Clones get a bad rap. Be they the shunned products of unregulated genetic experiments, alternate universes, or a galactic emperor who puts a lot of faith in the military chain of command, clones just never get the respect their originals/Earth-1 counterparts/gene-seed progenitors got.
So it’s good, then, that action-RPG-lite Kingdoms Fall, all similarities aside, isn’t actually a Legend of Zelda clone, right? Though a true clone of that game would, by default, have to be at least a bit good. And yeah, in even trying to imitate such a brilliant series, a developer would inevitably pick up some extra knowledge of game design, and walk away from the experience with a richer understanding of the craft. Heck, sometimes innovation happens accidentally. Right? Oh. Right.
So the story. The story is thus: there’s no story. Or not much of one. Kingdoms Fall throws you right in as a black-caped protagonist, informed by his regal father (the king? just a well-dressed guy? popular medieval-themed strip dancer Johnson the LXIX?) that the evil generals of the Big Bad need to be defeated in order to… defeat evil. The evil comes from the evil generals. Generally.
So you’re off! Into the colorful overworld which, it must be said, is just the right kind of pretty. Varied, as well. My initial trials had me quickly flitting from fantasy plains to a fantasy dungeon to a fantasy desert to a regular ol’ pirate ship, all rendered with evident care. The opening castle-side town was equally nice to ogle, but lacked the texture one expects from an RPG settlement. The NPCs didn’t talk. At all. And aside from the shop (which sells the bow! whooo! (for an exorbitant amount of rupees jewels! whooo!)) there wasn’t anything to do but sightsee.
Enemies, too, are of a nice mix. The introductory cave segment had your standard bats, rats, and two (2) kinds of zombies–one of which throws crap at you, which just has to be Mensa-level stuff for a zed. The plains and forests were dotted with goblins and purple chicken beasts, and the desert and pirate areas showcased some big-ass mobs rather fond of shooting bile at you (and who, surprisingly for their size, went down in about two hits).
Let’s get cracking! Yeah! Time to slice up some evil! Just have to close the distance… close the… get close to the… just have to get a little GARRRGH WHY AM SLOW.
Remember, above, when we jetted off into the countryside? I was all “So you’re off!” and you were all “……”? Well, in the time it’s taken you to read this far, our hero would’ve just made it across one screen. Two screens, maybe. Movement in Kingdoms Fall is excruciatingly sluggish and imprecise. Even after a patch claiming to fix just this issue, the controls (left thumbstick-zone for movement, with the right side of the screen mapped for the sword, shield, and the like) just aren’t responsive enough for an action-heavy title. Dodging enemy attacks calls more for luck than skill, and even basic navigation–avoiding floor-spikes, crossing bridges without falling into the water, using doors–is finicky to a fault.
Even if the basic movement was corrected, Kingdoms Fall would still have problematic combat. Hitboxes, for the player and for foes, are too generous, while the player character’s basic attack both lacks range and inches you slightly forward with successive strikes. What you get, over and over, are situations where you barely miss a strike you thought you had in the bag, step closer to the enemy, and get tagged by a counterattack you’re almost never quick enough to dodge. The above can be avoided if you just… wait for opponents to walk towards you, and pause between strikes so as to not trigger the combo that’s supposedly there to help but, yeah, it’s not exactly Dark Souls, is it? Unlockable items–bow, grappling hook, magic wand–will alleviate this issue some, but the base mechanics just don’t cut it.
Of course you could avoid the combat, a tactic I often resorted to while rushing through the game’s short, yet needlessly difficult and repetitive, dungeons. That is, until Kingdoms Fall locks you in a room and won’t let you leave until you kill everything. Including the mice. That’s not a joke. That happened. And they were proportionally correct, too.
I mean, it’s not all that bad. Truly. There are some neat, if simple, puzzles here, and the game certainly swings for that epic feeling in its level design, if not its plot. But the core failings here magnify the title’s otherwise forgivable sins to unbearable levels. Fact is, the action isn’t good. This is an action game. ‘Nuff said, sadly. Kingdoms Fall could have stood to copy a little more from better games, because the one thing all those who decry the Zelda clones over here and the GTA clones over there forget, is that cloning–real cloning–is friggin’ hard.
The game was played on the iPad for this review.