Time means nothing. Kingdom Eighties might be set forty years ago, but this is a series with a formula that is intrinsically timeless; an impressive feat for a game that can be played with one hand. Despite its mundane-sounding elevator pitch – a fantasy strategy resource management title that’s played on a 2D plane – Kingdom Eighties, just like its forebears, is one of the most engrossing games you’ll play this year.
Some transportation is simply synonymous with the era it was created: The Model T truck and the 1920s, the Chevy Bel-Air and the 1950s, the Volkswagen Beetle and the 1960s, they each capture the zeitgeist of the time. Kingdom Eighties begins its pop culture journey with a vehicle that no child of the eighties could be without, the BMX, and then follows it up with both a skateboard and ultimately a DeLorean. in doing so it cements the era in player’s hearts, hands and minds.
You are Leader, Kingdom Eighties’ teenage protagonist who carries the bloodline of the Monarchs. This is the fictional dynasty who’ve accepted the Crown of Creation in each of the Kingdom games, but this is the first time it’s been popped right on top of a hoodie. Unlike the previous games there’s much more of an overarching narrative at play here, and it’s straight out of a Stranger Things script. Your town has been overrun by the Greed, a malevolent corruption that enjoys the colour pink and oozing on things – they’re unpleasant – and it’s up to you and your friends to stop it.
The opening cinematic is pure dopamine if you’re a child of the eighties, with an animated cutscene that captures the look and feel of Saturday morning cartoons with remarkable accuracy. It’s a shame that the later cutscenes are much more static affairs, and though they do a decent enough job of telling the tale, they’re nowhere near as striking as things initially seem.
One of Kingdom Eighties’ greatest additions is your very own Scooby gang, with a batch of teens ready to join you and bring their unique skill sets with them. Champ is a classic jock, albeit one that doesn’t whiff of arrogance or toxic masculinity, and he uses his strength to run Greed over on his bike or push dumpsters along as makeshift barricades. Tinkerer can fix anything, including dumpsters, and while she’s not as strong as Champ her knocking into Greed can buy you a few more moments in the midst of a battle. Finally, you’ve got Wiz, a tech genius whose gear is capable of blasting the Greed back into the pink ooze they climbed out of. They all become essential to your mission, and besides their tactical advantages, it’s nice that you’re not alone in this adventure.
Of course, in Kingdom you’ve never really been alone. Just as with the previous titles you recruit others to help you in two key roles: as builders, or as soldiers. The difference here is that the people you’re recruiting are local kids, offering them a coin to come and play at war. I suppose they are playing since nobody actually dies and they just lose their equipment, but you might have one or two ethical questions about child endangerment along the way.
Fundamentally, Kingdom is an incredibly simple game. You start off with a central base of operations, and you build walls and towers to defend it. Each night the Greed attack, so you have to prepare your defences, and your defenders, in order to see the next morning. You have one main resource which is coins, and each action you take costs a set number of them. The hardest part of any of the four levels is the opening, where you’re strapped for cash and colleagues, so you have to slowly and methodically build up your base, all the while holding the Greed at bay.
Kingdom has never held your hand about what you’re doing, and Kingdom Eighties doesn’t start. There’s a process of learning and adapting to different situations, and at no point does it say what will happen if you spend this money here instead of over there. Some people might find that a touch frustrating, but personally speaking, it’s refreshing to find a game where you’re discovering and exploring at exactly the same time as your character.
The gameplay is as rewarding as ever, but it’s the eighties aesthetic that’s the real winner here. There’s a cavalcade of easter eggs to be found, and you’ll love picking out elements from classic 80s films like Back to the Future, Teenwolf, and Ghostbusters along the way. It’s topped off with a pitch-perfect synth-wave soundtrack that owes more than a small debt to Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein’s Stranger Things, similarly managing the remarkable feat of being both recent and retro.