Now on PC, the Obscure Wii Gem Little King's Story is a Must-Play

Now on PC, the Obscure Wii Gem Little King's Story is a Must-Play

Marvelous' brilliant mix of Pikmin, SimCity, and Zelda shouldn't be missed.

Though the Wii immediately rose to undisputed console dominance during the earliest years of the last console generation, publishers who weren't Nintendo didn't necessarily see the same return on their efforts.

The harsh truth is, for most Wii owners, that tiny white system was simply "the Wii Sports machine," and later, "the Wii Fit machine." Nintendo certainly made a mint by publishing reliable series like Mario Kart—whose Wii installment sold an astounding 36 million copies—but other developers that jumped on the bandwagon at the first sign of Wii success found the party had all but ended as soon as they released their games. And some, like Xenoblade Chronicles, were so late to the party that an American release once seemed completely unlikely—even with an existing English-language localization.

Little King's Story emerged in late 2009 as a result of the first rush of Wii-mania, and from some very notable Japanese developers: Harvest Moon creator Yasuhiro Wada, Hideo Minaba, Final Fantasy XII's art director, and Youichi Kawaguchi, designer of oddball games like Moon: Remix RPG Adventure and L.O.L.: Lack of Love. While it clearly uses Pikmin as its inspiration, Little King's Story treats this GameCube classic as a jumping-off point, rather than something to copy directly. By adding some elements of SimCity and Zelda to its RTS-lite source material, this formerly Wii-only game remains an addictive and thoroughly charming experience, even all these years later.

(Yes, there was an inexplicable Vita remake a while back. But let's not talk about that.)

Though its colorful, Yoshi's Island-ish visuals may imply an experience tailored for a much younger player, Little King's Story sets you free within its first few minutes. Your goal amounts to conquering the world, and to do so, you need to employ the help of your loyal villagers. Much like Pikmin, each unit type has its own specific ability, but by the end of your journey, you'll be dealing with around 20 possible classes instead of just a handful. And the path to success can be found in Little King's Story's extremely addictive loop: Start your day by strategically selecting the amount and type of villagers you want to bring along with you, conquer new lands and search them for treasure, then return to your castle at night to count your riches and upgrade your kingdom. (Thankfully, your units can survive past sundown, unlike Pikmin.)

Progress in Little King's Story is mostly made by overcoming barriers that rely on the abilities of villager types—types you slowly unlock by constructing appropriate buildings that will transform unwitting villagers into the classes you prefer. (But they can always change back.) And since what you can build is completely reliant on your progress in the game, making headway into Little King's Story really feels like you're taming a hostile world: Heading out and conquering territory gives you the funds to improve your kingdom and place new buildings, which in turn allow you to create new unit types for the sake of conquering even more territory.

It's definitely an addictive experience that you'll often find yourself playing for just one more in-game day—if only see to what's around the next corner—but Little King's Story wouldn't be nearly as memorable if not for the excess of charm injected into every possible element. Even if it was never a technically impressive game, the intentionally childish art style wins Little King's Story a lot of points, and does a great job of humorously contradicting the dark, cynical undercurrent of the narrative. Your advisors, for instance, are shiftless, lazy, and disrespectful, and clearly see you as a helpful idiot who can do all of their dirty work for them. Your villagers are absolutely loyal to you and your cause, even if you literally throw them head-first at problems that need solving. Like Majora's Mask and Link's Awakening, there's an underlying darkness leaking out from the cracks in this storybook world, making it more than the overly saccharine experience it could have been.

While a significant bump in resolution makes this PC port look much better than the Wii original, the few problems I had back in 2009 still exist in this slightly enhanced version. Nearly all of your interactions with the world involve tossing villagers at things, and your aim never feels quite right. Like in Pikmin, where you toss your units relies completely on the movement and direction of your main character, but the King simply spins too fast to the point where you'll be spending an unreasonable amount of time correcting your aim. This can quickly become a major issue with boss fights, which don't always provide a reasonable margin of error to account for the ungraceful aiming and laggy camera.

Still, even if you have to fight its controls from time to time, there's no denying how much fun it is to simply live in Little King's Story's world. There's an extraordinary amount of detail packed into just about everything, and a great deal of dark humor baked in, making the whole experience feel like a fully realized undertaking by people who sincerely believed in the idea. After finishing the Wii version back in 2009, I'd only planned on checking it out for a bit today, but ended up playing a whole four hours before exiting out to write this article. If it can still have that kind of hold on a person who already knows all of its secrets, Little King's Story should find a much more welcoming audience in the PC crowd.

[Editor's Note: As of this writing, some players of this PC port have reported some major technical problems. I didn't experience anything strange on my rig, but obviously, your mileage may vary.]

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