- Developer: Noio & Licorice
- Publisher: Raw Fury
- Release Date: 11/12/2018
- Price: £17.99 / $19.99
- Review code provided by Raw Fury
Introducing: Kingdom Two Crowns Switch Review
“They are coming…” If you’re like me, you’ll know this line from The Lord Of The Rings. It’s from Ori’s record of the dwarves last stand in Moria. When an army of Greeds come for you in Kingdom: Two Crowns it can evoke the same feeling. As night falls, your settlement better be ready, or you’ll end up like poor Ori and Balin.
Kingdom: Two Crowns (K:TC from now on) is the third Kingdom game in the series. It’s a kingdom-building simulation with a medieval fantasy setting and rogue-lite elements. The basic goals are to build, defend, expand. But you might have noticed K:TC doesn’t have the typical top-down appearance of a game in this genre, and it definitely stands out with its side-scrolling aspect, looking like an a 2D adventure or platforming game. This change in perspective from what’s typical for the genre gave me a ‘huh, how is this going to work?’ feeling going in. But I won’t stand on ceremony: once K:TC gets its hooks in, it’s a magical and compelling experience.
And So It Begins…
K:TC starts out with your chosen character alone on horseback; it’s a minimalist, enigmatic start, you simply walk along. It isn’t long before a ghost – a silent, royal one – drifts over and beckons you to follow. This ghost serves as the game’s tutorial system, and it’s a very basic one. As much as I love games that don’t lead you by the hand, a little more explanation here might’ve been nice, as exactly what you’re spending coins on, and more importantly, why you would want to, is not very clear. This could just be me, but I spent quite a bit of my first attempt through the game a little baffled. The ghost reappears, a little unexpectedly, later on too, to advise on best uses of resources, although I think this is only in the first run. If I sound negative about this tutorial, that’s not the case – using a dead royal as an enigmatic guide is an idea I really liked. And I totally appreciate that a wordy tutorial can diminish the atmosphere that the developers clearly wanted to establish. But, if you don’t enjoy having to fail a few times, or if you don’t like being a bit lost, you may want to refer to a guide.
How To Reign
So, once you’ve found your feet, the game consists of moving your character left and right, shoring up your kingdom. There is a day and night cycle – quite a fast paced one – and you start to work out the best jobs to work on for different times. For example, the Greeds only come at night, so it pays not to be outside the kingdom’s boundaries after dark. You’ll need to be recruiting villagers, assigning their jobs, building or upgrading fortifications, and exploring the limits of your kingdom. Either side of the kingdom is wilderness that you slowly develop into. The more your kingdom develops left and/or right, the safer it is to explore farther. As you find the time to explore, you’ll find mysterious buildings that often ask for gems instead of the more usual coins, and these areas have the best unlockables. I’m not ashamed to say that the gameplay loop of K:TC had me enthralled. A bit like the ‘one more turn’ refrain from gamers who’ve fallen into a Civilization abyss, K:TC encourages ‘just one more traverse;’ before you know it, you’re walking back across your Kingdom, shoring it, developing it, and collecting gold.
Is Change Good?
And now’s the time to talk about the side-scrolling aspect. Does it work? Not only does it work, but it fixes an issue that can affect real-time strategy games. That is, having to rapidly move around the environment, which can feel bewildering and sometimes can distract from the gameplay. By focusing the play on the one protagonist and keeping the gameplay on one plane, it keeps things a bit tighter and less free-wheeling. It plays more like a tower defense game, but with exploration.
Perhaps a bigger difference with K:TC is that, unlike other strategy games, you’re actually playing as a character. You can’t just click on the map and instantly leap across to the other side of the Kingdom, you have to ride there. If a tower has been destroyed by Greeds, you’ll need to ride to it to pay for a new one. If you need more recruits, you’ll need to ride to a settlement and pay them to join your kingdom. I would argue it’s playing as a character that goes a long way to driving the addictive loop. Unless you’re there, then the kingdom is effectively in the the dark, and I kept wanting to visit, revisit, revisit, revisit… until long past my bedtime.
K:TC is the first game in its series to allow cooperative play. Having to run back and forth, left and right, across your kingdom, effectively managing it on two fronts, does mean that two-player co-op play is a perfect fit. I really loved managing my kingdom by myself, and the excitement of not knowing exactly what was happening on the other side really appealed to me, but I can imagine tastes varying on this. If you’re looking for a less stressful experience and have a buddy to play with, then double up. With the Switch being a bit of a go-to machine for co-op players, this is a very welcome addition, as well as being a good fit for the game.
Form And Function
K:TC looks gorgeous. This is one of the finest examples of pixel-art I’ve come across lately. There are loads of great touches, but perhaps my favorite is the kingdom always being subtly reflected in the water in the bottom third of the screen. I did run into a couple of frame-rate glitches but this was only when playing in the Dead Lands setting, more on that shortly, but they were very minor. Otherwise, the game played without fault on Switch. I played it both handheld and docked, and it works well on both, but I found docked easier to get a sense of what was happening, especially at first.
Reviewing K:TC in May 2020 means it already contains two new campaigns alongside the default one, and these are Shogun and Dead Lands, both released as free DLC. Shogun is very basic and is essentially a cosmetic overlay to the main campaign, nothing fundamental has changed. Dead Lands, on the other hand, is a more substantial piece of DLC.
It’s actually a crossover with Bloodstained: Ritual Of The Night and allows the player to choose from four monarchs, including Miriam – the protagonist from that game – each with their own unique ability. It has a dark fantasy aesthetic, with some other very cool unlockables and cosmetic changes. I gave this campaign a go, and would recommend starting on the default one or Shogun because it was even more cryptic for beginners. For established players however, and especially for fans of Bloodstained, it’s a welcome addition, and the developers have promised more support in this vein going forward.
King Or Ding-A-Ling?
Despite a rocky first hour with K:TC, it quickly established itself as a one of the most compelling and addictive experiences I’ve had from an indie game of this type. It is unique, exciting, and absolutely gorgeous. There are a couple of games that for me are almost too addictive (hello, Civilization!), tapping into something in my brain, and this is certainly one of them. If I’m avoiding it, it’s not because I don’t want to take the monarch on a deep, dark strategy journey to purge the kingdom of Greeds, it’s because I’ve (sadly) got real world chores to do. You may be stronger. Whatever your strength, I can unhesitating recommend this game.
- Beautiful pixel-art
- Extra DLC campaigns
- Magical, enigmatic world
- Can be baffling at first
- Too addictive for my weak mind?
A magical, unique indie of surpassing brilliance with intoxicating gameplay and a gorgeous aesthetic.