Saturday, October 27, 2007

KingMania Review

KingMania, developed by Rake In Grass and published by 300AD.
The Good: Straightforward gameplay, fast pace, numerous upgrades for different strategies, online multiplayer with server browser
The Not So Good: Controls are a bit cumbersome, not much variety with singular objectives
What say you? The quick, easy strategy gameplay makes up for some lack of diversity: 6/8

Strategy games are moving away from the hour-long slugfests of days gone by to more succinct matches. The importance of base building and resource collection is being replaced by more action-packed excitement, as evidenced by games like World in Conflict. Another game that cuts to the chase is KingMania, a fast paced strategy game in the vein of Galcon and Mayhem Intergalactic. Will the more straightforward gameplay of KingMania reduce the strategy, or just simplify the process?

KingMania features some OK graphics and sound using the popular Torque engine. Games using this engine have a similar look: simple but effective 3-D graphics. We saw this in Penguins Arena and it’s present again in KingMania. Most of the levels in the game are small and consist of a green island with various castles placed on the map. The maps are reminiscent of simplified wargame boards except KingMania renders it in 3-D. The graphics make it easy to spot things but won’t overwhelm you with graphical glory. The sound is good enough, featuring some appropriate background music and repetitive but effective effects. Overall, KingMania has a below average presentation, but the game is playable and not terribly muddled so that’s something.

The object of KingMania is to take over your opponent’s castle (apparently everyone is fighting over potatoes). This is done by capturing surrounding locations with your troops to increase your income and recruit more troops. The single player campaign of KingMania is a sequence of skirmishes of increasing difficulty, usually giving more locations near your opponent and making the AI more aggressive. The “destroy enemy” objective that is present in each level becomes repetitive very quickly; it would have been nice to have some other purpose than total domination of your opponent, like capturing a certain town or holding a location for a specified amount of time. The game’s tutorial is integrated into the first couple of levels; the in-game “how to play” information didn’t make much sense until I actually played through a couple of levels. KingMania also features multiplayer over the Internet and provide matchmaking through the game’s server browser, a feature that a lot of independent titles lack.

Your kingdom can consist of several types of buildings: your starting castle that produces knights, villages that produce food and villagers, mines that produces gold, mage towers that produce spells, and scout towers that will reveal exactly how many units are in each building on the map. While it is nice to have a small selection of buildings for simplicity, it does limit the overall strategy somewhat. Sending troops to other buildings it simple: select and click. You can set a percentage of your troops to send on a pop-up display (which can commonly obscure other buildings in the distance) and choose to send just knights, just villagers, or a combination of both. For those who don’t excel in math, the game also indicates exactly how many individuals will be traveling over the river and through the woods to your destination. Traveling takes time, so it’s important to coordinate and send your furthest troops first (similar to coordinating nukes in DEFCON). You must select each individual building as there is no “select all” command or selection box like in Galcon; this isn’t that big of deal except on large maps.

There is some variety added to the strategy through upgrades. Through the money and food that you earn at mines and villages, you can purchase a number of improvements to your buildings. Upgrades can improve a building’s offensive and defensive capabilities, good for front-line structures that are likely to be attacked. You can also increase the production of the building or enable spell casting that sends things like warrior villagers, fireballs, or monsters at enemy cities. Overall, KingMania features just enough strategy in the upgrades and general map layouts to make it an interesting title. There are several strategies you can employ, evidenced by your choices in upgrades and which buildings to invade first. The relatively simplistic game mechanics mean that almost anyone can learn and enjoy the game. KingMania might not have the strategic variety seen in other RTS games, but it’s still simple fun. The user interface is a bit cumbersome and controlling a large empire requires a lot of clicking, but KingMania provides small doses of strategy goodness.

KingMania is a good fast-paced strategy game that is easy to plan and offers some variety through the upgrades you can purchase. The controls are straightforward and simple to handle, although the pop-up indicators do sometimes get in the way. The graphics are simplistic but effective. The single player campaign features the same objective each mission (take over all of the enemy strongholds) with increasing difficulty, so it gets kind of old after a while. Thankfully, KingMania has integrated multiplayer support that will extend the life of the game. Although KingMania becomes a matter of simply capturing buildings by force and tons of friendly units, you can tailor your strategy somewhat through the upgrades you choose. A single game takes around ten minutes to complete, so you won’t get bogged down in a single contest for very long. Strategy fans will find some enjoyment KingMania as the basic game is good, although the title lacks some strategic variety to keep people interested for the long haul.