It’s hard to believe that it’s been over two years now since Ninja Bee released A Kingdom for Keflings, one of the first games on XBLA to allow players to use the (then) newly released Xbox Avatars in-game. Now the Keflings, those diminutive and pretty hapless humanoids, are back and expanding into the big wide world – hence the title, A World of Keflings.
For those who didn’t play the first, the game is a God / Management sim of sorts where the player is tasked with organising the Keflings into collecting resources, building their Kingdom and just generally helping them to thrive. The game has lots echoes of the older Settlers titles, but in a rather stripped back fashion.
Rather than just looking from on high, the player uses their oversized Avatar to stride across the land, assigning tasks to the Keflings like cutting down trees, smashing up rocks, or sheering sheep. Others are used to transporting these fruits of their labours back to town to be converted into components for bigger and more elaborate buildings. Which then allows different units to be created and thus expands your Kefling empire. There are also various blueprints and objects to be found scattered around the lands to help create unique buildings.
Getting down to things is where the games stripped back fashion quickly becomes apparent. There isn’t any real consequence to your actions (or inactions) like a traditional God / management game. In other words, set your Keflings to toil away and that’s what they do. They don’t require attractions to be built to keep them happy, or facilities like schools or hospitals to keep them fit and active. You can’t tax them and run the risk of them getting upset. No, these little buggers are so subservient that they’re just happy to work non-stop without a care for their own well-being.
This is where the more relaxed nature of the game actual spoils the experience; there never actually feels like much consequence to what you’re doing. Nothing bad is ever really at risk of happening and while some management sims feel like you’re hitting yourself in the face with a rubber mallet trying to balance everything, A World of Keflings goes too far the other way and just leaves it feeling… sterile. It rapidly starts to feel like playing with an exceptionally fiddly doll house and that nothing much is happening. In that sense it isn’t even a game as such. It just…is… and that’s a feeling this reviewer can’t honestly recall feeling in all his time of playing video games.
This time around Ninja Bee have tried to inject some more focus by introducing a story element that sees the player travelling around the three different environments (the fact that the game is split into just three areas of snow, sand and forest doesn’t make it feel so much like the titular World, but more like Kingdoms). There are quests to be completed for various Keflings, however these do little to get away from the fact that you’ll just be spending more time trying to organise them into building more and more stuff, or wandering about a bit to find some objects.
Sadly this is fraught with issues in itself. The Keflings are so subservient (read that as `thick`) that you’ll have to tell each one exactly what to do. So if you want he or she to take wood to a particular building then you have literally have to pick them up and take them to the one you want them to make their deliveries to, before they’ll actually do it. You can’t even opt to have your Keflings living in a Communist society which shares resources between the various buildings that need them and this demonstrates one of the downsides to the sheer novelty of having your Avatar move around – it takes too long as is too fiddly. If it isn’t the awkwardness of targeting the right object when there are lots in close proximity, then it’s the tedium of having to repeatedly trudge back and forth. There’s a very good reason why God games or sim management titles have disembodied cursors whizzing around with point and click interfaces; A World for Keflings demonstrates why this lesson was learned a long time ago.
Also the point of using your Avatar in the game still feels utterly redundant. In the two years since Avatars were forced upon Xbox users in Microsoft’s bout of “Mii too!” madness, there have been lots of new props and Avatar items released. You’d therefore think that A World of Keflings would make use of this with various rewards to bestow on the player, perhaps giving them different abilities or powers depending on what they were wearing. This isn’t the case and you have to wonder if this is simply due to not enough imagination on the part of the designers or, the more likely reason, the whole pedestrian concept of Keflings just doesn’t lend itself to that level of `excitement`.
Aside from the online mode which allows you to invite friends into your world to help you pointlessly toil away, there isn’t much more to talk about with A World of Keflings. Needless to say if liked the first one then you’ll probably enjoy this, but given that the previous title never actually ended, you could quite happily have played that until you had your fill and got bored. Or dropped dead.
This update does attempt to change a few things but the ultimate experience is still somewhat marred by the fact that stripped back management sims just do not generally work. This isn’t a particularly offensive or odious title, and is well put together. However A World of Keflings is one of those rare titles that will probably split players into those that like it, and those who really don’t. It’s all this which leaves it feeling like a niche title, but for all the wrong reasons.