Little King's Story - PC Technical Review

Posted on 08/05 15:00 in | 0

We’re in a pretty exceptional period for PC ports, at least in terms of the range of titles that now make it over to us. A few years back, something like Dark Souls would’ve seen far-fetched; let alone Danganronpa or, in the case of Little King’s Story, a Wii title from 2009. But here we are in 2016, and XSEED have brought Little King’s Story to Steam. Magical times.

But although the cooking pot from which PC versions are scooped is now much deeper and more flavoursome, the ports are sometimes served up without the delicious trimmings we’re used to on this platform. Little King’s Story certainly isn’t the worst offender there, but it does miss a few opportunities. Especially where PC-specific controls are concerned.

For reference, here’s the machine I played Little King’s Story on: i5-6600 / 16GB RAM / 4GB 380X / Windows 10. I’m using the latest 16.7.3 Catalyst drivers.

With that all said, let’s have a look at the launcher that pops up whenever you start the game.

Not a huge amount of options to fiddle with, but what’s here isn’t too shabby. Resolution options include support for some 16:10 (1680×1050 etc) aspect ratios, as well as the usual 16:9 set. Downsampling is possible up to 4K, too. You can opt to run at Fullscreen or in Windowed mode (but not Borderless Windowed).

Things get quite a bit worse over in the control department. At least, they do if you were hoping for a decent mouse/keyboard option. Little King’s Story features a whole lot of aiming at things and pointing your followers towards objects (either to dig them up, or attack, or various other actions). It has some light RTS aspects, so you’d think it would be perfect for a mouse. Sadly, as the lone ‘keyboard’ listing in that image above gives away, the mouse is not supported at all.

If you opt for keyboard, then prepare for a fairly baffling set of defaults that cannot be redefined or changed in any way. In fact, here are the keyboard controls (this image isn’t even quite right, because Q and E rotate the map, not the left/right arrow keys).

WASD for walking around is fine. Esc automatically bringing up a “Quit Game yes/no?” prompt is pretty annoying for somebody like myself raised on Esc always meaning ‘back out from menu’, but okay, it’s possible to get used to that (Backspace is the ‘leave menu’ key here). But the semi-random alternation between using WS and the up/down cursor arrows to move around menus is pretty irritating. So too is having to use Backspace to recruit followers, and direction keys plus Enter to send them at things. You can bring up a sort of aiming arrow (with the 2 key because, hey, why not), but trying to aim at things diagonally with a keyboard is not exactly easy. If only there were some sort of pointing-based peripheral that all PC users have to hand and could use instead, eh?

It’s not completely unworkable, but it’s the sort of haphazard keyboard spread put together by somebody who doesn’t really use a keyboard to play games very often.

So yes, a gamepad or controller of some sort is recommended here. The better news on the front is there are separate options for Xinput and Directinput PC pads, as well as Xbox One, 360, and DualShock 4 devices. I’ve only been able to test out a 360 controller, but that did indeed work fine. And (unsurprisingly) worked a lot better than sprawling my hands to distant, rarely-used parts of my keyboard.

Here are the 360 controls, for reference. Pretty standard stuff.

You probably noticed earlier that the Little King’s Story launcher has options for either a 30fps cap or a 60fps one, with the latter carrying a “not recommended” warning. I’m not sure why that warning is there, because having tested both options there doesn’t seem to be anything inherently glitchy or untested about the 60fps choice. It may simply be a disclaimer that performance is not fully tested at 60fps. The only graphical glitch I’ve noticed is a flickering in the news ‘ticker tape’ that sometimes updates you with information; and this happens at 30fps as well.

At the time of writing, Little King’s Story does not actually hold 60fps. In fact, with the settings ‘maxed’ (relative to what that means here) and the realm filling up with NPCs, drops into the mid-40s were pretty commonplace. With the settings toned down to minimum there was a bit of an improvement, but I still had regular drops into the 50s. Before everybody panics though, I’m told that the game is still being optimised ahead of release and will receive a launch day patch. With luck, that’ll smooth matters out.

At present, it seems as though whenever the game has to load in a new bit of the world, there’s a drop or stutter as it does so. This happens when using either the 30 or 60fps frame-cap options. Toggling v-sync doesn’t seem to boost performance for either choice. Again though, this is all pre-patch. I’ll return to this piece with an updated overview of performance after launch. It may all turn out fine.

For a look at the HD improvements made to the PC version, here’s a comparison between Highest and Lowest possible settings. The texture differences are immediately noticeable, and (while this shot doesn’t really highlight it) shadow quality in the outside world makes a pretty obvious difference too. That Bloom effect in the Higher settings image is probably the result of having ‘Post Effect’ selected in the launcher, so that can be toggled to personal taste.

The in-game cutscenes (those that aren’t in-engine) are pretty low resolution, so I suspect these are just upscaled. Re-doing the cinematics at 1080p or above would be a fairly absurd amount of extra work for a port, so that’s understandable. In any case, the story-book, semi-watercolour art style helps to embrace much of the blurriness.

Little King’s Story has made a decent transition to HD, as you can see from the gallery at the foot of this page and some of the images dotted throughout this piece. It looks sharper on PC, and the textures appear to either have been redone or were already high quality assets that just didn’t really benefit from the Wii’s lower resolution display. The only thing that doesn’t translate too well is the in-game text, which looks oversized and stretched throughout.

The game itself is rather lovely, albeit with an oddly sinister edge at times. As the titular Little King, it’s up to you to construct buildings, give your subjects jobs, gather money and resources, clear the realm of dangerous creatures, and expand into other lands. Mechanically, there’s a focus on the sort of figurehead-guided squad control of Pikmin, set against a charming backdrop of light economic systems and nonsense-spouting NPCs. Everything is bright, optimistic, and wonderful.

But there’s a slightly darker undertone. The King’s main advisor, a Knight named Howser whose steed is an agreeable cow, makes no secret of attempting (admittedly adorable) Imperial world domination. Meanwhile, citizens petitioning the King through a ‘suggestion box’ sometimes imply a life of back-breaking servitude (but, you know, in a cheerful sort of way). Then there’s the incident early on where you defeat your first ‘boss’ (a skeleton-headed bovine). Your subjects celebrate by throwing a ticker-tape festival where they display the skull in the town square, and all dress up in skull masks. It’s delightful, but ever so slightly twisted.

Those are my feelings a couple of hours into the game, anyway. There’s a real surrealistic air to some of the ideas (such as the fact that ‘dead’ subjects can sometimes reincarnate on a nearby beach, stuck inside pots), as well as NPCs like a bizarre musician and obsessive soup Priest. It’s definitely worth looking into Little King’s Story if any of that sounds appealing.

The PC port won’t impress anybody with its keyboard set-up, and the lack of any mouse recognition is a real oversight in a game that would definitely benefit from precise pointer controls. Resolution options are adequate, and (despite a warning) the included 60fps boost doesn’t seem to noticeably break anything in the game. Overall performance is inconsistent at present, but hard to conclusively judge with a launch-day patch said to be incoming. Little King’s Story looks sharper and more resplendent in 1080p than it ever did on the Wii, and, while it’s certainly not made the best transition to PC in every category, it’s another title that’s more than welcome on this platform.

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