There’s an ambiguous aspect to kings that makes them more fascinating than politicians or peasants: it’s the combination of responsibility next to the possibilities for indulgence. Little King’s Story’s diminutive aesthetic and title are misleading (this is a Huge King’s Story) but lead to an equally fascinating trade-off, a game that begins gently before revealing its expansive scope, trenches of dark humour, and an irresistible joie de vivre.
You control a boy who’s the new king of Alpolko, a minor region in the centre of the world, and has the ability to control his peasants. At first only two follow him, though this number will increase greatly, and your main interaction is throwing them at things. Throw a soldier at an enemy and he’ll attack; throw a farmer at a hole and he’ll dig; throw a miner at a rock and he’ll hack it to pieces. It’s not quite this simple, because every type of character will attempt to perform any task you throw them into (with varying degrees of success) – and changing your army around can only be performed in your kingdom, so it’s rare to reach obstacles with the perfect team balance.
So while you need to be a considerable armchair general, you’ll also need to roll up your sleeves and get on with the job in hand. After its initial challenges, Little King Story begins to twist the screws sharply, and only a canny and considered approach to its enemies and environments prevents your troops dropping like flies. Though there is levelling, and the (very) odd item to equip for a boost, the peasants are a delicate bunch and enemies are mostly brutes, so careful husbanding becomes the order of the day, especially against the superbly realised enemy kings and other bosses. And losing your followers never loses its sting.
The tone never loses coherence despite its range of registers, the overarching themes those of fairytales and discovery. This is complemented by the childish lunacy of the other kings (one challenges you because you’re the king of the kingdom of ‘Al-jerk-o’, another is an alcoholic who just wants everyone to get drunk) and the general daftness of your villagers. More poignant is an undercurrent of responsibility, stupidity and tyranny, as you take charge of your citizens’ fears (often literally hunting them down), sigh at their silly demands and prejudices, plan the next section of your conquest and dance with them when it works or hide in your castle if it fails. You couldn’t call Little King Story deep, but its replacement of a linear narrative with a single objective that’s accompanied by many discrete narratives besides is an achievement many games would do well to learn from.
Perhaps the game’s greatest achievement, however, is a constant focus on you, the player, delicately changing the world as your kingdom expands. Every moment feels like it’s been lavished with attention; Little King’s Story is as rich as it is long, and it’s a very lengthy game indeed. Its central mechanic is unique, its world unlike any other, and its completion a Herculean task. It’s a game of rare quality, and exactly what the Wii deserves. It’s a true original.