Review: New Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (PC)
by Aaron Sirois on March 23, 2012

New Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
Publisher: Alawar
Developer: Alawar
Genre: Strategy
Release Date: 03/15/2012

Growing up, one of my favorite tales was A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. In it, a man from modern times finds himself stuck in Medieval times with no way to get back. Using his advanced knowledge and intelligence, he manages to become a very important person, even going as far as to create a telephone system. One of my favorite scenes is where he is challenged to a joust, and shows up with no armor and a lasso. Embarrassing the hell out of Lancelot? That’s just bad ass.

Anyways, my love of that story had me sold on this game before I even knew a thing about it. In hindsight, that’s not a very smart way to chose a game to play, but there’s nothing I can do about that now. I was really hoping for a charming tie in that let me interact with some of fiction’s greatest characters.

Instead, I got robbed. This game has nothing to do with that classic novel. However, the story and setting are only part of the game. Did the rest of the package manage to make up for my initial disappointment?

Story/Modes

Things start out with a cowboy (!) by the name of John getting blinded by some light and waking up in a suit of armor somewhere in Medieval times. Without much fanfare, he is tasked with bringing water from the fountain of youth to King Arthur. He kind of just goes with this. The rest of the story is told through very brief conversations between John and the wizard Merlin. Another character is introduced towards the end, but the game really doesn’t go anywhere. The ending brings absolutely zero closure to the proceedings and is was a complete letdown. The only thing I enjoyed about the story was the very cute Parks & Recreation reference that was thrown in.

There is only one mode in the game, as that is the story itself. There are forty levels to work through in order. Completing a level will earn you one of three rankings. You’re free to go back and replay any previously completed level to go for a better ranking. Beyond that, there is nothing to do in the game. There are no bonuses or additional modes to be found. I’d call it lacking, but this is kind of the norm for this brand of games.

With a weak story and only one basic mode, New Yankee doesn’t have much going for it. It tries to be funny, but rarely succeeds, and there is little to digest altogether. When you add in the horrible misrepresentation (how is a cowboy a Yankee?), I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Graphics

For the most part, this game uses simple cartoon graphics. There are some small details, but there’s nothing particularly good looking here. The effects are minimal but get the job done. You’ll see things like food growing over time, gold being chipped away from rock, and fireworks for when you complete a level. It gets the job done, but doesn’t stand out in any positive way.

Where it does stand out is in the design of the workers. These are without a doubt some of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen. You’ll notice I’m not calling them people, even though they’re supposed to be human. For starters, they’re bobble heads. That’s not too bad, as it fits the cartoon aesthetic. However, what really gets me is the eyes. They’re HUGE, unblinking monstrosities that will likely haunt my dreams for the next while. You can see one of them in the cover image at the top of the review. If you try telling me that isn’t creepy, then I will consider you a dirty liar.

What you’ve got here is a generic looking game that stands out for all of the wrong reasons. On top of those creepy workers, I’d like to also note the strong disconnect between the character you see on screen, and the one used for dialogue. The armor doesn’t match, and the face is missing several key features. I didn’t realize it was supposed to be the same guy until a good ways into the game. It’s one of the many touches that make this a visually unappealing game.

Audio

The music is all right I suppose. It’s very light and fitting of the setting. It kind of fades into the background though, because it’s far too light for the sometimes comparatively frantic gameplay. I honestly had to stop and listen to it just to know what it sounded like. I have a hard time remembering anything about it.

The sound effects are all fitting, and do they job they’re supposed to do quite well. While I won’t be handing the game any awards for sound design any time soon, the appropriate sounds are in the right places. That’s all you can really ask from such a game. I’ve played some real aural disasters. This game is definitely not one of them.

Gameplay

This game is kind of like a low grade real time strategy game, with some elements of tower defense. I will simply call it a strategy game. The basic setup is you’re given somewhere between one and three objectives to complete in any level. You harvest resources, remove obstacles, construct buildings, and fend off attackers. All this is done with simple mouse clicks. You need merely click what you want to interact with, and the appropriate action will be taken. You can even set up several moves in advance, giving you a chance to plan ahead.

The most basic goal is to harvest resources. There are four resources throughout the game. You’ve got food, gold, wood, and magic. Food is used to fuel your workers. There are many actions they can’t use without them. Gold is uses to buy upgrades and to remove some obstacles. Wood is used to construct buildings and repair bridges. Magic is used to activate various spells that speed up production, cause helpful effects, and other such things.

You control only two units, though you don’t directly control them. The worker is the most important of the two units. They harvest resources, clear obstacles, and construct buildings. The other unit is John himself. He stays in the castle for the most part, but he can take down some enemies, as well as activate spells by spending magic at altars.

The goals for each level are usually simple. Most of the time, you need to get a set number of workers. That will involve creating houses and clearing away obstacles to save stranded workers. Another popular goal is to collect the resources until you have a large amount. Finally, there are specialty buildings, such as lighthouses and statues that take a long time to build.

The game is simultaneously very laid back and very frantic. The point of the level isn’t simply to win, but to earn a high ranking. The faster you complete the level, the better the ranking. In that regard, you’re often clicking points of interest like a madman. On the other hand, if you don’t care about the ranking and simply want to complete the level, you can play at a very relaxed place. It is almost impossible to lose. In fact, I only had to restart once, because there weren’t enough resources on the map.

The game plays well enough, and has the making of a decent game. However, it manages to fall flat on its face in one place. Every level is set for you from the start. There may be eight spells in the game, but you can only use one if it is available to you. You may want to build a foundry to increase gold production, but unless an area is marked off for you, that isn’t going to happen. You can only build in special roped off areas. That takes a lot of potential strategy away from the game, and it ends up a lesser experience because of it.

While it has its positive points, the lack of depth makes this a game that is only good for those who aren’t used to more advanced strategy games. If you need a lighter game to ease you into the genre, this might do.

Replayability

There are forty levels to complete, and getting through them the first time will likely take a few hours overall. After that, the goal is to get a gold ranking on each level. I managed to do that on about twenty-five percent of the levels on my first try, and subsequent replays yielded a high percentage of top rankings. This means that a skilled player will probably get somewhere between five and six hours out of the game if they want to get gold on each level.

Beyond going for better rankings, there is nothing to do in the game. I consider that a failing. While I don’t expect something as advanced as a map editor, I figure some extra challenging levels or minigames would be well in order. This game practically begs to have more modes. Still, the game does manage to reach the average amount of playtime for a casual game.

Balance

If you’re going for gold rankings, then you might have a bit of a challenge on your hands. Prioritizing your moves and limiting downtime is the key. Any time you have workers wandering around doing nothing, you’re doing something wrong. It’s all about timing.

If you’re simply trying to go through the game and win, then you won’t have any problems. There is no time limit, and I found there was almost always enough resources to do everything. There are a couple of times where you can fail, but I don’t see how someone could manage to do even that if they also managed to get that far in the game. It’s not hard to click on a thief before he gets away with your gold. While some resources can run dry, there isn’t enough things to spend them on to run out.

This is one of those cases where you’ll get a different experience out of the game depending on how you play it. Top scores are hard to come by. Simply progressing through the campaign is not.

Originality

This game is almost like a beginner’s guide to strategy games. It features all of the hallmarks, from resource management to time management. It avoids more advanced strategies. This makes sense, as this is meant to be a more casual game. Still, I’m not in the habit of handing a game points for originality for removing features.

As far as the concept, the game can go right to hell. The audacity of calling a southern cowboy a Yankee is almost unforgivable. On top of that, besmirching the name of a classic Mark Twain novel is equally unforgivable. Seriously, are they just trying to piss people off? The false advertising here is huge. This is one of those games that wishes it had a license to mooch off of.

Addictiveness

Casual games are unique in that they can draw players in without having anything substantial or engrossing to offer. They’re so simple to play and easy to work through, that it becomes easy to end up playing for hours. I beat this game in a few extended sittings, at one point probably completing twenty levels in one go. I can’t say that I was enchanted by the game, because I wasn’t. I can only say that it wasn’t so boring that I wanted to stop. It’s a good time killer.

If you’re somehow immune to the charms of such games, then you probably won’t get sucked in, even to the relatively small degree that I did. Without any depth, there’s nothing to offer players who stick in for the long haul. This game could easily be played one level a day, and you’d get the same experience. It kind of makes the addictiveness hard to judge, but that’s how this kind of thing tends to work.

Appeal Factor

Like I said before, this is a great game to ease you into the RTS genre, or perhaps give you a lighter adventure to work through between a couple of meatier games. Fans of strategy games won’t be running out to pick it up anytime soon. There is literally no depth. While there is some variety, it comes at the cost of being able to customize your experience, which will definitely turn off some people.

I will say that if you’re like me, and get excited over the name, you’ll end up disappointed. Granted, I’m not sure how many people besides me would jump for joy at the sight of a Mark Twain tie in game. Anyone?

If you like easy going games that offer a small degree of strategy and don’t take long to figure out, you’ll probably enjoy this. At a low price, the barrier to entry is pretty low.

Miscellaneous

There are no extras in the game, so there’s very little to talk about here.

I thought of continuing my tirade against the blatant rip off that is the Mark Twain tie in, but I’m sure that has probably gotten a bit old for anyone actually reading this review.

Instead, let me say that while I have strong negative feelings for this game, I don’t think it’s bad in any way. I think it’s simply typical of the casual game market. It offers one thing and does that well enough. At a higher price, the game would be something to be avoided at all costs. At a measly ten bucks, I’m sure there are plenty of people who’d get some enjoyment out of this.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Poor
Graphics: Poor
Audio: Mediocre
Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Very Poor
Balance: Decent
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Below Average
Final Score: Below Average Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
If you can get past the fact this game has absolutely nothing to do with the Mark Twain novel, you’ll find that New Yankee In King Arthur’s Court is a halfway decent game. Sure, it has the creepiest character models in video game history, but there’s a light-hearted strategy game here that anyone can get into and have at least a little bit of fun. It’s very skimpy on the extras, but that’s the norm for the market. If you like this kind of game and have ten bucks to spare, this might fit the bill.



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