Game: Kingdom: New Lands
Genre: Strategy, Tower Defense, Roguelike
System: Switch (also available on PC, PS4, Xbox One, iOS/Android)
Developers | Publishers: Noio, Licorice|Raw Fury
Price: USD $14.99 | UK £13.49 | EU € 14,99
Age Rating: US E 10+ | UK 7 +
Release Date: 14 September 2017
No review code used; purchased the game.
Kingdom: New Lands is my first tower defense game, and it’s rather different from what I expected one to look like. Sure, you do build, recruit, and defend against waves of enemy attacks. But I didn’t know a tower defense game could be played side-scroller style!
Side-Scrolling Tower Defense Roguelike: Acronym Needed
In New Lands, you expand your base sideways, claiming more and more land for your fledgling kingdom. Marooned on a forested island, you survive nightly attacks by a faceless horde called the Greed. They’re both adorable and fearsome, these little gold-grabbing critters who are after coin and Crown. If one of them grabs your Monarch’s Crown, it’s game over.
Ultimately, the only way to fend off the Greed—whose attacks grow stronger each night—is to build greater defenses to survive while rebuilding your ship. Sailing off the island then takes you to the next location . . . a more challenging island. Lose on any island and you’ll have to start from the very beginning.
A ghostly figure gives you a few instructions on how to start playing, and that’s all the game will help you with. No further tips, no descriptions, nada.
It’s all about discovery, experimentation. You learn through close observation and fatal mistakes. This is New Lands’ double-edged sword, like many other features which make it simultaneously charming and annoying.
The Joy of New Lands
But let’s start with what was pure joy. First, the beautiful scenery and soundtrack.
Rather than hovering over a top-down map, you control a horse-riding Monarch (king or queen) who traverses back and forth side-scroller style. For a game in which you’re attacked daily, it’s mostly very serene. I’ve spent much time admiring my galloping reflection in the stream, watching deer run, or gazing at faraway mountains.
The accompanying music is lovely, adding to the game’s relaxing experience. Music fades with sunset, though, as night brings an eerie and foreboding silence that precedes a Greed attack. For any experience to qualify as exciting, you need a little tension after all! It’s worth mentioning that New Lands received a nomination at the Independent Games Festival for “Excellence in Audio”.
Besides the visuals and music, I love New Lands‘ three-button simplicity—born of Kingdom‘s mobile platform origins—and its text-less, menu-less interface.
You only do three things: go left, go right, or use coins. You drop coins on the ground with a soft button press, usually to recruit jobless wanderers. A hard press will pay coins to build structures or turn wanderers into useful units: archers, builders, farmers, or knights.
The only grouse I have about controls is this: it’s tiring to hold down the left/right button to keep your horse running. While the Switch allows a joystick push instead of a button hold, I still have to switch thumbs occasionally to prevent fatigue. So for once, I might rather play on iOS/Android than any other port. I tried this game with different controllers: PC with keyboard, PC with PS4 controller, Switch, and Switch Lite. The Switch Lite was least tiring to use.
Too Punishing, Too Draggy
To be clear, I like this game a lot for its overall experience. But one major flaw keeps it from rising to the ranks of greatness: the myriad of important but hidden rules.
You’re supposed to discover how the game works on your own, which is fun at the outset. Some surprises are great, like finding a new horse or certain developments involving the Greed (I won’t spoil it for you). But other surprises aren’t. For example: If you cut down a tree flanking a wanderers’ camp, the camp will disappear. Say goodbye to your source of new units.
Another example: Building walls prevents grass from spreading. This could mean a slow, inevitable doom because you need enough grass to attract rabbits (your early source of coins) and to nurture farmland (a powerful source of coins).
There are many such “rules” you need to learn to beat the game, and it takes too long to discover them. And when you have learned them, it can be a chore to replay the initial hours. Also, I wouldn’t have figured out some crucial rules without checking a strategy guide online.
Even after knowing the rules, I’ve occasionally made a careless mistake. The consequence is either: (a) victory takes much longer, or (b) failure is inevitable, but it drags out for ages.
That leads me to my second major grouse: pacing. While I like the unique side-scrolling concept, I’m a little frustrated that more time is spent traveling than on actively building my kingdom.
I hate that my starting horse gets tired so quickly from running. When your horse burns out, it’ll walk at snail’s pace—a great way to be devoured by the Greed if you’re caught outside the base at night. Push your horse too hard, and it’ll buck and resist. Horse fatigue is entirely unnecessary feature. Okay, it adds tension to the game, but it’s more annoying than useful.
Also, the game feels like too much time investment for too little progress. Yes, roguelikes are tough and losing is the norm in this genre—but I’m feeling it takes too long to accumulate the player knowledge needed to beat the whole game.
There are six islands in New Lands. I haven’t made it past the third island. Losing on any island means starting the game all over, albeit with a few features unlocked. So far, I’ve spent between 30 minutes and 2 hours per island. Based on my progress, I’d probably take more than 30 hours to beat the six islands, even if I knew all the game’s mechanics.
Once your kingdom is severely weakened by a crippling attack, it takes ages to rebuild. At such junctures, I wonder if it’s better to restart the game from scratch than to let it drag on and lose anyway.
I love how Kingdom: New Lands looks, sounds, and feels. But as a busy parent I wish progress wasn’t so slow. I wish the trial-and-error approach it requires wasn’t so punishing of mistakes. “Hand-holding” is often a negative term in gaming, but this is one game that could use a little hand-holding. Or a quicker pace. I’m doubtful of beating the game without a strategy guide or investing more time than it’s worth.
This is what mars an otherwise unique and relaxing strategy game with great pixel animation and sound, plus a minimalist interface to be proud of.
So while I can firmly say I like this game, I’ve decided to move on from it. Not out of boredom, as I do enjoy it, but because I want to see if New Lands‘ sequel (Kingdom: Two Crowns) offers a better experience.
Verdict: I Like It