Someone has stolen King Leo’s haunch of ham, and he’s not best pleased. We feel a kinship with King Leo, as we get similarly peeved when someone steals a chip from our plate. We don’t go as far as King Leo, though: frustrated with his lack of meal, he goes on a revenge killing-spree, murdering hundreds of animals to get it back. King Leo is clearly lacking a sense of proportional response.
Developer Joindots have spun the Wheel of Anthropomorphic Animals and landed on ‘lion’. We’re racking our brains for a platformer that’s used a lion, but we’re coming up short, so fair play to them for picking something new. The Lion King and Madagascar platformers are about as close as we can get. There’s also something gleefully nostalgic about playing a 2D platformer like King Leo, so we pounced at the chance.
In hindsight, we should have left it well alone. While the smiling lion on the Xbox Store made King Leo look highly approachable, it is a spectacular misfire of a game. If it was a lion, it would be wounded and on its last legs, and we’d have done the merciful thing and taken it out back.
Oof. Where to possibly start. We’ll begin with the graphics, that – if we were kind – have us reminiscing about Amiga platformers like Jazz Jackrabbit and Superfrog. It’s got a similar crisp, colourful sheen to it. But the artists were clearly allergic to animating the characters, as they all stare into our souls with rictus grins, and jump with barely a single change in the sprite. It looks inordinately cheap, but King Leo is more on the expensive side. At the time of writing it’s £11.99, which would net you a few Ratalaika platformers, all of which would look and play better than King Leo.
Then there are the controls. King Leo doesn’t do anything spectacular, but has a rough old time getting the basics right. You can jump, double jump, wall-climb, jab things with a spear, bottom-bounce and occasionally luzz bones at enemies from across the screen. Not one of these feels quite right, making King Leo a bit of a clown car: every button you press causes something to fall over.
Take combat, for example. King Leo has a revolving door of animals to fight, but the revolving door analogy is appropriate because each enemy leaves and comes back, rather than being replaced by new enemies. Birds are reskinned as owls, spiked iguanas are replaced by hedgehogs. The enemies have only two modes: slow and crawling, or flying and swoopy.
You have a choice in how you dispatch them. Perhaps you’d like to bottom-bounce them? There’s a strange collision detection at play, where bouncing off-centre causes you to get hurt. And not hurt once, oh no. King Leo lets the owls and hyenas of its game juggle you, like you were getting owned on Street Fighter, often dragging you across the screen as they do multiple hits of damage (King Leo opts for a life point bar). Any other game would give you a small period of immunity so this wouldn’t happen. We’ve spat curses at the owls in King Leo, because one mistimed bounce can lead to you being carried offscreen by a series of unavoidable hits. Eff you, owls.
Opting for throwing bones doesn’t work, either. You have to be on the exact horizontal plane as the enemy: jumping and firing is so ineffective that it’s a dead-end. But enemies are rarely set up in this way, so all we could do was save the bones for the bosses where, hilariously, you can stand on the walls that surround the arena and keep firing until they die. One boss didn’t even get to move.
That leaves the spear, and a complete lack of recoil or impact makes you wonder if you’ve hurt the snail or hedgehog that you’re aiming at. Equally, there’s no impact or recoil on Leo, so skirmishes devolve into a guessing-game. It’s perfectly possible to emerge from spearicuffs with half a life bar, and have no idea how it came to be.
Let’s take a moment for the wall-climbing which is, bar none, the worst we’ve seen in any platformer. Jump onto a wall and you latch on automatically, which – by the way – is a frustration in itself. There’s nothing worse than trying to make a jump, lightly grazing a wall on the way, and finding yourself hanging over a precipice that you had no intention of hanging over. Once you’re on the wall, though, you can choose to climb up, climb down or jump, but the jump is a wild and huge reactive leap that you have no control over. So, accidentally land on a wall, and you know that – to dismount – you will be jumping halfway across the screen, no matter what you press. Often, this means certain death: if you’re next to a drop, there’s nothing you can do but propel off to your doom.
It is, in fact, so egregious, that King Leo is impossible to finish. On level 3-5 (one world and a few levels from the end, which is just enough for us to feel like we’ve played enough to make judgment), King Leo introduces a new wall-type, and it’s completely broken. You phase through the bricks and get killed by spikes on the other side. We spent every last life trying to complete the level. The internet has our backs on this one: the level is unfinishable. It was a fitting end to a game where bugs and features were near indistinguishable from each other.
There are four worlds on offer here (minus the last one, of course, which is impossible to reach), with fifteen levels in each, ending with a boss. It’s not an insignificant number, as it happens, and we put a good few hours in before hitting (or phasing through) a wall. King Leo still doesn’t warrant that £11.99 price tag, but it at least has the courtesy of offering a lot to play.
For all the quantity on offer, the quality is undeniably poor. We’d struggle to recall many, or any, of the level designs, as they all resort to a similar pattern of jumps and spikes on linear, horizontal levels, as if they were made on Super Mario Maker with the smallest number of tools to hand. They are largely photocopies of each other, and the different worlds just paint them in a different set of colours. As an indicator of how little care was taken on King Leo, the game menu has the wrong worlds listed. You will jump into ‘Mountain’ levels and emerge in ‘Desert’. Unfortunately, it can’t even get this right.
We’ve played a dozen of the 79p, no-achievement games that crop up on the Xbox Store. You could have told us that King Leo was one of them, and we would have believed you. It’s got a balsa-wood cheapness to the graphics, and it’s got a similar flimsiness when it comes to the gameplay. It’s hard to discern whether things are shoddy or bugged or both. Unfortunately, if we told you that King Leo was worth playing, we’d be lion.
You can buy King Leo from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S