Review: The Magnificent Pixel Dynasty

By Sean Clancy 10 Nov 2014 0
"...then they open the door and, BOOM, catapult." "You're fired Alonso." "But I'm the ki-" "Fired." "...then they open the door and, BOOM, catapult." "You're fired Alonso." "But I'm the ki-" "Fired."

All Glory to the Pixel King! was as straightforward as they come, and a game which I couldn't help but like despite its many faults. (Faults including: repetitive—if pleasant—music, repetitive combat, guileless AI opponents, lack of a tutorial, and a punctuated title.) The basic premise was simple: build a castle, populate it with a monarch and a host of troops ranging from archers to knights to catapult teams, and slug it out with some other king whose fortress would magically materialize next to yours. First team to brutally slaughter the other's leader (and popularize the notion of constitutional monarchy) wins.

I mention all this because The Magnificent Pixel Dynasty, sequel to AgttPK!, is nearly the exact same game. There are changes, to be fair, but odd ones that exist largely outside of the core base-building schtick. Dynasty loses the exclamation point and replaces it with... child rearing? Hmm indeed, sir knight.

But really, the first decision your besieged king must make in The Magnificent Pixel Dynasty isn't where to position his arbalists, but with whom to make a baby. This is likely before you've laid down the floor, for crying out loud, and the same goes for all the lesser lords and knights squished into your single-room fortress or open-air pleasure grounds. Couples birth or adopt children who grow up a bit with each completed fight, eventually becoming battle-hardened adults themselves. The king's progeny even get the prince/princess designation, cute pixely aristocrat garb, and daily opportunities to berate the servants running their whole damn castle. But no, they're probably delightful, so protect them.

With this surprisingly literal dynasty, your troops move from the cannon fodder of the previous game (treated like any other tile, and regenerating after each fight) to slightly more fleshed out characters, with their own stats and customizable gear. Your starting team are tougher than the plague-riddled peasants of Pixel King!, but when they die, they die for good. So... best get to the babies, then.

And what schoolchild today can't recount the adventures of Bart the Averaged-Named? And what schoolchild today can't recount the adventures of Bart the Averaged-Named?

Rather than pure survival challenges, sieges in Pixel Dynasty are opportunities to add to your empire's pool of gold and loot. Enemy castles spawn with red chests which, when attacked, gift you with gold (to buy more tiles for your castle) or gear (to slot on your troops/family). These tend to be placed right next to the enemy king, in a “throne room” that's often just a patch of carpet in some grass clearing.

In principle, Pixel Dynasty's attempt to make the Lincoln Log cabins of AgttPK! feel less like toys and more like actual lived-in spaces is smart—a logical progression, even. It's easy to imagine a building game where the wood walls of some dank medieval cavern gradually expand over several years, are reinforced with stone, and come to encompass a bubbling fountain which rosy-cheeked younglings (soon to be blood-drenched killers) play around. That's exactly the sort of homestead Pixel Dynasty encourages you to build—in fact that tranquil, idealized medieval castle is the only sort of construction most will manage to wring out of Pixel Dynasty's limited set of tiles. The game uses the same set of construction materials—from the mundane wooden walls, stone walls, and gates, to the more exotic water and lava tiles—we saw in All Glory to the Pixel King!, with the only difference being that Pixel Dynasty allows for more complex (but not fundamentally different) layouts funded with gold from raids.

"Sire, I know riches unimaginable wait but..." "Yes yes, out with it." "I, uh, I can't turn left." "Sire, I know riches unimaginable wait but..." "Yes yes, out with it." "I, uh, I can't turn left."

The Magnificent Pixel Dynasty is an attempt to broaden the scope of the original premise laid out in All Glory to the Pixel King!, but the game doesn't reveal anything of greater depth compared to that first game, only additional, equally shallow mechanics which are superfluous to the castle construction.

The RPG elements which should make us care for these little pixel lords and ladies fail to do so, because they lack complexity. Any one character has a handful of stats—power, defense, magic, speed—which do more or less what you expect. These stats increase with new gear and experience, but those increases never translate into major strategic shifts—in other words, fights play out just as they did in the previous game. Walk all your soldiers forward, gang up on one foe at a time, used ranged units at range, catapults on walls, and so on. To be fair, mage characters can fire through walls, so that's different, as are the increasingly beefy HP bars which serve to make tedious fights last longer than they ought to.

But, does it really make much of a difference if one of my warriors can move a few extra tiles because I've equipped them with a lighter armor? Or that another's attack stat is slightly higher because they're now dual-wielding swords? What if my soldiers' children could inherit traits from their parents? And—especially for a game about constructing castles—shouldn't my army gain skills which let them interact with the fortifications around them? Maybe my mage could light wooden walls on fire or teleport, and perhaps my seemingly sneaky fella with the katana could scale towers or hide in bushes which, hey, would actually give me a good reason to use the bush tile! These are the sorts of RPG elements that Pixel Dynasty sorely lacks.

Advances in door tech during the Middle Ages were adopted a little too enthusiastically by some. Advances in door tech during the Middle Ages were adopted a little too enthusiastically by some.

I liked All Glory to the Pixel King! because it was simple and unpretentious, yet I can't help but dislike its successor for those same reasons. Pixel Dynasty is, again, almost the same game, just with a underdeveloped families system and the barest suggestion of RPG character-crafting. The game hints at so much (a true DYNASTY ruling from a mighty FORTRESS), but the follow-through is as lackluster as they come. The Magnificent Pixel Dynasty isn't a case where more is better, or even a case where more is unobtrusive—rather, these half-baked mechanics that have been bolted onto the same construction toy as All Glory to the Pixel King! only serve to detract from the core experience that lays at the heart of both games.

The Magnificent Pixel Dynasty was played on a 3rd generation iPad for this review. The game is free to try, with a 99-cent IAP to unlock unlimited play with the same dynasty.

Review: The Magnificent Pixel Dynasty

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