Casual games built around sets of mini-games are gaining popularity, as are pared-down strategy titles that keep the spirit of the genre intact while trimming the bloat. Then something like Floating Kingdoms comes along and somehow manages to combine both: a simplified strategy game that's one part resource management, two parts mini-games. And it does it in a light-hearted, fun kind of way that just about any age group can enjoy.
Cornelia is an apprentice of the Chief Imperial Architect, Sancho, who is working to help restore the kingdom's floating islands to their former glory. You do this by harvesting resources, building structures, feeding the people, and helping them erect a palace on their small chunk of land. Wood, stone, and gold (and, indirectly, food) are your currency, and you'll need special buildings in order to increase your stockpile of each.
Where Floating Kingdoms differs from other real time strategy games is how you collect resources. Think clicking on a tree is all you need to do to gather some wood? Try playing a round of mahjong instead. Want flour to make pizza to feed your hungry villagers? Head to the mill and play an arcade-style shape matching game. Floating Kingdoms employs simple mini-games to make earning resources surprisingly fun. A handy orb system allows you to set a building on auto-pilot, preventing that icky feeling of "Oh, can't I just have some water without playing a marble popper?!".
A number of other events add a little spice to the mix, such as pirates demanding a tribute, but on the whole the game is centered around earning resources by playing mini-games and spending them on building new structures. Simple, and just different enough to work!
Analysis: Less strategy and more mini-games, Floating Kingdoms uses elements of the RTS genre to tie the puzzle/arcade games together and give you a good reason for completing them. It's similar to the way Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords makes gem swapping fun by assigning more meaning to the simple task.
The chief drawback in Floating Kingdoms is the lack of difficulty and the game's habit of holding your hand through every little event. It's obviously an attempt at making the strategy/sim experience more digestible, but with dialogue boxes and tutorial help screens popping up all over the place, you never even get a chance to chew. Only when you're well into the game does the hand holding stop, and by then you've already mastered the nuances of the game.
Floating Kingdoms had the chance to sprout a new genre-straddling trend, but it just slightly misses the mark in a few areas. The visuals pack a lot of imagination into their limited animations, but the mini-games could be a little more creative. Despite the minor bumbles, the game is still a fresh experience that's both fun and interesting to play. And because of the simple premise, it's the perfect title to bring your kids in for a helping hand.