move to the next land by building the ship. It sounds easy, but the game gets harder as the days pass. More monsters, stronger variations of monsters, and even the world can defeat you if you carry on too long. The game has excellent replay value, and even as I’m writing this I want to turn it on for a quick game to see how many days I can survive. It’s a good fit for anybody who likes to just jump in and play, with no story or preamble, or anyone who enjoys tower defense games. I highly recommend it.
Final Score: 8.5/10
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