Little King's Story is one of my favorite Wii games, so when it was announced that the Vita would be getting its own version of this charming little Pikmin wannabe I knew I had to give it a shot. There was some confusion about what was new/remade for the Vita and what wasn't, but even if I ended up replaying the same game I wouldn't have minded too much. Unfortunately I found that the negative changes made to the game more than outweighed the positives. While it didn't tarnish my memories of Little King's Story on the Wii, it certainly didn't live up to them either.
If you'd like a full, in-depth review of the mechanics in New Little King's Story then please peruse my review of the original Wii title. What I'd instead like to focus on are the differences between the two versions, along with a hopefully succinct but informative summary of the overall mechanics. As I mentioned before, New Little King's Story is a strategy game in the same ilk as the much-loved Pikmin series. You control a King who can recruit his subjects to follow him as a royal guard, and by pressing square you can send them out in whatever direction you are facing. Forcing your minions to charge like this is basically how you solve every issue in the game, albeit with some variation.
Need a bridge built? Send a carpenter to the appropriate spot. Rock blocking your way? Miners will do the trick. Something needs to die? Grunts are your best bet. It's simple, but slowly unlocking new subject types that open up new areas is a great way to keep one excited about the game's progression. One definite improvement is that you can also use the touch screen to send out troops to deal with an obstacle. It's usually unnecessary when you're out and about, but can come in handy when you need to take out a couple of weak obstacles and divide and conquer seems like the best strategy. More meaningful is that you can use the touchscreen to recruit citizens as you walk around your kingdom, which is far easier than the previous method of having to walk up to each citizen individually, but becomes meaningless after a few upgrades that allow you to easily pick your royal guard from a full list of citizens. You can also save wherever you want, which takes away a lot of the heartache and annoyance that could come from the first game killing you after an hour long trek to a new area.
Like the original Little King's Story, the Vita version is all about using your royal guard to go outside of your kingdom and expand it by conquering neighboring lands. New Little King's Story has seen the king age significantly into more of a teenager than a child, who is chased out of his already established castle by a mysterious Devil King. It's up to you to go back to the lands you have lost and reclaim them for yourself. Since the king is older, there's a larger focus on the princesses that accompany each land, and not only in the story but also in the gameplay itself, since you can recruit one princess at a time to go with you into battle. Princesses have different abilities that you can activate with the select button, some of which are more useful than others.
Another change comes in the visual style overall, which goes for a more standard chibi JRPG style with portraits during dialogue instead of the hazy dream-like visuals of the original. Sadly it doesn't really add much, since the dialogue isn't the meat of the game and the visuals come off as much more generic. There is also an issue with the story, which eschews the strange and thought provoking ending of the original in favour of something much more typical. I'm not sure why these changes were made - perhaps it was thought that the original's less than stellar sales were in part due to the unusual visual style and narrative - but in trying to balance that they've gone too far in the other direction and you're left with something that feels muted. Add a significant framerate issue onto that and you've got a recipe for pretty lacklustre presentation. One bright sport, however, is the music, which remains classically-inspired and fun.
The gameplay sees some definite improvement, as already mentioned, but there are also some setbacks. A minor one is that the framerate is often bad enough to slow down the overall gameplay and character movement. You'll notice a big difference between the king's running speed when he's alone versus when he's with his troops. Sadly, change also comes to the one major aspect of the gameplay that cemented the original as one of the greatest games on its platform: the boss fights.
Little King's Story had some amazing boss fights. Not only was the king of each area unique in his demeanor and personified the style of his kingdom, but each was fought with its own gameplay mechanics. Bossfights with, for example, geography trivia thrown in, or a game of pinball to decrease the size of a snack loving monarch. Each boss fight tossed in something new and unexpected. Even though you are going through the exact same areas as the original, some of the boss fights have been changed to take out what made them so interesting in the first place. Trivia questions, for example, are replaced with a giant bird boss that you beat in pretty standard fashion. I had to look back and read through a wiki of the original game because I found myself thinking “I remember liking the boss battles a lot more than this”. Not all of the boss battles have been changed in this manner, but what has been changed is not for the better by any means.
New visuals and story do play a part in aiding the value proposition of what is otherwise an old port, but you're still going through essentially the same game as the Wii version (except where it's actually worse). $40 is cheap for a Wii game, but it isn't great for a handheld title, particularly one that's been neutered to this degree.
All that said, I still enjoyed my time with New Little King's Story, just not as much as I thought I would. This seems to be a case where the bean counters have had too much input in the development process of a game. They've taken something wonderful in its innate uniqueness and made it simultaneously more run-of-the-mill and dull. Some of the additions - like the touchscreen and equipment for your royal guard - are definitely positives, but they don't even come close to making up for the elements that have been altered for the worse.