Our little king is all grown up. After rising to power in Wii's Little King's Story, New Little King's Story sees King Corobo lose his kingdom during one heck of a party. After escaping with a small cadre of loyal subjects, Corobo must prove once more why he deserves to rule by rescuing lands and princesses alike from the clutches of invading demons.
More Little King's Story should be nothing but a good thing. The first game represented one of the finest third party efforts on Wii, an adorable real-time strategy game rich with wit, panache and easy to understand man-management. New Little King's Story follows along the same lines, bringing back the same gameplay and similar structure, yet it loses something in the transition to Vita. The crown is still intact, but now there's some unsightly scuffing that takes away some of the gleam.
You control the monarch himself, with direct power over your lands, its denizens and purse strings, plus your own sword arm. The aim is to gather together your citizens, assign them jobs by flinging them towards the appropriate employment house: a farmer can help crack open holes in the ground, while soldiers are your best bet for battle, of course.
At first you only have a limited set of job types – and thus skills – at hand, but you can add extra employment options by splashing the cash to build new job houses. You can't customise where anything is built, but it's up to you whether you decide to construct more living quarters to gain more citizens or save up for a fancy shopping district. A hunter hut would probably be more useful, though.
A podium outside your castle lets you call up citizens by type, so you can always access your builders whenever you need them. Most commonly you use it to bring together your royal guard so that you can lead them to explore the world – and free it of demons along the way. Your people trail behind you in formation and attack when you order them to charge forward; with this simple command you can also set them on wooden blockades and the like to carve out new ways forward, and recalling them from danger is as easy as another button press.
Money can be found under anything that can be swiped at with a sword, or dropped by enemies, though more regularly you'll find items rather than shiny stuff. Worry not – these can be taken back to your castle and traded for precious metals by plopping yourself down on the throne. It becomes habitual to chop up any bushes you see in the hope of finding a bit of plant to sell on. Items picked up can also be mashed together, either by yourself or with others over PlayStation Network, to create brand new ones.
As well as land to be recovered, this time there are also princesses to rescue. Each is guarded by a fearsome guardian that must be defeated. You can't get away with using one tactic for all fights; half the fun is working out just what needs to be done, and the other half comes from pulling off a plan perfectly. An early boss that rolls around a pinball table gobbling up cakes is a particular favourite. Saved princesses can be brought along on future adventures to give extra benefits to your team, such as increased attack power.
Each new job or rescue brings with it a new possibility or battle strategy, and the straightforward approach to real-time strategy is as appealing as it was in the first game on a basic level. There's plenty to do, with a story of decent length and loads of side quests – requests from your people to dispatch certain monsters, special requests for the princesses – which is great. You can save almost anywhere, as long as you're not too far from your territory, which makes the game reasonably suitable for portable play despite its length.
However, there are several things that chip away at New Little King's Story, not least the occasionally inaccurate aiming during a fight. It can be tough to direct your followers exactly where you want, which can be very frustrating in the heat of battle. It's especially apparent as the encounters get bigger, though there is a guideline that you can switch on to help out. The camera feels a tad restrictive too; sometimes you really just want to shift it a little further up to look farther down the field.
In opposition to the convenient save system, there are some dodgy checkpointing issues. You know the sort of thing: you respawn just before cutscenes after losing to main bosses. When you die at other times you just get dragged back to your castle and have to pick your way all the way back to wherever you were. There are cannons dotted about to shoot you between areas more quickly at least.
The map is ill-considered too, which is a particular shame since it's so easy to get lost in the early stages while you're still finding your feet. Sub-quests are marked with big dots, but main quests are not. You can click on points via touch to see the names of locations, but the same action a millimetre the wrong way zooms the map out instead, so if you're checking multiple areas you might find yourself changing the magnification of the map repeatedly. Sometimes it can be a case of wandering around blindly until you happen upon the right direction when trying to push through main story missions; this is a game that might have benefited from waypoints and guide lines to give a little more assistance.
Once you have a score of men and women in your strike team, the frame rate begins to shudder, giving the impression of a laboured royal procession rather than the desired impassioned march to battle. It's more than possible to play through it, but it makes the experience less smooth than one would hope. Thankfully the worst of it is saved for the less critical post-boss celebration sequences, when the game wheezes as your townsfolk pirouette around the town centre as confetti scatters about in abundance.
On top of that, New Little King's Story trades the painted story book art style found in the first game for an animé look that's already found in so many games. No longer is Corobo a chubby little imp with a nose that could have been stamped on with the painted edge of a chopped potato; he's matured into your standard manga pretty boy. The art is good, particularly the detailed still images seen in cutscenes and cute miniature in-game character models, but it loses some of the unique childish charm of the original.
Thankfully the soundtrack is still loaded with classical music, famous and original. It's an absolute delight, exciting and calming as needed while attributing an appropriate sense of grandeur to proceedings. We could listen to it all day – we'd like an OST release, please. All the little yelps, battle cries, smashes and crashes that make up the sound effects are great too.
Despite its flaws, New Little King's Story is far from a bad game – but it certainly could have done with more polish before its coronation. If you can overlook its problems this is still a fun, often addictive, real-time strategy game that doesn't take itself too seriously and is pretty unique in the marketplace, but every issue is a gentle nudge that reminds you that this could have been a far more royal affair.