Review: Red's Kingdom
Red’s Kingdom boasts a fun and cute aesthetic, but the gameplay on the Switch proves immensely frustrating. The game is better served as a small-doses adventure on mobile.
Red’s Kingdom comes to the Nintendo Switch library after spending nearly two years available on mobile and Steam. The cutesy puzzler puts the player in control of the eponymous Red, whose nuts have been stolen and whose father has been kidnapped by Mad King Mac. The whole setup provides a quick chuckle or two before dropping the player smack dab in the middle of a sprawling, isometric puzzle world that, while cute, is immensely tedious.
On the Switch, controlling Red turned into an absolute nightmare for me. Despite knowing that full touch controls were available, I stuck to my instincts and used the d-pad for the first half of my romp through Red’s nutty world. I made a terrible mistake, it turned out, because, in this isometric world, the directional buttons only marginally corresponded to the direction I wished to go. “Up” sent me to the top right of the screen while “Down” sent me to the bottom left. This can be rotated, but that only shifts the problem ninety degrees.
The slippery mechanics of navigation in Red’s Kingdom only serve to amplify the frustration. Every screen is a puzzle, and even when I solved an area, I often had to circle back and retrace my steps through a puzzle I’d already completed. This is an important note because Red rolls in the chosen direction until he hits an obstacle or falls off the course. This would’ve been forgivable, but the game forces re-exploration and backtracking more than it has any right to, lending only tedium to what would otherwise be a charming, squirrel-themed adventure.
The adventure, it turns out, surprises in ways both good and bad. I played all of Red’s Kingdom in just two sittings, and each uniquely struck me as I pondered the adventure. During my first outing with the game (approximately two hours), my jaw dropped at the breadth of Red’s titular kingdom, especially considering the game sells for only $10. But during my second play session (approximately four hours), I began desperately hoping that no more of the world would be revealed. Sure, new navigation and puzzle mechanics trickled into the game, but they never satisfied longer than a few minutes before they felt overused. Stack that on top of the tedious navigation, and Red’s Kingdom quickly turned to boredom.
The story evolves much the same way in Red’s Kingdom. First, it’s fun tracking down objects necessary to explore new areas–it takes a page from the Metroidvania genre here–but soon after I asked myself “I have to get two CRESTS now?” and, a few hours later, “Now I have to fetch three golden acorns?!” Simply put, the series of fetch quests wore me down to the point where I was excited for the credits to roll. The game’s one saving grace in this regard was that, toward the end, it sent me to three smaller island worlds that introduced new enemies and more difficult puzzles. That’s where the game succeeds: placing the player in a contained area with truly mind-bending isometric puzzles that require all of the skills acquired up to that point. I can think of two or three instances where the frustration melted into a desire to solve the puzzle at hand. Still, those moments were disappointingly infrequent.
Despite most of my disdain for the drawn-out nature of Red’s Kingdom, I feel it’s just not at home on the Switch. Had I discovered it in the App Store and played in short spurts on the bus to work, I think I’d have enjoyed it far more. It begs to be played for a few minutes at a time, so players can soak in a few puzzles, progress the story just a bit, and sign off for the day. In this way, Red’s Kingdom could be great. On the Switch, played in two mini-marathon sessions, it just doesn’t work.