Release Date: February 21, 2020
Rating: E (Everyone 10+)
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
A code for this game was provided by DevilishGames
What’s It About?
King Lucas is set in a lighthearted medieval world in which you play a diminutive, money-obsessed knight who is tasked by the eponymous King Lucas to locate his daughter, who is lost within a magical castle with constantly-shifting rooms. The king is hiding some secrets, however, and you’ll slowly uncover the truth as you explore the castle and meet its oddball inhabitants, including a blacksmith, servants, and a potion-selling witch who knows more than she lets on about the king’s unusual situation. After rescuing the princess, you discover that King Lucas has a bevy of other children (and dogs!) who are just as easily disoriented as the first princess, and thus must also be rescued.
At first glance, it’s easy to mistake King Lucas for something in the vein of one of the many hardcore indie “roguelike” games out there like Rogue Legacy. In actuality, despite the randomized room locations, King Lucas has more in common with older, more simple fare, such as Milon’s Secret Castle for the NES. You move from room to room, fighting enemies and evading traps, while attempting to locate one of the king’s lost children. A handful of boss creatures are scattered about randomly, and while they all have fairly simple patterns, I appreciated them for the added variety. There are plenty of items to consume (health and invulnerability potions) and equip (swords, axes, shields, and magic wands), but there is no way to permanently increase any of your stats. This might disappoint those looking for a deep action-RPG experience, but I found the stripped-away approach to be rather refreshing.
King Lucas immediately impresses with its whimsical art style and irreverent sense of humor. The game has a clean 2.5D graphics style with some very charming 2D character sprites. I enjoyed creating my squat little knight, but was disappointed to find out that the custom design only appears as a static image at the top of the screen and does not alter the appearance of the playable character. Enemy monsters are surprisingly adorable, if a bit limited in variety. You’ll encounter monsters such as slugs, spiders, cyclops (even some rare two-eyed cyclops variants!), and evil wizards, which you’ll have to deal with while avoiding the castle’s many spike and fire traps.
The biggest area in which King Lucas stumbles is its combat. You press or hold the Y button to swing your knight’s woefully short default sword, and pray that the enemy doesn’t somehow sneak an attack in between your swinging animations. Even longer weapons like axes require you to get uncomfortably close to enemies to hit them, and most of my deaths occurred when I felt I was at a safe distance while attacking. If you don’t have a shield equipped to soak a few hits, even the most innocuous-looking slug can chew through your health ridiculously quickly.
There are no real puzzles to speak of, and secrets are few and far between, mostly consisting of hidden paths behind walls that lead to gold or potions. After rescuing the first couple of princesses, you start to get used to the potential room layouts and how disappointingly simple they are. Spike and lava traps are fairly easy to avoid and only become a real issue when you’re rushing through rooms you’ve already navigated after a death. Bosses, while imposing in appearance, are mostly pushovers. A fearful-looking dragon the pops up from one of several pools of lava evokes a classic Zelda II boss, but this one can be defeated by facing one particular lava pool and holding Y for a minute or two.
There is no penalty for dying aside from being sent to the last checkpoint, but those are randomized as well, so you might be forced to traverse over a dozen rooms to get back to where you died. All enemies, whether squishy slugs or skeletal archers, yield the same potential reward upon defeat: 10 gold coins. All weapons have durability with the exception of the very weak default short sword, so it’s often a better strategy to avoid enemies than to fight them. After all, why sacrifice a strong weapon’s durability to take down a difficult enemy when you get the same reward you would from one that takes a single hit to kill?
I really wanted to love King Lucas, but was worn down by the tedious gameplay and frustrating, clunky combat. The presentation is charming and the price is right, but the game struggles to maintain its appeal as you slog through its 1,200+ room castle. While I was exhausted and a bit disappointed by the time I finished the 8-10 hour adventure, there is definitely a place for this style of pared-down action-exploration game in the Switch library, and I would love to see another attempt by developer DevilishGames. I could see myself really enjoying a sequel with a bit more variety.