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Every so often, I look at the ports for Nintendo Switch and see something that seems like a perfect fit. Stardew Valley, Night in the Woods, Okami, The Witcher 3– to me, the best things in the Switch library are adventures on the go. And that’s how I feel about Kingdom: Two Crowns.
I first encountered the Kingdom series when I joined steam in 2017. Since you were prompted to spend $5 before making friends and receiving gifted content, I looked at the on sale titles and found a pretty-looking pixel-based fantasy side-scroller. The visuals of Kingdom New Lands were so pleasant and calming, plus there was a bundle that included what I discovered to be a beautiful instrumental soundtrack! Well next thing I knew, I played almost 6 hours straight.
Two Crowns is the third generation of the Kingdom series, which began as a two-man project by Thomas van den Berg and Marco Bancale, before Swedish publisher RawFury acquired the rights to expand the pair’s work even further. Essentially, each title in the series thus far isn’t a sequel so much as the same core concept getting more polished with new features added on. Since every installment is fairly inexpensive and each one truly is an improvement on a simple strategy game, it’s still worth the time! The premise is pretty basic: you are a monarch. Create your kingdom and defeat a plague of greed demons that ravages the islands every night. But here’s the kicker: You can’t attack or defend, not directly. Essentially, your role is support! The player is tasked with making and managing gold, which you use to build structures, recruit vagrants, and make tools they use to become archers, knights, and workmen. The end goal is to destroy giant, cliff-side portals on five islands, ridding the world of monsters.
The tutorial is… minimal, at best. You are shown how to put coins into structures and people by a friendly ghost, however nothing tells you things like “how do I destroy portals?” It’s a lot of trial and error, a running theme for most of the game I think, but there are community pages and wiki sites that helped me along.. My problem mostly lies in segments where more powerful forms of greed come into play. The little guys can be picked off with enough archers’ arrows, but the floaters (who steal soldiers and carry them away forever) still give me trouble and the breeders (hulking masses that vomit tons of little greed demons and destroy walls) are my worst nightmare. Everything sounds easier on the community pages, but I guess it’s like riding a bike. You can understand the way it works, but you still have to make it work even WITH that knowledge.
Dialogue is a very important story element, however in its absence you’ll find creative solutions. Any narrative medium needs a way to communicate with the participant, whether that’s a reader, viewer, or player. Kingdom makes an effort to use as little dialogue as possible, which to me creates a fascinating situation where your focus is entirely visual. The soundtrack of the game, save the most climactic scenarios, is mostly what I would describe as gentle. I’ve had trouble tracking down the composer’s portfolio, but I can safely say Amos Robby, known as ToyTree, has created music that truly pulls the game together atmospherically. This is the kind of music that plays during the day as you ride through the forests, creating some poignantly serene moments in between the stress of protecting your crown and managing your money.
Multiplayer isn’t great, though granted you have to find someone else who doesn’t mess around and recognizes that your character is always vulnerable. I tried it out with my partner and the main complaint I have is the split-screen. It’s VERY squished. My TV is a 32-inch, it’s larger than anything I grew up with, but it’s still two long strips for each player and, at least for my eyes, it’s a lot to focus on without accidentally thinking your fellow monarch is you. We gave up when my partner lost his crown, which you can’t reobtain, so our joint reign was over and I restarted the file. But here’s where the twist comes in…
If your monarch loses his or her crown, a new game begins, retaining statues, mounts, and more unlocked with gems. You have to expend coins to use them again, but it’s a step. I found that even my previous fortresses and destroyed cliff portals remained in some cases! This mechanic fascinates me because essentially you create a bloodline, generations of royalty expanding the efforts of their forefathers and avenging their deaths.
At first I thought that maybe I was reading too far into this, but when you begin again with a new monarch, floating text dubs you to be the heir. At times, the game employs ghosts that often resemble your fallen character. It’s been really cool to receive visits from spectral shoguns or queens, urging me to stockpile my money or upgrade something. To be honest, it almost reminds me of Star Wars, although ghosts of the Jedi are now fallen royalty telling me to make financial investments. Less mystical, but still.
Challenge Islands were introduced this year in August. They’re unique spins on the basic formula with limits and more frequent spawns in some cases.
I tried out Dire Island because who in their right mind doesn’t want to have a giant wolf mount?! Well turns out, this mode doesn’t just shake things up with an absence of tutorials and upgrade NPCs. For the Dire Island challenge, your monarch isn’t the one in danger, it’s been shifted to a familiar add-on in the base game. The dog, which is now a wolf pup, is with you at the beginning of your file and you are tasked with protecting it as opposed to your crown. The giant wolf you ride is special compared to base game mounts because it is made for direct offense. The salamander spits fire, which creates an area of attack, but this wolf attacks 3 times. You can use this newfound agency to even hunt and gain coin on your own terms! It’s fascinating how a shift of power changes the game. I personally find it more stressful that my wolf pup is the one in need of protection because its AI is a bit untamed. The dog never follows directly at your side unless you are walking in one direction. It stops to wag its tail or sniff the ground and that split second between those idle animations and reset to follow you is just enough to risk a greed snatching the canine companion away. And on Dire Island, the pup being taken is game over. I can handle losing my own crown, but even in the standard Two Crowns or New Lands modes, I used to restart the whole file- before I learned destroying portals can save dogs and kidnapped hermits. Whoops.
In summation, Kingdom: Two Crowns is a gorgeous, colorful, calming piece of work with unique mechanics and no straight-forward way to play and win. It has a fairly repetitive core gameplay that, while not everyone will enjoy, has ways of keeping things fresh and engaging. It’s an easy game to pick up for hours on end or a short time, making it perfect for the Switch as an at-home adventure or fun on the go. There’s a ton of little details I love about it from the hidden ability to customize your crest in the menu screen, the dog sprite’s subtle animations, the beautiful environments, and much more. While several unique holiday events and online co-op are currently only available through Kingdom: New Lands and the Steam version of Two Crowns, there is hope future updates will bring these desirable features to the Switch port.
Kingdom: Two Crowns is available on the Nintendo eShop for $19.99 and is subject to occasional sales.
This title is also supported on Steam with online co-op, as well as phone, tablet, and TV Remote Play, and offers the bundle option with the game’s original OST.