Kingdom: New Lands doesn’t hold your hand. You immediately spawn next to a crashed ship and see the ghost of a King or Queen from an era long past. The ghost leads you to a small encampment, quickly — and cryptically — running you through the basic mechanics of the game: spend gold to recruit villagers and make barricades. After that, you’re on your own; there aren’t any lengthy tutorials on what each upgrade does, and nobody tells you about what horrors will be hunting you down each night.
My biggest pet peeve is when a game opens with long tutorials. I couldn’t get past more than a couple hours of Pokemon Moon because of this (I don’t care about using the camera! I just want to play Pokemon!). Kingdom: New Lands essentially does the opposite of what the latest versions of Pokemon did. It just barely treads into being more cryptic than accessible. That’s fine, though, because the core mechanics of Kingdom: New Lands are addicting and damn fun. Even when you’re being overrun by demons each night.
This is a city-building game like you’ve never played before. There are two aspects that make Kingdom: New Lands unique in the genre: a side-scrolling perspective and permadeath. You assume the role of a different King or Queen on each new game you play, whether that’s the product of countless trial-and-error runs or countless deaths.
Trotting over to an object you can interact with, like a barricade or a tower, will cause some faded-out coins to appear above it — that’s the cost required to upgrade to the next level or interact with it. The cost of things starts out pretty low:
Things start to get more expensive as you upgrade your compound from a tent to a sprawling castle. There are only a couple ways to get coins to begin with: eight or nine coins from the Merchant once per day, a handful from farmers every couple days, hanging around archers while they hunt, or ordering workers to tear down trees. Beware, though — if you cut down the trees around the Merchant’s hut, he’ll stop giving you gold!
That’s just one of many things in Kingdom: New Lands that I learned the hard way. It took me four or five different monarchs before I got a good grasp on what I needed to prioritize. The most important thing is setting up a farm, which will run you nine or ten coins in total, as soon as possible. It’s also a bad idea to stretch your kingdom wide; enemies run to you, so you’ll need a handful of powerful defenses instead of a dozen weak ones.
Your kingdom is swarmed each night by little demons called Greed. Their only purpose in life is to smash into the monarch and steal the crown — thus ending the game. The only spawn from one direction early in the game, so they would be fairly stress-free… If it wasn’t for the archers’ horrible hit rate. An archer will be firing shots over a low wall and miss four out of five of them. It’s an annoyance at best and really frustrating at worst, because while Greed get progressively stronger and more terrifying, the archers still can’t figure out how to aim.
There is a remedy for their aim problem within the game, and it feels pretty dang tedious. There’s a statue of an archer somewhere to the east or west of your kingdom that requires four coins to interact with. Dumping four coins will make your archers more effective for a day. You can dump up to twelve coins to make them more effective for three days before having to come back and dump more coins. It would have been much more rewarding if archers improved on their own the longer they stayed alive. Instead, the developers chose to handcuff players to a costly statue that more often than not takes a good while to get to in the first place.
Kingdom: New Lands isn’t an endless city-building game. It’s a bit like the fantastic Dragon Quest Builders in that regard, only without the high level of customization; each kingdom you build is pretty much going to look the same. The point of the game is to rebuild your crashed ship and escape to the next island, where you’ll then start the whole process over again. The game makes no effort to tell you that, by the way. I didn’t try rebuilding the ship until after I was swarmed by gigantic Greed monsters — and flying ones — on the 17th day.
The islands, of which there are five in total, sort of act like higher difficulty modes. Greed only spawn from one side on the first island, but they may spawn from both sides on the second island. You can always start a new game from a new island once you’ve unlocked it, but it’s even harder to get started if you have to do that. The only way the additional islands are doable is by building up a little force on the first island and taking it with you to the second, and so on and so forth.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: The reviewer purchased a copy of the game for this review.