Sunday, May 31, 2020

REVIEW: Kingdom Two Crowns

Originally created by Thomas van den Berg AKA noio, Kingdom is a series of games unlike anything I've ever seen before. Now in the hands of Raw Fury, Kingdom is back with a new game of monarchs and monsters.  

Disclaimer: I received a copy of Kingdom Two Crowns courtesy of Raw Fury.
Opinions are my own.

Kingdom Two Crowns is a side-scrolling micro strategy game with a minimalist feel wrapped in a beautiful, modern pixel art aesthetic. Play the role of a monarch atop their steed and recruit loyal subjects, build your kingdom and protect it from the greedy creatures looking to steal your coins and crown. 

When you start your first adventure in Kingdom Two Crowns, you take on the role of a king without a kingdom. With nothing but a horse and a few coins, you establish a base and start assembling subjects and start building everything from the ground up.

Your first objectives are simple: enlist hunters to convert the local rabbit population into usable resources, and enlist builders to put walls around your camp. At night: monsters! Build up your defenses and gradually expand outward until you eventually have enough resources to build a boat and travel to the next island to start anew.

Kingdom is more a game of discovery than exploration. Players are given very simple instruction for getting started and after that there is almost no text anywhere in the game. You don't know what something will do until you build it and observe it in action yourself.

In addition to the simple interface - including a money bag represented by actual coins in a bag instead of a number - the game offers players just three buttons: left, right, and pay.

While Kingdom can be called a resource management game, there is only one resource for players to manage: gold coin. Chopping down trees, killing rabbits, and farming crops all yield coins which are used for everything - and I mean everything.

Every action you take in the game requires coin. Early endeavors such as chopping down a tree or building a simple wall cost few coins. Expanding your little camp into a castle or building a ship require dozens.

This is where the game's most frustrating aspect comes into play. You can't do anything without coins, but you can enter situations where you're out of coins and have no way to get more. I restarted the game a few times when I was starting out because I kept reaching a point where I couldn't do anything.

First, I suddenly found myself with two hunters running around - but there were no rabbits anywhere on the map. When I restarted I skipped the brief tutorial and accidentally spent all of my coins on builders and walls before getting any hunters, so I was surrounded by rabbits but no way to kill them. At another point I found my coin-purse overflowing but found no wandering vagrants to recruit so I couldn't get any more subjects to work in the kingdom.

At first I thought that this is part of the game. "Spend your coins wisely or your kingdom will collapse." However, a few other things I noticed made me start to wonder if this was more of a bug than a feature.

More than a few times I found myself screaming at the game because I had hunters doing nothing on the far east side of the kingdom while there were rabbits galore on the far west. Similarly, too many times would I mark trees to be chopped down and yet builders never went near them.

While I like the simplicity of the whole thing, not being able to specifically direct your subjects can be a nuisance. I once had two farmlands - one inside the walls, one outside. I recruited a farmer and they instantly went to the one outside of the walls where they were attacked every single night. Why can't I tell them to go to the farmland inside the walls?

When I first started noticing these issues, I considered just giving up and playing something else. The following day, I gave the game another try and found myself with more coin then I knew what to do with, assembling an army of knights and actually initiating a direct attack on the portal that causes my nightly attacks... and promptly lost all of my knights.

Again, Kingdom is a game about discovery and as frustrated as I get when I can't move a hunter toward their prey, I really do enjoy figuring things out as I go. Each island has a few hidden secrets as well including mythical mounts to replace your relatively slow horse.

While I may be harsh on the game, I've actually enjoyed playing it quite a bit. After figuring some things out and restarting a couple times, I got in a nice groove and actually said to myself: I could play this game for a hundred hours.

There is no death in the game. The monsters are only after shinny objects so if they hit you you just drop coins. If you're low on coins, they take your crown. Apparently that's worse than death because it marks the end of your reign.

But it's not game over. Instead, you return to the first island and take control of the heir to your previous character. Some time has passed, meaning some but not all of your previous work on the islands has been destroyed.

This psuedo-permadeath system creates an interesting loop that enables nonstop play. The neverending nature of the game plus the simple gameplay and lack of dialogue make this the perfect game to play while watching a video or listening to a podcast.

In addition to the traditional Euro-medieval fantasy setting, Kingdom Two Crowns includes two extra modes. Shogun gives the game an aesthetic inspired by feudal Japan, including giving all of the peasants Samurai man-buns and replacing rabbits with fox-dogs.

The Dead Lands mode is based on Bloodstained and turns the game into a dark horror where everything is creepy and your horse is a zombie. As far as I can tell, other than a few minor differences, these two modes are purely cosmetic although they do offer a unique and different experience.

Kingdom Two Crowns can be frustrating at times, but the more you play the more the more you learn to overcome and embrace those frustrations as part of the game's challenge. It's about ruling and a good ruler needs to know how and when to spend their resources and this game does a great job of emulating that.

You can pick up  Kingdom Two Crowns on pretty much every gaming platform there is.