The kinds of games we see come to Apple Arcade has certainly shifted in the general sense over time. I can understand why, as Apple tries to get the biggest engagement bang for its bucks. Why blow the bank on a bunch of games that people will play through once or twice and then never touch again? Oddly, this has resulted in Apple Arcade seemingly coming full circle to provide a lot of games similar to the ones that dominate the rest of the App Store. Kingdoms: Merge & Build () is clearly one such title, taking after hits like Merge Mansion. Not the first merger we’ve seen on Apple Arcade, but it’s the first one I’m bothering to review. I’d like to say there is some grand reason, but it’s just a spontaneous choice. Let’s see how it works out for me.
Some information up-front before we get into things. I’ve played a few merging puzzle games before, most notably Merge Dragons. It helped me get some premium currency in Avengers Academy, and I found it amusing for a while. Eventually I hit the hard paywalls and just stopped playing. Not the worst thing I played for a leg-up in my stupid Marvel game, but also not something I was going to go far out on a limb for. Merge Mansion‘s ads certainly enticed me, but I quickly realized I was more interested in the ads than the game. So that is where I am at with this kind of game, and I apologize for fans of the genre if I don’t quite do things service here.
Prince Edward is the young royal heir of a fictional kingdom, and he’s a narcissistic, lazy, obnoxious, spoiled little twit. For reasons I can’t possibly fathom, his parents decided it would be okay to leave the kingdom in his hands while they went on a trip. It doesn’t take long for things to go to heck, and in the wake of an argument with a mage the entire kingdom is destroyed. The job of putting things back in order thus falls to the person least qualified in the world to do it. He only cares about his own comfort and revenge, of course. But he isn’t going to be able to get what he wants without the help of others, and he’s not going to get that unless he starts being less of a royal pri…nce.
That’s the story, and it pretty much progresses as you would expect. Edward gets to know the citizens of his kingdom, sees how hard they work, actually does some hard work himself, and eventually learns to stop being such a little jerk. Not a terribly original tale by any means, and Edward being the center of everything means you’re going to have to put up with his antics for a good long while. The story is broken down into chapters, and as you complete the various goals of each chapter you’ll get a bit of story doled out.
I wish I could tell you the gameplay has some original elements to it, but that would be a fib and a half. Generally speaking, you’re looking to rebuild your kingdom. Building anything or upgrading anything requires money and materials, and you’ll acquire both of those by merging things on the merge board. Some buildings serve to produce generators, producing a new one as you exhaust the previous one in an utterly pointless mechanic that is clearly there for the game’s eventual move out of Apple Arcade and into the realm of free-to-play. Other generators can only be acquired by fulfilling requests, which only require things you can get via the basic generators.
Some of your buildings will generate coins, but you’ll get the bulk of your money by completing standard requests. Those will eventually run out, but will refresh very quickly. The timers feel almost pointless since they’re really short. The more you play, the more generators you’ll have to deal with, leading to a much more cluttered board. Luckily, you can sell anything off the board whenever you like to make some room. You can also use some of the ultimate merged forms as tools in the kingdom building portion. Well, if you’ve played a game like this before you probably know how all of this goes. The more you play the more expensive everything gets, requiring you to grind on that board for a really long time to get anything done.
That’s the one remaining bit of friction from what I’m sure is the original free-to-play design of this game. Everything else has been toned down, such as the timers and generator spawns, so you can pretty much just keep playing until you finish the game or get bored. The latter will likely strike before too long, because it really does start taking too much time to get anything done. There’s absolutely no strategy involved in the merging game since most of the generators are readily available and any space issues can easily be mitigated by selling off items on the board. The result is a game that is more like a boring storybook that requires you to write lines on the board between page turns.
If you want to play a merging game in Apple Arcade, I’d recommend My Little Pony: Mane Merge over this one. It’s more interesting mechanically, the story bits are better, the characters are less annoying, and the presentation is a lot nicer. Kingdoms: Merge & Build is technically more interesting than, like, counting spots on the ceiling or twiddling your thumbs, but just barely. It comes off very much like a free-to-play game that has made a couple of tweaks to fit the Apple Arcade rules, and those changes end up squeezing out what little mechanical engagement the game likely had to offer. The story and characters don’t help matters, either. Just a dud all around.