You spawn as a randomly generated king or queen inside a wild, untamed wood with nothing more than your crown, your steed and a sack of coins. As you gallop through the side-scrolling forest, you pass a stone structure which spells out “Kingdom.” The structure crumbles as you ride past, foreshadowing the inevitable end of your time as king or queen. A ghost of a failed ruler guides you to a burnt-out fire, and instructs you to pay three gold coins to light it; thus begins your rule. In order to keep your crown, you must manage your time and your wealth to recruit people to your kingdom, build and fortify your capital against the nightly onslaught of monsters… and you must abandon it all before the icy clutches of winter descends.
Kingdom is an incredibly simple game, but don’t confuse simple for easy. The tutorial is incredibly limited, providing the very basics of recruiting lost souls, vagrant people, from the woods, how to create tools to give your peasants jobs, how to barricade your town, and closes with the most basic of commands: Build, expand, defend. With no hints regarding escape or explore, many a novice gamer finds themselves trapped in an endless winter, their settlement slowly corroding under the crush of limited resources and seemingly endless waves of monster attacks.
This feels like a simple and familiar resource management game, and there is nothing inside the game itself to tell you otherwise, outside of the early discovery of a broken down boat. Many a player starts out the game intending to build up a successful, thriving kingdom before sailing away–and therein lies the dangers of Kingdom: New Lands. Winter is coming, and this winter has no end. During these long, cold days, resources degrade quickly: Wildlife vanishes, your farm’s decay, and you are left with no real hope of maintaining your settlement. Instead of establishing a permanent home, you must plan to gather as much wealth as quickly as possible, build a boat and escape to a new land before winter begins whittling away at your resources. While this lack of direction can inspire you to explore, experiment, and learn through failure, it can just as easily frustrate and diminish the experience of a new player who tries wait out what will turn out to be a never-ending winter.
Everything in this game depends upon gold: Giving a gold to a vagrant will turn them into a proper citizen. You use gold to build a tool, which a citizen will pick up and become an archer, farmer, or builder. You use gold to build walls to keep monsters at bay. You use gold to upgrade shrines to learn new technology. Your citizens pay you back for your investment: archers convert the wild game to gold, while farmers grow crops which are magically converted into gold. Wealth is incredibly important, both for expansion, but also for upkeep.
Each night, your settlement will be assaulted by waves of monsters intent on killing your people and taking your crown. You cannot take part in fighting them off directly and must rely on your people, weapons and structures to keep the Reficuls and Scourge at bay. Every fifth night, a Blood Moon will rise, bringing with it more powerful monsters which you must be prepared to fight off, if a monster breaches your defences, they will attack your king or queen, forcing them to drop coins. If you have no more coins to drop, your nobility will drop their crown. If an enemy is able to steal your crown, it is game over.
Figuring out how to survive is no easy task, though the first island is more forgiving than the later ones. Upon starting the game, you will only need to fortify one side of your settlement against monsters. The starting island also contains two to three treasure boxes, helping fill your coin-purse and funding your fledgeling kingdom. As you advance in defences and technology, you will eventually be able to hire knights to attack the portals which spawn enemies, ensuring the safety of your kingdom–at least until winter descends.
The game is played using only the thumb stick, the A button, and a trigger button, should you want to gallop instead of walking your horse. Everything about this game feels right at home on the Nintendo Switch, which is incredibly versatile with its controls. You can control your character’s movement using both the right and the left thumbstick, as well as by using the directional buttons on the left joy-con. Both shoulder buttons allow you to gallop, through the game will downgrade your run to a walk should you suddenly change directions while still holding down the shoulder button.
The game features gorgeous pixel art, and the game itself really shines on the Switch’s long, narrow screen. It plays beautifully, though I did notice the occasional stutter in handheld mode, it’s only a momentary distraction and does little to take away from the experience of the game. It’s easy to get lost in this world, exploring lunch forests, listening to the bustle of towns, watching as the full moon peeks between the clouds. It’s a beautiful trap which lulls you into staying longer than you should. With no straight path to victory, this engrossing game offers a great deal of challenge, replayability, and a whole lot of pretty graphics.
Kingdom: New Lands is the same survival simulation game you’ll find on Steam, but it feels even more at home on the Nintendo Switch. While the lack of tutorial and clearly defined goals can potentially lead to frustration and some difficult first starts, Kingdom’s simple controls lead you right into an incredibly engrossing game. The gorgeous pixel graphics shine on the Switch’s screen, and the changing of day to night, and summer to fall is not only visually stunning, it’s an ever-present reminder that winter is coming. Based on the principle that nothing lasts, with each new game Kingdom asks: How long can your crown survive?