Game: New Little King’s Story
Developer: Marvelous AQL
Available on: PlayStation Vita Only
First released on the Wii in 2009, Little King’s Story was met with only quiet applause, barely acknowledged and largely overlooked. Which is a shame, because it was quite a gem, and those who did play it enjoyed it more than they expected to. New Little King’s Story on the Playstation Vita is more a HD remake than a sequel, adding a new visual style to the characters and a heap of new features to make it work with the Vita’s various groovy functions. It’s a prettier, deeper experience than the Wii-exclusive original, but is it entirely without problems? Of course not…but look how cute it is.
STORY: In New Little King’s Story you play Corobo, a fourteen-year-old king struggling to rebuild a kingdom and govern its people. The narrative begins with Corobo fleeing his castle along with a handful of guards and his right-hand man Azul. Forced to leg it and leave his guards to their gloriously heroic deaths, Corobo finds himself shacked up in an inglorious hovel in the middle of a small village alongside his entire senior staff.
What follows is a quest to rebuild his kingdom, retake his castle, rescue his seven princesses and vanquish the monsters now running amok all over his country. The story is functional, if clichéd, never really lifting out of incredibly familiar territory, but it’s not without a sense of humour, the numerous references to Mario (amongst others) betraying its Nintendo roots. It’s a story that moves you from A to B without too many unexpected twists, quite simple and uncluttered by the standards of your average Japanese adventure game; and all the better for it.
There’s an occasional attempt at courtly intrigue, but the tone always remains light thanks to the early-teen temperament of pretty much every member of the cast. From Verde, the pretty but antagonising records keeper to Howser, the cranky old royal advisor, the characters are pulled straight from the Big Book of Japanese Adventure Game Clichés, and yet they manage to remain mostly likeable. It’s worth noting that the story here is vastly different to the original Wii version, even though the gameplay is largely the same. The fact that it doesn’t follow on and retells the story of Corobo, beginning when he is already king, cements its remake status, but it wouldn’t have taken more than a few narrative tweaks to make it a straight sequel.
GRAPHICS: Much shinier on the Vita’s pretty little HD screen than the original ever was on the Wii, New Little King’s Story has that comfortably bonkers, teenage-schoolgirl’s-bedroom look synonymous with Nintendo titles that mixes cutesy characters with cutesy enemies in a big cutesy pot of cute. For many it’ll be too cute, but if you’re going into New Little King’s Story knowing what to expect from this type of game you’ll be fine, even mollified, by its art style.
The game’s world is all pastels and muted colours, overlaying proceedings with a dreamlike blur almost reminiscent of a Wii classic like Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Character portraits during the static cutscenes are brighter and bolder, but they’re of the same big-haired, wide-eyed style we’ve seen a million times before.
SOUND: While the score is fit for purpose, it’s not something to get excited about. Light-hearted chords and semi-stirring melodies do the lion’s share, while the incidental sound effects are mostly picked from stock. Voice acting is restricted to odd words here and there from passing villagers, but the oddly-accented narrator providing the voice over for the intro did raise a smile.
GAMEPLAY: If the review has seemed tipped towards the negative up to this point, it’s because I’ve only just gotten to New Little King’s Story’s saving grace. Where other games may rely on snazzy graphics and celebrity voice overs, this one hangs everything on its gameplay; and thank God it does.
Having only watched, and not played, the game on the Wii, I can’t accurately compare versions, but it’s abundantly clear from the get-go that New Little King’s Story is meant for the Vita. On the small, Hi-Def screen of Sony’s little gizmo it’s gorgeous, and the touchscreen controls are a perfect fit for the Pikmin-style gameplay.
Movement is controlled by the left stick as you traverse the village and select the amusingly-named “Carefree Adults” to become followers. To begin with you can only have five, but as you earn money to construct buildings and progress the story you’ll be able to “scout” more and more. Assign them jobs and they’ll keep busy, or you can have them follow you into the field to build, dig, fight, clear pathways or generally service your Kingly needs.
Different buildings will allow different upgrades for your serfs, affording you fighting soldiers, ditch-digging farmers, carpenters to build bridges and lumberjacks to lop down trees and open up new areas. Unfortunately each class is only useful at a specific task, so farmers are crappy fighters, soldiers actually fall over when you ask them to do something more technical than stick a sword in a monster’s face, and carpenters aren’t great at digging up treasure. It doesn’t exactly call for tactical planning, but it is necessary to have the right followers for your job. Something that gets trickier the further you stray from home. There’s a handy “jump” ability unlocked later on which makes long distance travel easier, but early on it’s quite easy to get overwhelmed by horribly vicious cute furry animals because you have too many farmers and not enough guardsmen.
The early part of the game is spent exploring, finding loot and earning money to improve your little kingdom, but some way in the focus shifts to retaking your home and destroying the boss monsters stirring up all the lesser ones. Combat – well, everything, actually – is initiated by pointing at something and pressing square to make your followers charge. Corobo is armed and does a decent amount of damage on his own, but you won’t win many fights without your bodyguards. By assigning every command to the square button, developers Marvelous AQL make attacking opponents as easy as digging holes, but at times it feels dumbed-down and doesn’t leave much room for variety or precision.
LONGEVITY: New Little King’s Story is a fair-sized adventure that will keep you occupied for a decent spell, and there’s loads to do on the path to improving your little kingdom and rescuing the seven princesses. Treasure-hunting and slaying monsters for a living is easy and satisfying, and it’s hard to get bored with the charming, endearing world. Building up the kingdom is a surprisingly engaging exercise – though this is certainly no threat to, say, Civilisation – and numerous side quests will easily eat up the hours of your day.
VERDICT: The challenge hits peaks and troughs throughout, but with way more of the latter, the hardcore gamers will often find themselves longing for something a little more taxing. That said, there’s an undeniable, off-the-wall charm to New Little King’s Story, whether you’re running around digging holes or fighting demonic cows (seriously, this happens). Overall it’s a more-than-adequate remake of an excellent game, and well worth a look for those who want to get something a little bit different out of their Vita.