Review: A Kingdom for Keflings
Sim-City but the city is Hull.
Coming off the back of the new Xbox 360 “Dashboard Experience” (hngggh) is A Kingdom for Keflings, the first new game to make proper use of these new avatar thingies that help represent you as Nintendo Mii ripoff. Unlike the rehashed Uno and Bomberman games this actually works rather well with you stomping about town in the role of helpful giant. Sort of an all-white version of Peter Molyneux’s ‘Black and White’.
The titular Keflings are a race of little people who need your help in creating a new kingdom for them to live in. This, of course, means that various buildings need to be constructed from workshops, churchs, townhalls and houses. These buildings require the harvesting of the local area’s natural resources (stone, timber and crystals), a task that you can assign to the various Keflings available to you or you can just do it yourself (just walk up to a resource and mash the A button).
After a few buildings are put in place, you can build a townhall and get one of your Keflings to act as mayor. The mayor will give you various challenges to fulfil which will be rewarded by ‘love’ (used to attract new Keflings) or items that help improve your productivity (such as belts that allow you to carry more resources). Later on the mayor becomes a lord (or lady) when you build a keep and eventually a king (or queen) when you complete the castle, which is pretty much as close to an end-goal as you’ll get from this game.
The later buildings in the game require variations on the initial resources (for example rocks can be converted into cut stones which can then be converted into bricks whereas crystals become magic gems and eventually magic potions) which means that you’ll need to keep an eye on what’s happening to them. Aside from actually getting the resources, Keflings can also be used to transfer them to various buildings that need them which can get confusing pretty quickly.
The most challenging aspect of the game is getting everything running efficiently and whilst the game can be played in a disorganised way there is a nice OCD-lite appeal involved in streamlining everything. Currently my kingdom is a colour-coded production line which gets resources to me quicker than I can use them. Not that there’s much left to make now. The game has twenty or so buildings, (I’d go and count them but I don’t want to seem that OCD) of which many are dependent on more than one manufacturing facility, but this isn’t a huge amount and quite a few of them don’t seem to have much of a purpose other than leading you to the next one on the construction tree.
So what you’re really left with is a sort of Sim City-lite game with echoes of Animal Crossing (although a smidgeon less sickly sweet) and Viva Pinata (but less stressful) that ultimately has little or no challenge and not much in the way of depth either but that’s not to say its no good although I’d probably be trading it right now if it was on a disk. I’ll probably be firing it up occasionally in an effort to continue making the perfectly ordered ubersociety of my dreams. Or maybe I’ll just load up Civilisation (the PC original, not the dogshit 360 version) instead.
Probably the most interesting thing about this game is that you can’t lose, but conversely it’s also the worst and most boring thing. You start off, you build houses, you collect and process resources, you get some Keflings in to work for you and it goes on and on and on until the final result of you building a castle. After trying the demo I knew the gameplay mechanics weren’t going to evolve much, but from what I initially played I was intrigued. The game felt nice and relaxing, and it was. No time limits, no threat of Tesla tanks or giant mechas invading you.
Your brain gets to stay on standby because pretty much the only element of strategy is realising you must build your wood processing plants or wood using factories near, ummâ€¦ the wooden forests so that you more efficiently collect the resources. And even this isn’t exactly a necessity. The problem people will have with the game is the repetition. Once resources have been collected you spend them on buying individual building components, put them on the ground and then the building pops up. Rinse and repeat. Some will enjoy seeing their â€œKingdomâ€ (read: couple dozen buildings) form, whereas others will have absolutely no drive to continue. I personally have put more time into this on single player than any other XBLA game, however I think that’s more down to the fact I liked the idea of the game rather than the quality and implementation.
This is one of the few games where the demo/trial pretty much shows what there is to offer. Try it and make up your own mind.
Secondary Score: 6/10
Once you’re done with the single-player mode you can always check out the online co-op mode. This functions exactly the same as the solo game but now you’ve got ‘help’ from up to three other players. With friends this can work (although trying to organise construction between even two of you is hellish at times) but with the assorted scum that infests Xbox Live this game becomes almost as meanspirited as Halo or CoD4.with many of the games I participated in, being ruined by random cunts who would join the game, smash up various buildings and then leave. This can be particularly tedious if they target the banner towers (a tower that shows your gamerpic) that form the basis of the two multiplayer achievements in the game.
Oddly you can’t rotate the placement of your buildings which means that most of the online kingdoms you’ll see lack any sort of character. Viva Pinata 2’s, very similar, co-op mode at least let you show off a creative side but on Keflings it just feels like a diversion as you wait for more people to join and add their banner to the game.
The presentation of the game is reasonably good though with your avatar (or a choice of four preset characters) looking suitably humourous as he (or she) runs around mixing with the little Keflings and helping out around the place. The buildings are much of a muchness though with none of them looking particularly distinctive or impressive and that includes the, rather disappointing, castle.
Sound is limited to some nice, calm music (think Carcassonne for example) and the occasional spot effect. The characters in the game don’t make a sound which harms the mood a little although it is preferable to the dog-worringly high pitched racists you’ll get in your headset.
At 800 M$P I can’t really recommend this game. There are vastly better examples of the genre out there (albeit not on XBLA) and it won’t last you much longer than a few days but compared to some of the recent XBLA dross, this is a pretty interesting little curio that pretty much justified the £6.80 I’ve spent on it. That said, the first Viva Pinata can be picked up for around the same price now and is a vastly better game.
A Kingdom for Keflings is kind of cute, kind of smart and kind of enjoyable in its own, limited way but, with so many killer full retail titles out there, it’s also kind of redundant.