Friday, February 20, 2009

Be A King Review

Be A King, developed and published by 300AD.
The Good: Elementary mechanics, good pacing with little waiting, random events and side quests, must manage use of heroes, varied objectives, voiced tutorials and extensive informative tool-tips
The Not So Good: Simplistic with a small handful of buildings and only two collectable resources, hardly any additional content, linear campaign
What say you? A well-executed casual city builder: 6/8

The King is dead! Long live the King! This seemingly obvious contradiction is actually really used in such exciting, modern countries as Canada. Far be it for me to argue with those wacky Canucks. I know that I just can’t wait to be king (*insert musical interlude here*), and it’s good to be in charge. Offering this juicy prospect is the straightforward-titled Be A King, which, surprisingly, lets you Be A King. Developer 300AD (not to be confused with that guy) is back with yet another king-themed game (no doubt they have the same unhealthy fascination I do), this time going for the classic city builder simulation angle.

Be A King has “$20 casual game” written all over it, as the graphics are not impressive by any stretch of the imagination. The game is entirely in 2-D, and while that is not a terrible problem, Be A King does lack a high level of detail and every object in the game is very obviously a sprite. The best aspect of the game is the hand-drawn campaign map, but you see this infrequently and it obviously does not impact the gameplay. There are hardly any animations in the game, including the underwhelming characters and static buildings. The most noticeable effect in the game is the fireworks that are seen after a level completed, but this is practically the only enhancement in the game. Clearly, Be A King was not going for graphical excellence. Sound, on the other hand, fares much better: the game includes appropriate audio notifications and tolerable background music. In addition, the tutorials are completely voiced, something that even big budget games sometimes lack. They say you get what you pay for, and that idiom is definitely appropriate for Be A King.

In Be A King, you are the overlord of a city and must construct buildings to meet specific objectives and create a smoothly-run town. The game comes with a linear campaign consisting of twenty-five cities that goes by quickly since each individual town takes about 15 minutes to complete. Each town has specific objectives to meet, and the objectives are varied from town to town: one city might make you focus on defense while the next emphasizes economy. You are awarded a trophy depending on how quickly you complete the objectives, awarding more efficient players. Be A King lacks a map editor or free play mode, so once you are done with the campaign, the game is essentially finished. Learning the game is very straightforward thanks to comprehensive guided (and completely voiced) tutorials, very helpful tool-tips, and the advisor that points you in the right direction (although sometimes his advice is a bit vague). Be A King also lacks additional features like multiplayer or online scoring, although this might be expected for a casual budget title. I wish there was more content in Be A King, since the game is pretty entertaining while it lasts.

Most of your time will be spent constructing buildings for your town. There is a limited number of locations on which you can build, so there is some balancing that must be done (especially later on in the campaign). Placement also matters somewhat: monsters bent on your town’s destruction will usually spawn from the same general direction, so placing defensive structures in those locations is a good strategy. Be A King disappoints in the number of structures you can build, offering up a surprisingly limited selection for a city builder. Really, there are only four buildings in the game: dwellings for a higher population cap and gold income, food producing buildings that (surprise!) produce food, military buildings that attack nearby enemies, and service buildings that either give a huge gold income or reduce trading costs. There are two flavors of each type (a regular and a better, more expensive version) and you can upgrade existing buildings, but the limited building selection translates into limited decision making. The strategy of Be A King is very straightforward: earn gold by placing houses, make food for them with farms, protect them with military buildings, and repeat. Wood and stone required for buildings and upgrades can only be purchased with gold instead of being produced, so everything in Be A King is driven by gold income: a bit limited for my tastes.

Despite the limited mechanics of Be A King, it is a polished gaming experience. The game features good pacing, as there is only a small amount of waiting for resources to accumulate. You are also kept busy with random events and side quests you can choose to accept: you might need to send one of your heroes to attempt to get a resource boon, or hire a helper (with gold) to provide an ongoing bonus (like cheaper trading or faster construction). I’d like there to be the ability to dismiss unwanted quests, as clicking “no” leaves the icon (this is actually a good thing, as your hero may be off on another quest at the time, but I want an additional “dismiss” option). While the resource aspect of the game is very straightforward, you are given a bit more freedom with your heroes and quests: should you leave your hero in-town to assist defense against the monster hordes, or go out and collect that gold bonus (with a chance of not getting it or even losing your hero)? It’s key decisions like these that makes a game more interesting, and while Be A King lacks a huge number of these situations, it is an entertaining streamlined title.

Even though Be A King is a bit restricted in several areas, it is still a good game perfect for beginners to the genre, which is probably the segment of the population that would buy a casual game like this anyway. The game keeps you busy maintaining your city: building houses for gold, growing food, trading for construction materials, and defending against invasions. Be A King does an excellent job teaching you the game, from the extensive tool-tips to the voiced tutorials and your in-game advisor. Your hero can be used for quests and town defense, so some decision making is present in this aspect of the game. Of course, this simplicity means that Be A King is, well, simple: only (essentially) four buildings and limited resource collection reduces the strategic nature of constructing your city significantly. The twenty-five mission campaign is finished rather quickly, and with no alternative features beyond the campaign, Be A King is over before you know it. Still, Be A King is an enjoyable ride while it lasts, and it’s clear that a focus on simplicity was successfully executed here. People looking for a more straightforward approach to the genre will be pleased with Be A King.