Swipe right on this delightfully off-kilter narrative-centric game.
Reigns veers a lot more into narrative than it does pure video game action, and that’s fantastic in its own right. The hook is that you’re a king or a queen and you reply to a variety of advisors with one of two answers. The marketing basically calls it Tinder for Games of Thrones fans (ironic because a Game of Thrones version of the game is coming to mobile in October). It’s bafflingly simple to get into, and while the trick and jokes of the narrative style can get stale, the charming presentation, hidden depth, and overall stellar vibe make Reigns a nice, shorter experience for the Switch.
The origins of the game are on mobile, which is evident by its overall design and makeup. In the Switch version are two games: Kings and Queens. Kings came first and obviously has you playing a king while Queens came later and, well, you play the queen. Aside from being optimized for the system, this version seems to only add a two-player mode, which is more novel than anything else as you try to come to agreements and failing that, you can button-mash to get your point across. The clever goofiness makes it a crowd pleaser with the right group.
To begin either Kings or Queens, you’re just told to make decisions for your kingdom. Maybe something tax related, something’s up with the church, or a neighboring kingdom is teasing war. You swipe left or right to say “yes,” “no,” or many other possible responses. Inevitably, you will die. Then the trick starts to get unveiled.
Essentially, you’re creating the legacy of this kingdom with your countless rulers that often have short reigns ending in tragic fashion. Your death is generally precipitated by one of four different meters - relating to the church, the people, the military, and money - being too high or too low. For example, if the people love you too much, they can smother you to death, or if they hate you, they’ll raid the castle. With just that hook, Reigns is funny and endearing. Then the quests start to reveal more depth.
At all times, three quests will be shown to you while you play. They could be something like rule for a certain amount of years, something direct like “start a romance,” or something vague like “talk to the vase.” Solving these quests is the deeper component here and drives through an overarching narrative in both games. Some of it gets really weird and funny, though every so often a quest is maybe a little too vague and frustrating.
Completing the quests usually adds new possibilities to your stories, making what can sometimes be a little stale get a shot in the arm as numerous playthroughs can have you seeing repeated choices. But then you’ll wind up wandering a dungeon basically playing some brief and weird first-person dungeon crawler. Combat even winds its way into the game in a peculiar manner. The Queens game even adds in some inventory management elements that lead to more novel changes to the Tinder mechanics.
Having both games playable highlights the evolution from the first to the second game. If I were reviewing Kings by itself, I’d be much harsher on its repetition. I got into way more uninteresting ruts in Kings. But Queens brings just enough to the table with a nicer presentation and refined concepts that it makes up for the lesser aspects of its predecessor. I think both games are worth playing, but Queens is far and away the highlight.
I was charmed by the style and presentation of Reigns: Kings and Queens. While the repetition of decisions can slow the fun at times, the quest system gives you something to constantly be trying to figure out. The story goes to enough offbeat places and as long as you’re progressing through the quests, adds in enough small bits of gameplay to stay fresh. Reigns is much more experiential than gamey, but it’s an experience worth checking out.