Early Suda

The pulpiteer


I'm currently working on an essay devoted to Little King's Story. Back in May I posted an early appreciation of the game and, even as I draft it, I know the piece I'm writing now won't be the last. I'm talking the game up on Twitter and Facebook. I even bought a copy for a friend. Suddenly, I'm a Little King's Story evangelist.

Why the big interest? An obvious reason is that I admire LKS, and I think it deserves more than a cursory glance. Our storybook king may be a pint-sized monarch, but he's surrounded by a big beautiful game that glimmers with style.

But it's more than that. I like the game, and I want you to like it too. I want to make sure you don't overlook LKS or avoid playing it for the wrong reasons. I want you to give it a chance. I want you to play it and take your time with it. I want you to know that if you don't play this game, you're missing something special.

Without meaning to, I find myself personally invested in this game, and that makes me a little nervous. Where's my critical distance? At what point does my blog pulpit beseeching cross the line to become fanboy shilling for XSEED Games? Credibility is hard won in these parts; I don't want to squander whatever I've got by over-hyping a game that, frankly, few gamers are likely to play.

I've thought about these questions, and I've decided to roll the dice on credibility because I earnestly believe in Little King's Story. I'll try to explain precisely why very soon. A more interesting question has arisen in my mind, and it's one I've been thinking about since I first played LKS in May: What is it about this game that provokes in me such unequivocal zeal, and why should it matter to me whether anyone else cares about it?

I can think of several reasons, and the first has to do with love. Little King's Story feels like a game that's been lavished with love by its creators. This is very hard to explain, because so much of what I'm describing is conveyed to the player sensually: the soft and fluid watercolor visuals; the kooky chalkboard lessons; the hand-drawn maps; the whimsical character designs and animations; and the dark sardonic thread that weaves its way through the game's storybook fabric.

These and many other little touches suggest that developers Cing and Town Factory devoted significant creative energy and loving craftsmanship to LKS, unifying gameplay, art direction and narrative, and doing so in an utterly distinctive fashion. No other game looks, plays, or feels like LIttle King's Story. Of course I love this game. I was seduced.

Furthermore, rooting for LKS means rooting for an underdog. Let's face it, this game has an uphill climb. It appeared this week with little fanfare, limited marketing, and scant online hype. It's a deep, huge, and surprisingly tough game (you can dial the difficulty up or down) with a potentially big crossover audience of RTS, RPG, adventure, and simulation gamers - not to mention it's a Wii game families can play together. None of this will matter because few in these groups know this game is for them. The box art makes LKS look like a kids game; it's a third-party Wii game; it's a brand new IP. And the batter is out on strikes.

And so, like Charlie Brown's sad little Christmas tree, this game needs me. I can champion LKS and maybe even make a small difference. From a strictly ego point of view, I'm sure that's a big factor. I'm on a mission to let people know about this game because it feels fantastic when someone says, "I played this game on your recommendation and loved it!" Of course, not everyone will like it, and I always feel awful when someone spends hard-earned money on a game I recommend, and then hates it. Once again, I'm rolling the dice, hoping most players will enjoy LKS as much as I do.

Finally, I'm in the pulpit for LKS because I want developers and publishers to know that when they take a risk or go the extra mile, we notice and we appreciate it. I realize this can be seen as a token gesture; what really talks is unit sales. But I'm idealistic enough to believe we're developing a culture that increasingly values dialogue between designers/developers and the community, and games criticism can play a vital role in helping frame that conversation, particularly for games that blur genre boundaries as LKS does.

At this year's GDC I spoke with a representative from Grasshopper Manufacture who told me that we (critics, reviewers, bloggers, journalists) made the difference with No More Heroes. Our enthusiastic response helped it gain traction and raised its profile among other developers. I think the same could be said for Braid, Flower, and several other games that flourished in the critical spotlight. Ours may be a small role in the grand scheme of things, but when we encounter a game that jolts us, seduces us, or even inspires in us a bit of love, how can we not respond? How can we not preach a little?

Have you ever felt the need to champion a game? If so, I'd love to hear about it.