Last week when Microsoft launched the New Xbox Experience, the first game to offer avatar support was NinjaBee’s A Kingdom for Keflings. At $10, it’s a cheap and satisfying entry into civilization-building simulations for geekdads and kids alike.
NinjaBee, responsible for the clever platformer Cloning Clyde, have crafted a near-perfect casual gaming experience with Keflings. Your Xbox Live avatar is a gregarious giant helping the titular Keflings create their newfound home. You’ll wander the vividly rendered map, harvesting lumber, ore, crystals, and wool, and gain access to blueprints which allow you to spend those resources to expand the town.
Build houses, fill them with love (no joke… you put a big red heart inside), and you get more Keflings to help you in your endeavors. You can put them to work, manning buildings, chopping wood, or even carrying resources back and forth.
Unlike other city-building sims, you construct your buildings with special parts bought with your resources. Each structure may require anywhere from three to nearly twenty different pieces. You work to put these individual pieces together on the grid, and it’s a satisfying feeling when the puzzle comes together and the building is raised. Then you can customize the colors of your new medieval-inspired structure and watch as it comes to life. If it’s a milestone construction—a keep or castle, for instance—your Keflings will even dance around you in celebration.
To further ensure that each new construction is worthwhile, there is a development tree similar to that in real-time strategy games like Starcraft. There’s none of the stress that a zerg rush brings, though, because Keflings is all about progress. No natural disasters will beset your burgeoning civilization and no rampaging orcs will tear down your cathedral. You’re free to wander the map with your giant as your Kefling citizenship gathers resources, exploring the world and completing the minor quests that your town’s mayor assigns.
You play at your own pace, which may seem boring for seasoned RTS fans. The result is a relaxing, rewarding sandbox experience where you develop your own little world of Keflings, build it up for them, and watch them work and celebrate. Just when you start to wonder why you’re even bothering, you’ll get a new task or a new blueprint. Then you’ll want to build it. Then you’ll want to build more. Then you realize it’s way past your bedtime and you keep building anyway.
WIRED: No-stress, high-reward city-building with fun music and charming graphics.
TIRED: Might prove dull to experienced sim players; music loops grow tedious during long play sessions.