The Kingdom series has always fascinated me with its blend of simple 2D pixel graphics, surprisingly in-depth micro-strategy gameplay, and a sense of exploration. My first foray into the series was withKingdom: New Lands, which began as something to kill time one evening and ended with me blinking in confusion as the morning sun crested the horizon hours later; it was safe to say I was hooked! Having since played New Lands and the sequel, Kingdom Two Crowns, I was slightly surprised to hear that I had almost missed a new entry. What was even more surprising was that my mediaeval fantasy title was now set in… the ‘80s?!
Kingdom Eighties is a standalone expansion developed by Fury Studios and published by Raw Fury. As one may surmise from the title and my previous rambling, the game departs from the earlier model, replacing kings, knights, fighters, and foes with the neon decade of yesteryear! In place of the Monarch trying to protect their land and kingdom, you take on the role of the Leader, a camp counsellor, as they attempt to keep their camp, and the children therein, safe from a sudden incursion of horrible monsters called The Greed while simultaneously trying to figure out their origin and motives. Many things are different in the slightly-more-modern era of the ‘80s, but some things are still timeless: build defences, hire workers, and watch out for the night… especially if it’s red.
As in previous titles, Kingdom Eighties is a 2D side-scrolling micro-strategy and base-building game. Your goal as the Leader is to make sure your camp (represented by a campfire) is not destroyed by the rampaging Greed that attack you on both sides, all while expanding your walled area and trying to rid the land of corruption. The monsters only attack at night, leaving you the day to build, explore, and prepare. To do this, you have coins and workers. With coins, you are able to assign roles and tasks to your workers, such as building and upgrading towers, clearing trees, and doing chores. You are also able to upgrade your base, interact with certain objects and people on the map, and even change your main mode of transportation! More on that later. In terms of roles for your workers, there are three to choose from: builders, archers, and knights. Builders do what it says on the tin: they are in charge of building and upgrading the defences of your kingdom, in addition to clearing forests and doing chores. Archers, or rather sling shooters, are your main form of offensive defence. During the day, archers will roam near the edge of your furthest walls and collect coins from successfully hunting the local fauna. During the night, they group behind the walls and pelt the attacking Greed with ranged attacks, falling back if a wall is destroyed. The Knight, a more advanced class, is a stalwart defender armed with a… uh, sword and shield (they did their best), making them the toughest units in the game, and are limited to two per side. The Knight commands a regiment of archers, acting as a mobile wall for them to hide behind.
By clearing forests and other obstacles, you are able to expand the walls of your camp, which lets you acquire more resources as you do (such as chores that generate coins) and increases the number of barriers between your camp's centre and the oncoming tide As you expand and your rag-tag army grows in size, you’ll be able to conduct an offensive of your own, pushing the Greed back and destroying the many portals that they spawn from, weakening the incoming attacks. The land of Kingdom is also rife with treasure and secrets, ranging from actual treasures (filled with coins!) to gameplay benefits, such as new buildings and modes of transportation. Though beware, if you wander outside of your camp's walls, the Greed may surprise you; if they successfully knock off your crown and scamper away with it, all is lost.
Kingdom Eighties is the type of standalone expansion I wish we had more of; it keeps the features that make the series what it is, but it’s also not afraid to experiment! The biggest difference I noticed between the entries is that there is an honest-to-goodness plot. Though earlier titles have had a story in one way or another, they’ve been vaguer and in the background, whereas in Eighties, you are treated to a more concrete plot featuring actual animated cutscenes and central characters. The Leader, for example, is not as expendable as the Monarchs of the past. When a past Monarch fell to the Greed, their next of kin would take up the throne, and the game would continue. If the Leader falls, however, it’s game over. The gameplay is also more linear than its predecessors, having four separate levels with their own goals instead of a single kingdom or multiple islands to conquer. While I enjoy this approach, as it adds variety and a sense of progression to the game, I did feel the more linear approach chafed against my Kingdom instincts. For example, in the first two levels, I was unable to expand my base to the right beyond a few extra walls. This isn’t a problem per se, but I felt like I was missing out on whatever was in that direction and was not allowed to play the game my way! I will admit, however, that this is probably done on purpose in order to make the beginning of the game more manageable, allowing newer players to focus on one direction instead of panicking between the two. It is also possible that it is tied to the level of difficulty.
Another new addition to the Kingdom formula is followers. These unique characters can be unlocked by doing little quests in the levels. Followers, fittingly, follow you around on bikes of their own and unlock special buildings for you, in addition to being able to attack and knock back encroaching Greed. This is a very welcome ability, as the Leader is incapable of attacking themselves — some people lead, some people punch monsters in the face; such is life. In general, I liked the followers, as their addition made being the Leader a bit less lonely and gave the game a “teamwork makes the dream work” vibe.
Eighties has also changed up the economic formula a tad, as the way your kingdom generates coins is somewhat different. As in the actual ‘80s, getting money is not as easy as it used to be. Instead of hiring farmers to till the land and reap the benefits (in lovely cash), you now unlock chores for the kids to do during your expansion. They range from picking berries and cooking and selling lemonade to being on lifeguard duty and mowing the grass. I really liked the idea of this mechanic, as it made more sense in context — I mean, they’re kids — in addition to being more varied and fun when compared to the rather plain (heh, get it?) farming in previous titles. I do, however, feel like I should be able to assign kids specifically to chore duty, as sometimes I felt like there was nothing for me to do except wait for someone to pick some berries so I could continue fighting the ever-encroaching tide of evil. But then again, it adds some nuance to your management of the base: do you focus on building, tying up resources in the process, or do you take a hands-off approach and let your kids get some chores done? All in all, it was a minor niggle, as I usually was able to scrounge up some coins eventually.
In terms of design, Eighties absolutely knocks it out of the park! As in previous Kingdom titles, the pixel art is stunning. From the beautiful sky and landscape behind your camp to the dazzling reflection from the lake in the foreground, the game is a sight to behold, which is only amplified by the neon glow and popping colours of the ‘80s. The addition of a story and cutscenes with character portraits also added life to the game, as pixels can only convey so much. The sound design is similarly excellent, blending the usual Kingdom soundscape with an added bit of synthwave, making for a soundtrack you can either lead a kingdom or chill out and vibe to. The design choices also show a bit of humour, with the Greed wearing a lot of seemingly familiar hats, masks, and helmets, in addition to many other visual gags and easter eggs.
Speaking of hijinx, my absolute favourite thing about the game is the way you get around: your loyal bicycle (and alternatives). I don’t know what it is, but zooming along on the bike was just fun. The one you start with is pretty basic: your “normal” speed is a bit on the slow side, but you can huff and puff your way into a respectable sprint. While exploring the levels, you may be able to find other kinds of bikes and more! I won’t spoil what treasures await, but I will say sick wheelies are not off the table! There’s also a little animation that happens when you stop sprinting: the Leader stops, pulls out a bottle of what honestly looks like Gatorade, takes a swig, and puts it back, ready to go again. I don’t know why, but it was just so charming! Honestly, charming is probably the word I would use to describe my experience with the game as a whole. I get the feeling the people behind it had just as much fun developing the game as I had playing it.
In terms of controls, the game was simple enough. You can go left or right, sprint and drop or use coins. It really shines in its simplicity! The game also offers five different difficulty options: Peaceful, Easy, Normal, Hard, and Cursed, each presenting differing amounts of Greed to fight. The Normal difficulty is recommended for newcomers to the Kingdom series, and hard is recommended for veterans. I opted for normal, as I am not too confident in my leadership skills, but it would seem the game was correct in its suggestions, as normal proved to be a tiny bit boring and lacking in challenge.
To conclude, I enjoyed my time with Kingdom Eighties. The game isn’t afraid to try out new things, and the unique, more linear style of levels worked surprisingly well! I hope Raw Fury keeps expanding on the lore of the Kingdom series in any following titles, as having a cohesive narrative helped me be a bit more invested in my little kingdom. The only negatives I had so far were the lack of dedicated chore-doers, the inability to expand right (please, I need to know what there is to find!), and possibly the difficulty, though the latter was my own fault. The game is funny, charming, and an enjoyable activity that kept me entertained and wanting more! I recommend giving Kingdom Eighties a try if you’re interested in the Kingdom series or are looking for something to keep you occupied while waiting for the next big release. Weareth thine crown, my liege, and lead us to victory most radical!
Kingdom Eighties (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
Kingdom Eighties is a great title for those interested in the series and a worthy distraction for those waiting for the next big release! Its neon style and synthwave charm will get you hooked, and its fun mechanics and plot will keep you wanting more.