A Kingdom for Keflings

kingdomforkeflings
What we liked:
+ Accessible and light-hearted
+ Wholly addictive
+ Co-op
What we didn't like:
- Structure relocation is tedious
- Limited replay
DEVELOPER: NinjaBee   |   PUBLISHER: Microsoft   |   RELEASE: 11/19/2008

NinjaBee delivers yet another quirky and charming title.

Reminiscent of Settlers, NinjaBee’s A Kingdom for Keflings will have you collecting and managing resources to build an empire, and though not entirely sure why – or what you are moving toward – you will quickly find you have trouble quitting the task. Since the only conflict is the entirely one-sided activity of kicking the little Kefling buggers, you had better delight in the steady progression toward a vague goal. Definitely prime fodder for those with more obsessive tendencies, Keflings is really about how you approach the journey.

You run the show as the resident giant, and may choose from a handful of stock characters or your very own avatar. Blueprints unlock as you build new structures beginning with workshops, cottages and a Town Hall and moving on up to guild halls, cathedrals and your very own castle. From the humble beginnings of a few Keflings and a workshop you must grow your kingdom by building more homes. Just add a dash of love and they will file in, two-by-two, ready to do your bidding.

You wouldn’t want to have to do all the work of gathering resources on your own, so you can set the little guys to a task by giving them the hat of a profession, a lumberjack perhaps, and then showing them where to take the lumber they have felled. As a giant you are a little more efficient than your tiny companions at carrying things to and fro, so you can speed up the resource collection process by pitching in. Power-ups that you uncover will increase your strength as well as your speed, and “quests” (which are really “chores”) can be performed for the Mayor in exchange for hearts, tools and skills.

Each building has a blueprint that shows you what pieces are needed and how they will be arranged, though once you have one piece in place the locations of the others is guided. The pieces are made by assorted workshops, from the basic construction of hearth and bedrooms to advanced towers and studies. You will have to keep the workshops well-supplied by your Keflings’ labors for construction to progress smoothly, as well as do some exploring to uncover unique items that allow you to collect new resources (like shears for wool). Once the configuration for a building is in place it all comes together, though certain structures have additional requirements for activation like love for a home or textbooks for schools.

Unlike the more common sim choice of an omniscient and invisible player your over sized self is there in the thick of it, though you don’t run into any of the expected giant difficulties so no worries about crushing the townsfolk underfoot or trampling your creations – though in a densely developed area maneuverability may become problematic. Since you are not sure what you will be building the first time through it can be tricky to decide where you want your structures erected, and the pickier among us will be tearing down and rebuilding, which is tedious.

As more complex buildings call for similarly complex parts, resource management and development becomes a more interesting proposition. For example, you will have to reassign Keflings to the task at hand so that the lumberjacks are bringing the lumber to the mill where it is transformed into planks so that it can be carved into a decorative piece. Nothing to cause over-exertion, but plenty to keep an ambitious giant busy.

Keflings arrives alongside NXE and while it is hardly a showcase the ability to use your avatar is a neat inclusion. The graphics are cute and cheery with a playful soundtrack to match the seasons. I had some difficulty at the outset determining just what the tinier animations were, but it was smooth sailing after that. On your organizational side are the menus which make referencing blueprints and looking up other pertinent information a breeze – though it can never be too easy to review blueprints. The multi-player is co-op which I am always a fan of, but replay value here is pretty limited since everything is made plain the first time through.

Lazily paced and lacking in any challenging strategy components the aimless quality of Keflings isn’t unlike that of Rare’s Viva Pinata, which relies heavily on the player’s own sense of pacing. Older gamers will likely focus on efficient resource management, speed of construction and achievements while the title will allow the younger set to explore and learn as they go. There is an element of choice as the kingdom develops, but nothing ramification-heavy. The title is entirely kid-friendly, particularly as there is no way to fail, though even my young nephew knows the best part of a non-racing game is going after the bad guys (though I don’t imagine he would share my objection to kicking the benign Keflings).

A cute and engaging sim, A Kingdom for Keflings delivers a neat and accessible gaming package, and for 800 Microsoft points the price is right for some absorbing resource management. With its walk-in-the-park approach to gameplay, Keflings will launch a sneaky assault on your time, and before you know it you will easily have whiled away hours with the title. Where it may miss, however, is whether or not you will be keen to pick it back up and see it to its meandering conclusion.