Remember the little people after you make it big
HIGH Playing a game with no danger in the formula was totally refreshing.
LOW There's no command to tell all the Keflings to drop what they're doing.
WTF Realizing that the most advanced workshop can't make some of the simplest pieces.
The latest Xbox Live Arcade effort from developer NinjaBee, A Kingdom for Keflings is an addicting, entertaining title that's noteworthy for a few reasons—though most people will probably notice it because it's the first new Live Arcade game to incorporate the avatars introduced at the launch of the New Xbox Experience. Being able to use your own creation instead of the four preset characters is a neat feature if you dig the way your avatar looks, but I found this aspect to be the least interesting thing about it. There's much more to like about Keflings than a little ego stroke.
The gist of the game is that the player takes the role of a giant in a land of little people, and for some unexplained reason (you're big, and just...there, I guess) the task at hand is to help them build a town and enrich their civilization by taking advantage of the trees, rocks, crystals, and sheep that are within easy reach.
Making the most of these resources is quite simple. Avoiding any confusing menus or the traditional problems that crop up with RTS-style titles on consoles, the player instead chooses a Kefling and takes them directly to what it is they want collected. After the Kefling gets the idea, then the player takes them to where the resource should be dropped off (a lumber mill, a rock carver, and so on.) Voila! The little person shuttles back and forth accumulating the raw materials that will be needed. It's extremely straightforward and easy to grasp.
At this point, wool bundles and cut planks start piling up, so the player chooses from a series of blueprints to build different structures like churches, houses, and various craft services. Hands-on like the management of the Keflings, the player assembles these buildings piece by piece in whatever location is preferred, and the titular kingdom grows ever outwards.
Although it initially seems to have much in common with other games in the genre, the unique thing about Keflings is that there are no negative dynamics to contend with: no enemy tribes from over the hill constantly killing villagers, no hurricanes or earthquakes that ruin urban development, no combat or penalties of any sort. Although it may seem somewhat boring to imagine a game where there is nothing to struggle against, I found that the time I spent arranging harvesting routes and planning how best to use available space was extremely relaxing and mellow. There's no shortage of titles featuring aliens with guns or bloodthirsty monsters, but titles that remove the element of danger are extremely few and far between.
Every session I played, A Kingdom for Keflings would suck me into one of those "just one more" sessions, and the half-hour I would intend to spend inevitably became two or three hours before I knew it. Although it needs a few tweaks here and there (like a way to quickly reorganize when every Kefling is employed, or some kind of shortcut when transferring goods from one shop to another) it was great to be able to sit back and relax with something without fear of being picked off by snipers or a constant need to manage my supply of health packs.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately nine hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed one time. No time was spent in the co-op multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains mild cartoon violence. Nothing to be afraid of here, moms and dads—There's no combat, no blood, no language, no sexual situations, and the only "violence" on display is when the giant gives a small kick to one of the Keflings...they give out a small yelp, but they land unharmed. It may be a little complicated, but the content is suitable for even the youngest kids.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There shouldn't be any problems. There is no spoken dialogue, and all information is presented through text on-screen. No audio cues are necessary for gameplay whatsoever. Totally accessible.