Over two years ago, developer NinjaBee introduced us to A Kingdom for Keflings, a strategy game that could be best described as SimCity on a smaller, less violent scale. It was unusual in that there was no timer, outside threat or any other force to hurry you along the goal of building a prosperous town, but the casual pace and charm made it a favorite among the Xbox Live Arcade crowd. It was so well received that the sequel, A World of Keflings, was met with great fanfare and earned scores on par with its predecessor. For a while, only XBLA and PC owners could enjoy the title, leaving other platform owners wondering what the fuss was all about. With two titles following the newfound strategy under its belt, the team at NinjaBee turned its attention to the PlayStation Network, particularly the PS3. Instead of giving those owners a port of what was released before, they decided to give them an all-new experience in the form of AkimiVillage.
The game presents something that wasn't offered in its spiritual predecessors: a story. Playing as either a boy or a girl, you wake up and suddenly find yourself in a strange land that looks like it came out of a Chinese painting. You immediately run into a talking raccoon, who explains the whole situation to you. It seems like you're in the floating island of Akimi, a once peaceful and beautiful land inhabited by creatures of the same name. A dark gloom has since overtaken the land and its inhabitants. Luckily for the both of you, planting some rather large acorns will spout trees that are powerful enough to banish the gloom and make both the land and the akimi happy and prosperous once more. Since you're the only one large enough and powerful enough to handle such an undertaking, it's up to you to cleanse the land so you can go back home.
In a nutshell, this is a city-building game where you control a large person instead of an ethereal cursor. Your giant is responsible for moving around the map, constructing buildings, and gathering and transporting materials. If you want things done faster or you simply tire of doing things yourself, you can grab one of the akimi and set them on a resource so they can start farming it. These gathered resources can then be sent to buildings to construct the necessary pieces to create more buildings, some of which can help you create more materials to build other pieces for different building types. Completed buildings open up blueprints for other buildings, and once enough are created, you're given a magic acorn you can plant near a magic well to open up more of the land, free some akimi and, in some cases, unlock more harvesting abilities.
Like its predecessors, AkimiVillage is an experience that allows you to take your time due to the lack of artificial motivators. There's no timer to make you hurry along, and the akimi live independent of any needs, such as food or sleep. Despite the presence of the gloom, no enemies ever appear, so you never have to worry about outside forces killing off the akimi or destroying the buildings you worked so hard to build. With nothing to really worry about, you're ultimately the one who determines how fast or slow things will go when it comes to rebuilding the island.
This isn't to say that there aren't things that will block your progress. For the most part, you're given a pretty direct path for which buildings need to be built to unlock the next blueprint. Sooner or later, you'll run into a building that requires a certain type of material to be created or harvested, and it's a material that you don't have the ability to get. Those abilities are obtained throughout the island, but they can only be accessed by a part of the island that isn't affected by the gloom. It suddenly becomes clear that the placement of your magical acorn becomes instrumental in determining how your game will progress since it also determines which abilities you'll access first; it gives the game a more dynamic structure than one initially realizes.
One thing people will appreciate from this game is its plot. It's not exactly the most of exciting of plots nor is it a memorable one, but it does do a good job of giving your mission a purpose. One complaint about the older games was that once you built the final building in the game, there was no reward for completing the task, and unless you simply wanted to start over, there was nothing else you could do around your kingdom. In Akimi Village, you're given a convincing reason to clean up the village, and for some players, this may be the necessary motivation to keep gathering, delegating and constructing until the end.
The experience may be calm and relaxing, but it isn't exactly flawless. The ability to move entire buildings, as seen in A World of Keflings, isn't here, so you'll always have to rely on the old destroy-and-rebuild tactic from A Kingdom for Keflings if you want to relocate things. The land may not be large, but it is large enough that moving things from one spot to another can be time-consuming, and while there are portals to remotely move from one part of the map to another, they come in so late in the game that you won't bother using them anyway. As for the different characters, you don't really get a benefit from using one or the other, so your choice of savior will be totally aesthetic; that might not go over well with those hoping for the depth seen in A Kingdom for Keflings.
The experience suffers from another flaw, and that's a lack of any multiplayer. There is a limited online experience, but it's not enough to compensate for a missing mode. You can assign totems in your land to monitor your friends' journeys and determine how much of the gloom they've removed by the size of those totems. You can also send them some extra supplies, so they can make it easier to create a building. You cannot, however, physically visit their land to see the progress for yourself nor can you help them build the pieces they need at any given time. The option isn't even available for local multiplayer, which was offered up in A World of Keflings. The lack of multiplayer doesn't hurt the experience greatly, but it makes the task feel a little lonelier.
The graphics carry the same slightly outrageous style NinjaBee for which is known. Your character mimics a chibi-style, and while the head isn't disproportionately large when compared to the rest of the body, he or she still sports some rather large hair and skinny limbs. The akimi look fine, sort of a blue version of the aliens from the "Toy Story" series, but they don't sport much personality. They don't struggle when in your grasp, nor do they try to wave you down for attention if they aren't already assigned to a task. The environments look great because of the color scheme, which remains vibrant as you watch the seasons change — and it never gets old. If there is one thing that needed ironing out, it would be the frame rate. It holds a pretty steady 30 fps most of the time, but getting rid of the gloom or entering rather busy areas makes it drop to about 20 fps or so, a problem exhibited in the early game.
The sound takes a few cues from its predecessors. The music is easygoing material that contains no more than three tracks that loop quite often. Unlike the previous games, this one takes on more of a new age vibe, but it's still good enough that it doesn't become annoying when you hear it for the umpteenth time. The music changes when you traverse from light areas to gloom-filled ones and back again, so at least there's some dynamism to the score. The voices are interesting in that they try to go for mimicking a language instead of gibberish. Everyone, from the raccoon to the akimi, speak this, though it would have added to the hilarity if the akimi shrieked when picked up. The effects, surprisingly enough, are minimal, and it becomes common to gather resources and construct buildings without hearing an effect at all.
Akimi Village feels like a game that was made alongside the Keflings games instead of afterward. It adopts most of the mechanics of the original game without really taking advantage of the gameplay and technical improvements of the later title. The missing multiplayer modes also tarnish the product, as does the lack of humor and depth in some portions. That doesn't make it an inferior product, though, as the presence of a story gives you more purpose to your city building than before, and the act of building the community is still a calm but fulfilling experience. While Xbox 360 veterans may find this to be a very similar experience in a different skin, PS3 owners will be very receptive to this game, especially since they've already been the recipients of some experimental titles. It's an experience worth playing, but we hope that the next iteration will include some form of multiplayer.
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