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A Kingdom for Keflings

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Developer: NinjaBee
Release Date: Nov. 19, 2008

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox 360 is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.

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Xbox Live Arcade Review - 'A Kingdom for Keflings'

by Brian Dumlao on Dec. 6, 2008 @ 4:19 a.m. PST

A Kingdom for Keflings is a city-building title that puts players in the shoes of a giant who has the ability to design and construct an intricate city for the local Keflings. Each giant starts out with a small handful of helpful Keflings who help build the kingdom from the ground up.
The introduction of downloadable titles to the current batch of home consoles has brought about some great games that you normally don't see happening outside of the PC sector. Despite being from completely different genres, these games all share one common trait: They bring fun to some unusual scenarios. For example, the Nintendo Wii got some good, inventive games through the WiiWare service with titles like Lost Winds and World of Goo. The PlayStation 3 has used its PSN store to get games like flOw and PixelJunk Eden. With titles like Braid and Eets: Chowdown, the Xbox 360 has seen its share of quirky but amazingly fun games. To celebrate the launch of the NXE, the team at NinjaBee decided to release A Kingdom for Keflings, which is a bit strange at first glance but ends up being one of the more enjoyable experiences in recent memory.

If one were to classify A Kingdom for Keflings, it would fall somewhere between the strategy and simulation genres, much like the Sims series. As the benevolent giant of the land, you are immediately tasked with helping to build a town or a tiny race of beings known as Keflings. By teaching the Keflings how to gather materials or by gathering them yourself, you gain blueprints to build structures and get the pieces together that would be needed to construct them. Creating buildings opens up more building blueprints and brings in more Keflings to help get what you need. Ultimately, the goal is to create a proper kingdom for the Keflings by building a castle.

A Kingdom for Keflings has a few points of focus when it comes to gameplay: resource gathering, kingdom expansion through population and building, and obtaining blueprints for kingdom expansion. All of this can be accomplished through the actions of your giant and Keflings. The Keflings are simply focused on resource gathering and transportation between facilities, so you can assign a few to gather wood while telling others to turn the wood into planks or decorations for other buildings.


For expansion and building construction, you rely on your giant. Unlike other games where you're an omniscient, faceless entity charged with taking care of your people, you are an actual character here, roaming the land and taking care of everything that your Keflings can't do. Whether you select a giant from the game's presets or your own Xbox Live avatar, you can construct or demolish buildings by physically putting pieces together or beating them down with your fists. You'll have to pick up a building piece in order to move it around; similarly, teaching Keflings how to do things and where to go requires you to physically pick them up and place them where they need to be before they can be autonomous. By doing all of these things, you can help the kingdom expand and thrive.

Building construction and expansion of territory usually comprises part of a strategy title, but in A Kingdom for Keflings, that's the only thing you can really do. No enemies will ever appear, thereby negating the need to ever build up defenses or enter combat. Though there are different weather patterns and seasons, they don't have any effect on the gameplay, so Keflings don't get slower during the winter, and buildings don't get flooded during the rains. Keflings only gather materials, so issues such as hunger don't occur. Even resource management isn't too much of a problem, since the outskirts of the land have an infinite supply of necessary materials and, if too much of one building or item is ever built, destroying the object brings back all of your resources without a penalty. As a result, the game is a peaceful experience that still remains enjoyable despite not exactly being action-packed.

The single-player experience is everything described above. Although the goal is to build a castle for the Keflings, the game continues to progress once this goal has been reached. The multiplayer experience has you doing the same thing, but with help from people playing online. Depending on who comes to your kingdom, you can either complete goals faster thanks to the help of the other giants, or spend all of your time re-constructing things since those giants could essentially demolish everything in their path. With this in mind, it's slightly disappointing to see that the game lacks a local multiplayer mode. Like Viva PiƱata, this is a perfect cooperative title that parents can play with their kids or that siblings can play together.


The graphics for A Kingdom for Keflings are a bit flawed but interesting. While the colors of the world aren't exactly bright, the hues blend well with the environments. The buildings are well done and the people, while limited in different model types, are sculpted well with a stylized geometry that makes them easy on the eyes. The giants share the same art style, which can be a bit off-putting to some, since the style works best with smaller figures. Luckily, while the use of avatars seems a bit out of place with the art style, they are much more desirable to look at and animate well. The use of expressions is also a nice touch that you'll see while harvesting materials or carrying heavy loads around. The transition to seasons is nice and gradual, as opposed to something that seems abrupt.

About the only real complaint here would be with the frame rate, which mostly handles itself well and hovers around 30 fps. However, during the transition to winter or when there are plenty of Keflings on-screen, coupled with particle effects from factories, the frame rate can take a dive to somewhere a little under 20 fps. The dip doesn't last too long, but considering how often things change in the game, it occurs more often than you'd hope.

While there isn't much in terms of sound, what is present is very good. For a game about building construction, the sound effects don't seem to come through the speakers very much. Doing things such as transporting materials from one site to another will produce sound effects, but one has to turn up the volume to hear them at all. The same goes for the factories that transform one material to another; sounds are there, but they are too low to hear all the time. Voices are minimal as well, though they are a bit more audible than the sound effects. Keflings will scream when picked up, and sheep will baa when they get kicked. If there is one sound that towers above the others, it would be the musical score. There are only about two tracks that loop over and over again, but players won't seem to mind. The melodies of acoustic guitars and drums brings about a calm melody that few games rarely have these days. The music encourages players to relax and play at their own pace instead of trying to rush through it as quickly as they can.

Above all else, the gaming experience in A Kingdom for Keflings is very unique. There have been only a handful of titles that have made a leisurely activity fun, and this is definitely one of them. Because of its simple premise, this is one Xbox Live Arcade game that is simply too good to pass up. This title features no conflict whatsoever, so it's understandable if some players remain skeptical. Once those same players download the demo, however, don't be surprised if the simple charm of the game drives them to buy the full product.

Score: 8.5/10



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