Half chess, half strategy war game, Kingdom, if nothing else, is an interesting combination on paper. It sees the player taking control of chess pieces on a collection of 50 grid-based levels of varying size, keeping many of the fundamentals of chess in place, while adding a selection of strategic options that could have truly turned this game into an experience with untold levels of depth and intellectual challenge. Sadly, despite showing glimpses of the promise inherent within the concept, Kingdom ultimately fails to capitalise on this great idea thanks to a complete lack of multiplayer (what were they thinking?), dim-witted AI and an array of poor, minor, but nonetheless grating, design choices.
With three game modes split across the 50 campaign levels and three additional achievements to attain on top of basic victory for each event, Kingdom actually delivers a fair amount of content for its pleasingly meagre 80 MS Points asking price. After a relatively basic introduction, Kingdom soon introduces larger levels and greater tactical options, and for those that can live with the game’s issues, there is certainly fun to be found amidst Kingdom’s unique strategic gameplay.
Starting off with a couple of pawn chess pieces, by taking over land on each stage, taking out opposing pieces and building houses to accumulate additional funds and keep conquered land in your control, you’ll soon find yourself upgrading your chess-based army to include knights, bishops, rooks and queens as you juggle the requirements of basic chess with the land grabbing and financial accumulation of a strategy videogame. With land split into three kinds (friendly, opposing and neutral), it’s your job to take down the enemy pieces as quickly as possible while turning over as much of the board as you can to your team by purchasing houses on accumulated land as you make your way across the board.
It’s clear early on just how much potential the concept has but you quickly realise that thanks to the largely idiotic AI, victory often comes far too easily with high levels of strategic play rarely required. Of course, this could have all been fixed with a basic multiplayer mode, but without an option for even local competitive play available, Kingdom never manages to unlock the potential bubbling agonisingly close to the surface.
Beyond the complete lack of multiplayer, an array of minor niggles also combine to steal much of Kingdom’s fun away. For one, the black pieces are the exact same shade as the black spaces on the board meaning that it is often extremely difficult to distinguish where they are while in play. Sure, you can move the camera around to get a better view, but really, it’s a problem that simply shouldn’t exist. The audio too, while basic enough for the most part not to capture your attention, is home to a horrible horn effect that sounds out after each and every turn. It’s loud, it’s distracting and after a few games, is likely to drive you absolutely bloody insane.
With a campaign that tasks you with a collection of elimination, land grabbing and money hoarding tasks, Kingdom does a pretty good job of keeping the challenge fresh over the 50 stages available, but thanks largely to the predictability of the AI and lack of additional difficulty settings, much of Kingdom’s good work feels like it is going to waste. I know I shouldn’t expect too much from a game that costs less than a pound, but given the potential within the core concept, it’s hard to play Kingdom’s without being weighed down by a sense of overriding disappointment.
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