icon Author: Laurel Ann
Kingdom Shell Review

Kingdom Shell is a 2D platformer with pixelated graphics created by the aptly named Cup of Pixels, a solo indie developer in Türkiye.

The magical barrier protecting the realm, the "kingdom shell," has been destroyed, allowing a flood of demons in from the outside. Elias, a half-breed with the blood of those same demons flowing through his veins, has been summoned from his imprisonment to help save the kingdom with the offer of freedom as his reward. As Elias, you journey through the land, fighting demons and learning about the kingdom's inhabitants, including information about your own past.

The game is spent exploring the kingdom, fighting off enemies, backtracking to unlock different areas once you gain new abilities, solving puzzles, and discovering secrets. There are shops scattered throughout the different regions which allow you to purchase health recovery items as well as character upgrades that can be equipped according to a point system. These upgrades can make a huge difference according to situation and it can be fun working out which to equip at what time for the best advantage. With boosts for extra gold, reduced fall damage, critical hits, hints at secrets, stronger attacks, and several other options, it can be difficult to decide what to equip and what to leave behind.

Atmosphere with a Hint of Mystery

The pixel art is of good quality and there is some great scenery to look at once you've progressed enough to leave the first area. However, the starting area is somewhat bland looking. It works plot-wise since it's the pristine area around the temple and, as you make your way away from it, you're being exposed to a more colorful world, but it also means that you're stuck in the least visually interesting area in the game right from the start with no other options until you unlock new locations.

The game has a nice atmospheric soundtrack that works well with each scene. It can get a little repetitive if you end up stuck on one section for too long, but it's high-quality sound that isn't overbearing and it adds to the unique feel of each location as well as helping to set the mood for each of the short cut scenes.

Another addition to the atmosphere are the bosses encountered throughout each area of the game. Although some battle mechanics may be similar, each boss has a unique feel to it with varied patterns as well as an appearance that fits well with the surroundings. Several of the bosses affect the environment in different ways, giving the player a little something extra to overcome.

Although light on plot (as is appropriate for a side-scroller), there are several small stories told as you journey the kingdom that add a bit of darkness and mystery to the overall vibe. Plenty is left unexplained, but it helps set a mood of intrigue and gives just enough lore for players to come up with their own theories.

Simple Controls with Some Complex Mechanics

The game uses the basic moves of attack, jump, dodge, heal, and magic. There are four types of magic that can be unlocked throughout the game and the main three types have specific uses both in combat and puzzle solving, so each attack feels purposeful and none superfluous (excepting the fourth magic type gained from defeating an optional boss – I never really figured out its use).

The keyboard controls feel decent and can be fully remapped in game if they need tweaking, but I found a gamepad to be more comfortable, so I generally stuck with that while I played. Gamepad controls only offer the option of switching Magic and Dodge buttons, so there's a little less in-game customization available there, but those are the buttons I'd want to switch if any.

The response to controls was smooth and I could accurately anticipate where I'd end up when pressing buttons, though I did have some trouble with one mechanic that appears early on involving using butterflies for a midair jump. It isn't all that intuitive and can be difficult to master, so it may add a little frustration to some sections of the game, but it can also be a fun mechanic—it just adds an extra challenge to overcome.

Fairly Fair and Improving

In general, the game tends to be fairly forgiving. If you die, you go back to your last save point and lose a percentage of coins you've collected. This can be a bit annoying, especially if you have a lot of coins saved up, but the percentage is very small and coins aren't that difficult to come by, so the main loss is just progress (and maybe a little ego). Even that loss is minimal because you get to keep any key items you picked up in that run and any unlocked areas remain unlocked so it's easier to get back to them—just remember to save before you quit as there is no autosave feature.

In previous versions of the game, there were a few other points that could make the game a bit more frustrating. For one thing, the butterfly mechanic was slightly harder to grasp; in fact, the forest image seen above is from a version soon after release that had tighter spacing which was a bit more difficult to maneuver. There also used to be a very annoying part where you had to run through seven mostly-empty rooms each time you died, which could be rough when learning the patterns for a particularly difficult section of the game—a save point has now been placed just at the end of those seven rooms. There are still some sections that may take some time to learn and can be frustrating if you're struggling, but it's clear from regular updates such as these in the few months since the game's release that the developer has been working hard to make improvements to maximize enjoyment and minimize frustration.

Quick Reference:

Kingdom Shell is a 2D platformer with pixel graphics.

Best played in a relaxed mood.

• Good selection of equippable boosts.
• Smooth gameplay and loading.
• Good quality art and sound.

• Butterfly mechanic can be difficult to grasp.

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