Kingdom Two Crowns Review

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Key Info

System: Switch
Developer: Noio
Publisher: Raw Fury
Release Date: 11 December 2018
Price: $19.99 / £17.99


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Reviewed by Nathan Ellingsworth

As the latest entry in the Kingdom series, and the first time the franchise has reached a Nintendo console, Kingdom Two Crowns has the job of introducing a whole new install base to it’s particular brand of minimalist tower defence. Does this entry do enough for fans who’ve played previous entries elsewhere, and can it stand out from the crowd on the Switch eShop?

Offering you the role of a monarch who must defend his people from the nightly onslaught of mysterious evil, Kingdom is a tower defence game on paper, but thanks to it’s intuitive design, endless rabbit hole of discoverable secrets and subtle sound design it’s much more in action.

Learning For Yourself

Your first moments with this game are a little overwhelming and even a touch on the dull side. The king you control moves slowly, very little is explained beyond a few opening words, and if you venture out you will slowly find many more things you know nothing about. What Kingdom Two Crowns lacks in exposition however, it makes up for in sheer wonder and in rewarding exploration. A small amount of time with this game opens up it’s features organically. You’ll figure out what coins can do, and soon realise that a simple press of the A button means you can spend your savings on developing buildings, or in drafting new villagers and assigning them roles in your town. At this point I found I had a burning desire to push my character further to explore every single pixel of this mysterious land.

Mastering this game takes time. So does moving between places, building structures and completing other tasks too. The days move constantly, with sunlight meaning you can explore across whichever island you’re currently on. But when the sun sets you’ve gotta be careful, as either end of the map will start spilling out hostile enemies who’s only targets are your town, and the crown on your head. This constant oncoming threat means that exploring has to be done slowly and methodically, you can’t be caught out in the wilderness at night time otherwise you can say goodbye to your sweet headgear, leaving your monarch penniless and kicked back several islands, with the town you worked to develop now destroyed.

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Simple Yet Charming

This brutal gameplay loop and slow pace work with the game’s beautiful graphical style and glorious sound design to convey a true feeling of serenity. When I had finally spent some time getting my head around the basic mechanics, training myself to respect the day cycle mechanic and explore properly, I fell into an almost tranquil state as this game washed over my senses in every way.

You can’t rush anything here, but considering the rewarding feeling that your hard work can result in, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Somewhere between galloping through pixelated trees to gather coins and reinforcing your fort for invaders after nightfall, a real sense of immersion appears. I settled into the game’s flow instead of expecting it to work to mine.

You have to see Kingdom Two Crowns in motion to really appreciate it. I don’t think the term ‘pixel art’ does anywhere near enough to convey the design put into this title. The animation of characters and animals is fantastic, with everything moving with a great sense of flow. Meanwhile the constant parallax scrolling of the body of water beneath your character, and the reflection of everything above it, is a design element I often just found my eyes sinking into. Simple in idea but constantly charming in it’s execution.

In contrast to previous editions, Two Crowns offers a new campaign mode, where instead of your progress being completely lost if your crown is stolen, you are simply sent back a few islands where a new monarch picks up the crown and you continue to build. While getting to grips with the game I made several mistakes and am grateful that it wasn’t such a huge task to start again. I slowly gained the knowledge and experience I needed, as well as building upon a lot of the previous structures my island already had, to make sure that the next time I was ready for the enemy when they arrived.

Newbies Beware

This version also offers a few different styles of Kingdom to rule over (feudal Japan is a fantastic addition), as well as drop in/out horizontal split screen co-op. This is an incredibly fun way to play, further adding to the accessibility by allowing you to explore and experience so much more. Tasks can be divided between players and more ground can be covered to discover what each island is hiding - and you will want to explore every single one. For example, you’ll track down different mounts, units called ‘hermits’ that can be used to create very specific new structures, new materials for building, and greater weapons too. The game’s slow unveiling of secrets is fun and rather rewarding. I had to work to find each element, and I had to figure out for myself what these individual pieces were telling me to do.

While Kingdom’s brand of tower defence is purposefully obtuse, I found myself happy as I whiled away the time to examine every element of this beautiful world. All the pieces eventually fit together, and an up-front explanation would rob you of the genuine moments of thrill you get from figuring out a new way to create something, or how to reach a new place. The amount of content on offer is staggering too, with possibly endless amounts of gameplay available once you settle into the title’s serene loop of explore, build, defend.

That said, while some things were fantastic to discover on my own, others weren’t discovered until frustratingly late in my play through. I didn’t find out about the whereabouts of extra building materials, or their use, until I had already spent countless hours struggling to defend my village with inferior tools. A rock I had simply ignored whilst exploring turned out to be integral to my progression, and I’m torn between blaming myself for not exploring enough, and thinking that a little bit of explanation could be a useful option for new players. The stripped back and basically wordless approach does offer a truly mesmerizing way to spend some time with your Switch. But if the developers truly wanted to make this the most approachable entry, especially when dipping their toes into a new install base, some basic explanation may have been a clever option to include.

Verdict

Kingdom Two Crowns is a deeply enthralling game and an almost hypnotising rabbit hole of discoveries - if you have the patience to find them. While it rewards your exploration, it never corrects your mistakes, and it’s often frustrating to repeat your previous work to come to the same conclusion. But if you dig deep into every element and have an eye for what each item can do, Kingdom Two Crowns will offer some truly satisfying thrills.

Pros & Cons

+ Gorgeous art style
+ Satisfying gameplay loop
+ Local co-op

- Opening hours painfully slow
- Some essential things unexplained
- Lack of enemy variety