In the centuries before the revival of representative government, monarchies tended to wield absolute power. And in New Little King’s Story, you – as that little king – hold all the cards. Even with your cache of advisors constantly chattering in your ear, everything that ends up happening in New Little King’s Story is at the behest of you, the non-descript young man with the oversized crown and ornate clothing.
Such is the life of a young king, who gets thrust into an unusual situation almost immediately upon beginning the game, forcing him to rebuild his shattered realm. But the plot of New Little King’s Story isn’t what will keep you engaged; in fact, it’s almost entirely unimportant. Rather, the game’s very essence – creating, molding and controlling an ever-growing kingdom – will undoubtedly lure Vita gamers in. The thing is, while New Little King’s Story draws you in with its complexity and promise of absolute, monarchial-like control, its cumbersome feel and hazy explanations weigh the game down considerably.
New Little King’s Story is essentially a reimagined version of a poor-selling Wii exclusive from back in 2009 also called Little King’s Story. In that game, like in this incarnation, players must gain control of a continent, battling monsters, building and expanding your towns, and nurturing and growing a population that will help you on your conquest.
Many issues in New Little King’s Story arise not from controlling the king himself – which proves rather simplistic -- but rather the craftsmen, artisans, soldiers, and serfs that make up the population of the expanding kingdom. The king can control various characters at once, but only in an inexact fashion. By forcing characters – farmers, soldiers, archers and the like – into his royal guard, the king acquires much-needed assistance in dealing with the problems on his kingdom’s ever-changing frontier. He can thrust his soldiers into battle with foes, have his farmers dig up holes to find hidden treasures, use his lumberjacks to fell trees, employ his merchants in finding hidden stashes of booty and much more.
This all sounds fun – and in premise, it truly is – but it’s the way everything’s actually executed that holds New Little King’s Story back. These characters vital to the success of the kingdom are controlled in about the most wonky way imaginable, with little to govern the specifics of their mission. Hurdling a soldier towards an enemy requires no error in trajectory; a few pixels off and the game isn’t smart enough to know what you wanted to do, sending the soldier past your enemy and into the nearest object. If you’re too close to something you want to interact with, such as a building in which to change your character’s class, your followers are more liable to smash into the building rather than enter it, even if it’s entirely obvious what you’re attempting to do. This isn’t a game controlled via the pinpoint nature of a mouse; the game needed to take into account the more finicky nature of dual analog sticks.
Similar annoyances can be found with just about everything else you’d want your kingdom’s population to undertake. There’s simply a frustrating and confusing lack of real control present, which is troubling in a game that requires the mastery of specific actions and deeds to expand your kingdom. Compounding the issue is the lack of real explanation of features that end up becoming rather important, such as equipping weapons and gear on your followers. New Little King’s Story, no matter how promising what it’s attempting to do is, can’t help but sink underneath the muddled weight of so many missed opportunities, especially because the game gets exceptionally more dynamic and complicated the more you play it. As riveting as slaying whimsical creatures and partaking in digital imperialism can be, the fundamentals aren’t sound enough to draw out a flood of player enjoyment.
Still, even when fighting the controls and the lack of explanation of much of what you’re doing, New Little King’s Story can be fun in limited ways. Expanding the kingdom slowly, surely and through lots of trial and error proves exceptionally satisfying. Rescuing helpless princesses and undertaking a litany of quests can keep you focused on the tasks at hand. Things aren’t at all helped out by a muddy, imprecise map and tutorials that border, at times, on the incoherent. But those with patience enough to stick around for more than a few hours to really get the hang of New Little King’s Story may be ready to completely excuse its inability to gel and explain everything. In fact, few games in recent memory had me vacillate between having fun, enjoying myself, being bored, being frustrated and more. Fighting the game’s lackluster controls and general ambiguity can result in a win for gamers, though it’s painfully obvious that most players won’t want to see it through long enough to get to that point, nor should they have to when there are so many other titles begging for their attention.
In short, New Little King’s Story simply doesn’t hold a candle to a portion of Vita’s library that demands your attention, and it’s hard to argue that it’s worth its high, $40 price of admission. That puts it in the top rank of expensive games on PlayStation Vita, but it certainly falls well short of the best Vita games in terms of quality. With that much money to burn, you could buy some of the handheld’s finest games – Escape Plan, Super Stardust Delta, and more – and still have money to spare. Going in that direction seems like a smarter bet than making a significant investment in time and money with New Little King’s Story.