Kingsway Review

Played on Windows

Kingsway might not be visually pleasing to the modern gamer, but it’s has a charm that older gamers will recognize. A style that is reminiscent of the days of Windows 3.1.1 or 95. Kingsway plays with the game within a game trope and develops a game inside an OS idea. It’s a clever concept if executed well. The game even starts with a POST screen.

This is the only title screen the game has.

The obvious first piece to go over with Kingsway is the UI. Kingsway is set up to resemble Windows 95 and thus Windows 98, NT, and even ME (ugh, I’ve been trying to forget that one). I grew up in the MS-DOS era of computers and Windows 3.1.1 and Windows 95 were some of my formative years. I remember Windows 3.1.1 having some truly terrible games on it, and the big push by Microsoft to bring gaming to Windows 95, including the launch of DirectX, Voodoo3 cards and so many other artifacts from the time frame.

When I saw Kingsway I was instantly transported back to the Windows 95 era. It uses a unique interface but it’s based on and is influenced by Windows 95. The entire game reminds me of those early window versions. It has the ability to open windows move them around and shrink them. You can drag and drop objects between windows, and it has Windows 95 style icons. The game looks and feels like you’re using a Windows 95 operating system and that’s enjoyable for me.

The interface can get very messy, very quickly.

There are also a number of icons for “programs” which are really interfaces to look at. There’s an equipment window for your character that also shows your stats. Inventory bags are each their own “program”, and they open a file directory-like window that allows you to select different items. There’s a status window in the bottom right on top of the taskbar. The taskbar actually shows information about your adventurer such as having messages, if he’s burned or poisoned, and how fast is the game running. There’s even a music player program if you want additional music in the game.

The entire game feels like it has a unique and novel interface to the game. I have to say it’s a rather clever interface and the fact you have to move the screens to manage the information makes for a challenging layer of difficulty on top of the RPG adventure.

Kingsway starts with a simple letter summoning you to the castle. Then the game shows a quest saying the guild wishes to see the letter, for some reason, and you should go to the Guild in the nearest fort. That quest earns you a second bag with some additional items. The main bag has a weight limit of 25. The other bag has a weight limit of 10. It’s a great system for inventory control. Because that quest gives you a second bag, that’s the first quest you should do and the closest fort is usually only a couple of moves away.

I say a couple because Kingsway is a roguelike, or really it’s a rogue-lite. There are minor pieces that carry over between games, you are allowed to keep a favorite item from the game before, or you can use gems to buy new starting items. However with only one item able to be taken, this is a minor advantage. Every play through the game generated a different map. The island the game is played on and the starting location appears to be the same, but there’s a new location for almost everything in the game.

Get used to this starting area.

There doesn’t appear to be a lot of randomness in items, other than where to find the items and who might drop them. So really it’s a random map with semi-random quests, rather than a true rogue-lite where a lot of the game will change. Items are always identified, and the monster selection is pretty normal for each game.

I mentioned that windows in the game are movable, part of the game is about moving the game’s windows to give better information, or closing windows you don’t currently need. The developer of the game claimed Lucas Pope’s Papers Please inspired him to create clutter. It works, in that the player constantly has to manage windows to ensure the game’s information is available to the player.

The more important reason for this is that when you are attacked the enemy’s window will actually move around the screen slowly. The player is forced to follow the window with the mouse to issue attacks. This is probably the most interesting and second most frustrating part of the game. It does challenge the user so they can’t mindlessly click buttons, but it also barely challenges the user. My one problem with this is that once in a while I clicked the wrong button at a crucial moment when the screen jumped the right number of pixels to the right and I would block instead of attack, wasting valuable time.

Still, there’s a second but more frustrating issue that occurs during battle. Enemy attacks will sometimes spawn windows and tell the player to “Avoid” an attack, such as an arrow, a falling bottle or a bottle being thrown at the player. Not every attack is avoidable but it’s an interesting concept. Unfortunately rather than require the player to move the mouse out of the way of the attack, which would be a great concept, Kingsway requires the player to click an “Avoid” button on the window as it moves.

These windows move fast, even knowing that they are coming I would often get hit by them because they whizz across the screen before I could react, and since you’re aiming to click a medium sized button on a moving display, it’s frustrating. Worse yet, these are skill tests with a heavy penalty. The bottle will actually give you a “Burned” status effect, and the arrow seems to give me Poison. Both of these are negative stats and a real pain to deal with. The challenge in stopping these attacks is significantly higher than they should be. I could understand a boss attacking at these speeds, but the first enemies who use these throw it so fast that I rarely could stop them, even on later playthroughs.

It’s a shame because I feel like the developer balanced the game with the assumption the player would be able to stop these and an inability to do so raises the difficulty. The difficulty in the game is already quite high. Enemies seem to level up with you a bit. There was a game where I was running into difficult enemies and to avoid them I moved back to the original starting area, however, I found a path next to the starting location that had me face 3 level 6 monsters in a row when I was only level 6. They quickly wore me down even though I was near full power. Apparently these are the shadow monsters that slowly cover the land, but I only found that out after finishing playing the game and reading the forums. There are no hints about this in the game, so I didn’t know why I failed.

The fact is failure in this game feels more related to your luck than planning. If you rush towards the king’s castle, you will likely meet enemies that are too hard for you, but the fact is that even if you don’t rush the king’s castle the enemies will still level up and unless you level up near perfectly you’re going to have a hard time.

The blue screen of death is a funny callback.

My biggest problem with the game though is I don’t have a fun time playing it. The concept is novel and great, and they did a great job to make a Windows 95 look and feel. But the game doesn’t take advantage of that. You have the attacks that have a flying dialog window which is interesting if too fast, but otherwise, the only thing that really happens is enemies slowly move around a board. There is a phantom enemy that minimizes some windows on you when you’re not expecting it, but all the other enemies I’ve seen don’t really do anything more with the great interface. It’s just a different theme to an average RPG game.

The aesthetics of Windows 95 is purely graphical, and the fact is this game could have been so much better if they found a better way to tie the story or gameplay into the Windows 95 motif. It could have been anything. Maybe you’re exploring a computer system and battling old programs and as you take damage, or win that affects the OS you’re playing on. Maybe you’re hex-editing weapons and items. Instead, you play a very standard fantasy-ish RPG where you fight skeletons and cultists and get swords and axes with normal attacks.

There’s a good idea in the interface here, but the gameplay lacks that same level of originality, and it’s a shame because I like the interface, I just don’t find the gameplay to be as entertaining as it is. I am tempted to guess that the fact that there’s a single developer hurts this game. Either through lack of time or lack of ideas, but ultimately it ruins the experience for me.

For me, it’s not just the difficulty. Nethack is one of the best games I ever played and I have never gotten as far as other players. I can’t beat Dark Souls (though I did beat Dark Souls 3), and I struggle with challenges, but I enjoy the experience of the struggle. Kingsway gave me the challenge but didn’t have the randomness or adventure that Nethack or Rogue Legacy has, and doesn’t have the solid combat and gameplay that Dark Souls had.

Ultimately, Kingsway doesn’t have a reason to play it for more than thirty minutes. That’s when the novelty of the “Windows 95” wears off, and that’s the point the gameplay should have been stepping up to keep me interested. Instead, I played the game for a couple of hours and ultimately put it aside unsatisfied.


Final thoughts: Kingsway has a great interface, but it has a lackluster gameplay. I want the gameplay to be better than it was because it has a nostalgic feeling for me, but it doesn’t hook the player like it could.

Stats: 4 hours played 0/21 achievements earned.

I bought this game as part of the Humble Bundle Extra Life 2017 charity bundle. I do not remember if I bought the bundle specifically for this or Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition, but those are the only two games I bought.

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