Review – Kingdom Eighties

One of the weirdest, worst things to happen to gaming is when Angry Birds convinced Billie Joe Armstrong that he didn’t have enough money and would also be a good avian. Seriously, how in the hell did Green Day end up as a flavor variant for a mobile game that was waning in popularity as this ludicrous collaboration came into being? The answer is exceedingly simple: money and potential money. If someone somewhere can speak smoothly enough to convince the right parties that they can definitely make money doing this thing, then every artist, IP and even genre under the sun is up for sale.

Kingdom was one of those titles that I felt extremely lucky to find out about back in 2015 when I still worked for the video game industry and everything hadn’t been filtered into a living nightmare by an angry German man (didn’t we all have that trajectory?). A simulation game that required more imagination than just being spoon fed everything, you got to be a king in a ruinous little fief and slowly built it into something majestic through timing and patience, as well as a dash of strategy.

A really cool concept, it worked exceedingly well with side scrolling controls, gradual progression and pixel graphics, and I don’t have my name attached to it because “audiences won’t see the appeal.” That’s a real quote as to why a certain indie publisher doesn’t have Eastern rights to Kingdom and the sequels, and we can all ruminate on that for a while.

Kingdom Eighties Titanic

Speaking of real quotes that didn’t age very well…

But we can never just leave things well enough alone, can we? As we see sequels and remakes mark their territory all over 2023, Kingdom joins the pack with Kingdom Eighties: Summer of Greed. You play as some kid named The Leader, because back in the 80s you would just give your child super villain names and hope for the best. So you’re trying to counsel a summer camp, but then evil from beyond reason invades and they steal your canoe. They also sort of want to kill you but that seems to take a lower priority than “being a nuisance in the dark.” You need to figure out how to get back to the real world outside of camp, which, spoilers, is also overrun by cosmic evil, and then work from there to defeat baddies and save the day. How? Capitalism!

Kingdom Eighties Summer Camp

Invest the money here! We simply have to keep these poor people monsters out!

Likewise, Kingdom Eighties is all about paying children in your camp with cash you find to become soldiers and labor to expand the camp for the sole purpose of saving your sorry hide. Yes, you do find other, older kids to join your crusade, but they just ride around with you and occasionally push dumpsters or attack enemies. The majority of the work, though, is done by sprites that appear to be between six and ten and are willing to die for your stupid ass because you’re wearing a crown. Why are the monsters invading the camp and attacking you? Is the camp intruding on their natural habitat and WE’RE actually the bad guys? Thankfully, this is in “the eighties” so no one needs to worry about ramifications of the gentrifying of some other indigenous beings’ land.

Kingdom Eighties Portal

This portal doesn’t match my aesthetic for the camp! Destroy it!

When you boil things down to bone soup, you really have to make sure that what you have in the pot sings, and there are elements of Kingdom Eighties that are positively operatic. As much as I normally gush about pixel graphics, there’s a level and saturation here that captivates me like I’m stepping out into a whole new world. There are games like Owlboy and CrossCode that do wonders with pixel art, and this is on that same wavelength with different results. It’s a chunky pixel approach like previous Kingdom titles, but the backgrounds and foreground effects are incredible. The sheen off the water, the progression of time, even silly little things like the cautious wildlife or the riding mower I paid some kid to operate look fantastic.

On top of that, the synthwave soundtrack helps to put you in the proper headspace. I know that the trend of using modern electronics to simulate and capture the tone of the past is a done deal, but it can still be appreciated when it’s done well, and it’s sincerely done fantastically by Andreas Hald. It can be easy to put together some pitching wails and a few keytar solos and call it a soundtrack. It’s a different feat altogether to craft a soundscape that creates the world the game seeks to achieve. The vibe allowed me to get into a flowstate of gaming that actually felt like an eighties epoch and not just “this is the 90s but we’re wearing shoulder pads.”

Kingdom Eighties Visuals

Seriously, when it looks like this, I can just waste hours drinking it in and watching children work for pennies.

Unlike other Kingdom games, however, the roleplaying element of Kingdom Eighties feels like it’s fallen by the wayside. The light elements made more sense when I was trying to build up my legacy on literal swampland, raising a citadel into the sky while my enemies beset me on all sides. But here, I’m just paying kids coins to extend my reach in stereotypical 80s scenarios.

Make the summer camp bigger and stronger. Fortify the high school from invaders. Make the skatepark even more radical because whatever. There’s something lacking in risk or engagement that kept this from being an RPG and firmly planting it in an almost casual gaming atmosphere. I get that we’re trying to do a wink and a nod to double factions, but the result just blinks out either’s importance.

Kingdom Eighties Champ

Is he talking about the monsters or his burgeoning sexuality? Find out more!

Where things just sort of peter out is the fact that, once you’ve gotten past the first episode of the game, you’ve seen almost everything there is to be seen. Yes, the backgrounds and settings change, and it’s marvelous to see all the different biomes and trope stages where the game’s key elements take place. As a visual fan, that’s wonderful and rewarding.

As someone trying to play a game, though, it gets old fast and doesn’t feel like I’m getting anywhere. Since we’re moving forward instead of staying put, the improvements and upgrades feel temporary and like a waste of money. Why bother maxing out anything if I’m just going to abandon it once I get the requirements needed to move onto the next spot? It’s like being a military kid, you know you’ll have to lose these friends soon, so getting attached makes no sense.

End of Summer

“At the end of the summer, Johnny moved away and disappeared. I heard he’s in Canada now, ducking extradition.”

Kingdom Eighties seeks to create a standalone experience for newcomers and longtime fans alike, and it achieves this in some facets. It’s beautiful, it sounds amazing, and the animated cutscenes and character archetypes fit the 80s bill to a T. On the other hand, I kept feeling like there should be more reasons to soldier on. Higher difficulties mean better strategizing, sure, but I wanted to feel inspired to make bolder choices other than “center on just these fences and expand slowly instead of brazenly.” It’s interesting, sure, but it’s just not enough to make me say “this is exactly what was needed.” A pretty good fit for the Stranger Things fans who aren’t interested in doing more than jamming out to tunes and biking back and forth.


Graphics: 10

Some of my favorite pixel art in many years and actually looks fantastic on my potato PC. If it looks good here, it’ll look good anywhere, and it looks AMAZING.

Gameplay: 6.5

Go left. Spend coins. Go right. Spend coins. Watch a pack of kids kill a deer. Collect coins. Bribe children to join your cause. Google “Kony 2012.” Spend coins.

Sound: 9.5

A banger of a soundtrack with crafted notes of foreboding, chill vibes and engaging synth, it can and should be listened to as a standalone score to make any aspect of your day feel significantly more awesome.

Fun Factor: 7.0

When I was in it and things were happening (end of episodes, finding new things) it was exciting and enthralling. When it was the other 85% of the game, I was just seeing how much I could do before my character needed Gatorade.

Final Verdict: 8.0

Kingdom Eighties is available now on PC, Xbox Series X|S, Nintendo Switch, and PS5.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Kingdom Eighties was provided by the publisher.