|System: Xbox 360|
|Pub: Wahoo Studios|
|Release: December 22, 2010|
|Players: Co-op 1-4|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence|
by Patriel Manning
A World of Keflings is set in the universe established in the 2008 Xbox Live Arcade hit A Kingdom for Keflings, developed by NinjaBee. If you, like me, couldn't be bothered to check out the franchise until now, you'll be pleasantly surprised. You'd be hard-pressed to find a title as charming on the platform.
The sequel opens with you (or more accurately, your avatar) being freed from a block of ice by small creatures known as Keflings. A few brief introductions are exchanged, the town is promptly attacked by a dragon, and after witnessing your heroics, the Keflings are kind enough to require your assistance in rebuilding their town and eventually a few others. There's nothing stellar going on in the way of storytelling, but the writing is still entertaining. Some of the jokes were clearly written with younger players in mind, but I found myself laughing out loud at times, a testament to just how charming this game is.
It doesn't end there, either. The Keflings themselves skip about gleefully, even when they're working. Their king babbles incessantly. The Kefkimos (yes Kefkimos) are a bad run-on joke about Canadian stereotypical speech patterns. The whole thing looks like it came out of a storybook you might read to your children or younger siblings. It's exactly the kind of game I would normally avoid like the plague. Inexplicably, though, as I write this I'm grinning, and that speaks to the unmistakable charm that NinjaBee was able to infuse into this universe.
The world is split up into three regions with three themes: a snow theme (home to the aforementioned Kefkimos), a forest theme (where the king resides), and a desert theme. For the sake of keeping things manageable in the beginning, the map is actually quite small. Once you make the jump to the Forest Kingdom, though, the need to stay organized cannot be overemphasized. We'll share more on that later. The gameplay mechanics aren't that different from many other strategy games out there. Harvest, collect, and refine, then build, rinse, and repeat. It's all very similar to what you might see in the Civilization games, for instance. Iron ore can be converted into metal, which, in turn, can be used to make beams for a bridge, etc. Wood can be turned into planks which can either be used or fashioned into fancy carvings that serve as base elements for even more complex structures.
What's different is the way you get that done. The Keflings can all be trained to do most of the legwork for you, and if you're not careful, this can be extremely addictive. In addition a group of builder Keflings will follow you around. They can carry things the normal Keflings can't and have the ability to reconstruct any structure you've built at least once. It doesn't always work, as some of the more complex buildings tend to confuse them, but it's better than nothing. I sank nearly four hours into the game on my first session without realizing any significant amount of time had passed. It's almost like running a communist nation without all the bloodshed and bad publicity. Add to that the fact that you can purchase potions that increase your strength and speed and the fact that the Keflings themselves have a sort of RPG-style progression, and you've got just enough variation to make an old formula feel fresh again.
Controls are simple enough and shouldn't take a lot to get used to. The camera also handles well and rarely caused any interference with the gameplay. The menus are uncluttered and easy to navigate. All of the structures you have access to are available through the blueprints menu. Once you select a structure a puzzle-like diagram will appear in the upper left corner of the screen that tells you which elements you'll need and how they need to be arranged to build said structure. Each of the elements themselves require certain resources (12 iron ore + 4 brambles, for instance). It's all very basic. The only thing that I felt was missing was some sort of map screen on the HUD. It became easy to get lost on some of the larger maps, though it's not a serious issue. Artistically this game is as charming to look at as it is to play, as its visual style fits perfectly with the narrative, striking a whimsical, light-hearted tone.
There were a few problems, though. If you're a bit absent-minded, it can be difficult to see which elements of a structure need to be built. During my playthrough, I twice started a structure without having all the resources to finish it and was forced to move on to something else. After coming back, I couldn't remember where I had left those elements or if they had even been built, and it took me a while to realize it as there's no sort of notification that any of the pieces I wanted had already been made. This is a small problem that might have been eased by the presence of a map, either on the HUD or as its own screen. Really, though, this is just nitpicking.
All things considered, this is one of the most charming titles I've played in recent years, even with its drawbacks. No, it isn't StarCraft 2 or Battlefront but, really, it doesn't need to be. A World of Keflings might suffer from what many may see as a 'kiddy' aesthetic. I couldn't care less. This is easily the most fun I've had learning the fundamentals of microeconomics.
CCC Contributing Writer