"Little King, Little Fun"
Game design is usually best when it's focused. If a game does one thing well, be it racing, platforming, or shooting, the designers would do well to focus on that above all else. Though mixing different genres within a single game is possible, it also offers more opportunities for weak links in the overall design. A good example of frustratingly mixed gameplay is the Vita simulation / strategy / role-playing game known as New Little King's Story. Both this title and its Wii predecessor offer the player many different things to do, but few of them actually result in any enjoyment.
New Little King's Story casts players as King Corobo, a boy who's inherited the throne far sooner than would be ideal. When his kingdom is destroyed by a fierce invasion, Corobo must flee the region with what few followers he can take. From Corobo's exile in the countryside, it's up to the player to help the boy-king turn his rustic surroundings into a new empire, one that can reclaim the throne from his enemies. The duties required include building settlements, colonizing the wilderness, training soldiers, and rescuing princesses.
The gameplay of New Little King's Story draws upon multiple genres, most notably daily-life simulators like Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, and old-school role-playing games from the 16-bit era. Most of the game is based around building up your kingdom, finding indolent workers and giving them "jobs" (such as soldier, carpenter, or farmer) to accumulate resources for a bigger and better city.
A large portion of the game also involves combat, which is done in real-time. Unfortunately, fighting the monsters that stand in the way of your civic expansion is the weakest part of New Little King's Story, due to an overly simplistic approach bogged down by an awkward interface. You go into the wilderness with a group of hand-picked minions, try to line up Corobo with the target you want dead, and press Square to send your troops after said target. It's an unfortunately reductive approach to combat that reduces the strategy to button-mashing, and there isn't even much opportunity for troop formation and customization, resulting in a frustratingly inexact ordeal if you want to carry specialized workers in your party as well as combat units.
Combat is almost half of New Little King's Story, and the combat is where the game falters. It's unfortunate, because the life simulation aspects of the rest of the game are much more compelling. Building your city isn't exactly complex or original, but the Animal Crossing-style repetition of menial tasks works effectively. The game has a charming atmosphere, with cutesy bobble-headed designs similar to those of old 16-bit RPGs. The translated script is also effectively done, though like the character designs, its whimsical approach might turn off some. Still, that part of the game design should appeal to fans of more laid-back gaming.
It's unfortunate that New Little King's Story tries to cover multiple niches, because it only handles a few of them effectively. As a real-time strategy game, it's quite poor, taking simplistic combat without even implementing it in an intuitive fashion. As a role-playing game, it has a bit more appeal due to the humorous script, but the empire and character customization options aren't varied enough to be successful. Only as a life-simulator does New Little King's Story succeed, but the PS Vita already has several backwards-compatible PSP games to cover that niche, so only those really desperate for a Vita-exclusive, anime-style simulation game should bother with New Little King's Story.
GameDynamo's Score for New Little King's Story (PS Vita)
Neil Kapit is a freelance writer, cartoonist, and "La Li Lu Le Lo" agent based in Los Angeles. His work can be seen on www.therubynation.com.
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