Yasuhiro Wada's Harvest Moon series has spun a bit out of control. The first few games in the series had a good amount of heart, but as time went on the charm was replaced with gimmicks, hoping to squeeze a few extra dollars out of the franchise. Regardless, Wada's influence on gaming shouldn't be ignored, which is why many originally had their eyes set on his newest title: Little King's Story. Wada's warped fairy-tale manages not only to live up to the creator's legacy, but impresses on nearly every level, reinforcing the Wii's library with exemplary gameplay and so much charm it can barely be contained in one disk.
Little King's Story starts out a little bleak. The newly anointed king is told that his kingdom consists of three ministers, three cows, twelve citizens, a 0% job rate, and an empty treasury. It's hard not to immediately question why these people even need a king, since it's much easier to call the poor souls living on the land squatters than it is to call them citizens. Walking into the field outside of the admittedly small castle, the adults are simply laying around, napping and chatting. After grabbing a few of the useless saps, the King can lead them to buried treasure around the world, which they reluctantly pop up to add to the treasury. After a few are taken it's possible to build a new building, which allows the King to turn his lazy servants into different unit types. Using these types, more gold can be found to build another building. And another. And another. Before too long, the desolate plot of land is a bustling town.
As the game progresses, many different types of citizens are added to the King's armada, including various workers and different types of soldiers. Unlike other games in the genre, each individual is given a name, and has the ability to change professions if the King commands of it. This is helpful, since each individual slowly become more powerful as time goes on. It's a more fleshed out version of the flowers on Pikmin's heads, signifying their strength with added individuality. Giving them a name, along with little ticker updates at the bottom of the screen that announce when two citizens have fallen in love, help add buckets of charm to the title.
These troopers can be used to unlock new locations, be it by destroying blockades or slaying powerful demons. Without his loyal subjects, the Little King is powerless, so it's important to be surrounded with the right type of people at all times. Too many soldiers, and there's a good chance you're going to find yourself staring at an object they can't pass. Too many builders, and the first demon in the road will make sure Robert doesn't make it home for dinner.
To control them, the Little King simply points them in the right direction and commands, similar to the combat in Pikmin. Just as in Nintendo's offering, most of the actual fighting is in picking units, sending them into battle, and calling them back before the opponent gets frustrated and does some area-of-effect attack. This repeats until they die, dropping some sort of reward. Controlling the army is a simple task most of the time, though it occasionally runs into some bumps. Literally. It's far too common to have a few citizens stranded on a bridge or stuck on a rock because their AI wasn't good enough to tell them to walk around it. Being able to quickly point at the screen to fix the issue would solve this, as well as helping simplify the somewhat convoluted controls.
The developers refused to take advantage of the system's motion controller, meaning everything is mapped to the buttons. It's a constant battle to remember which button is select, which is command, which is ungroup, and what the other four buttons do. Everything has a function, and it wouldn't be half as complicated if they had taken a few pages from New Play Control! Pikmin's book and applied them to Little King's Story. While I like the option to go motionless, it makes everything more difficult than it has to be and means that there isn't the amount of sensitivity there should be. It's common to send units in the wrong direction or struggle to effectively get them to follow, making even simple encounters a problem.
In terms of presentation, Little King's Story has a lot to like and a little to complain about. The focus on style over realism fits the game very well, with water colored visuals and cute, still-frame cutscenes. On the other hand, the in-game graphics can look blurry at times, and that's something that really can't be explained by calling it a style. It's just blurry. The audio, too, finds itself at the business end of the game's low budget, with excessive use of public domain music and a lack of voice acting. The Sim-like ramblings work, but it feels as though giving an actual voice to the characters would help their oftentimes hilarious dialogue really hit harder.
Challenging, intelligent, whimsical - Little King's Story is a wonderful game, and one that should be mentioned in the same breath as nearly any other game of quality on the Wii. As 2009 speeds along, it's easy to loose track of some of the smaller games that cruise under the radar. It's for the Wii, which already lowers the amount of people who will really care about it, and it's not a high-profile game by a high-profile developer. It is, however, one of the most enjoyable titles on the system, and shouldn't be ignored by anyone in the market for fun. Buy it, enjoy it, and spread the word: this is one game that can not be missed.