Kick Master review
Here we go again, ANOTHER childhood favorite of mine that only a few people actually know of, probably because it isn’t considered a classic. I guess this is because Taito, creators of Space Invaders and Bubble Bobble, released the game on an inferior system at the time. Everybody else was into the Sega Genesis and/or Super Nintendo. Had this been a Super Nintendo game, Kick Master would’ve gotten the recognition it deserved (and maybe even a series). Unfortunately, Taito... just weren’t thinking. Oh well, it’s a classic in my eyes!
Story: You play as Thonolan, who has to avenge the death of his brother, the king, the queen and all of the guards, and rescue the princess by killing Belzed. You’ve probably heard this storyline a good thousand times, and the funny thing is that if you wait a few seconds at the title screen (meaning you’re not pressing any buttons), you get an intro scene, then you get a scene as you start the game... and they both contradict each other. One scene says you’re rescuing your sister alongside your brother, but the other says that your brother dies and you have to rescue the princess. Which one do I believe? I don’t have the manual, so I’m not sure!
Gameplay: From first glance, it’s a sidescrolling platformer where you do some jumping and, as the title should imply, kicking enemies to the curb. The basics of sidescrolling at least aren’t buggered up. They work well in a tried and true fashion. The aim is to go from Point A to Point B, while killing enemies and bosses. Seems... cut and dry, don’t you think?
The one thing that separates Kick Master from other action games would be the fact that you can level up. This seems like a welcome change of pace and a good idea, until you see how it’s done. Instead of just giving you some EXP when the enemy dies, you have to jump up and grab some discarded items, and a couple of types of discarded remains are EXP. With the other items, it would be understandable, but for EXP, it’s kind of stupid. It doesn’t add any excitement factors or any of that shit, it’s just annoying!
Anyway, as you level up, you can use different kick attacks. Upon leveling up your first time, you can hold down while in the air, and then press B to execute the drop kick, for example. Future level ups allow more kicks depending on what you hold on the d-pad and whether you’re on the ground or not, like flying kicks, slide kicks, and double kicks. Each move has their specific use, like flying kicks (although you get it just a little late, but whatever) to take care of aerial enemies, should your up kick not be able to reach them.
As well as his kicks, Thonolan has magic he can use. From healing, to fireballs, and to lightning, he has a decent amount at his disposal. Those are good spells, since you always need health to keep living, and some ranged attacks since all you got is an arsenal of kicks. The spells seem great and all; however, the shadow clone, item finding, and spike walking spells are a bit of a waste. You shouldn’t really need any of those, since the level designs are, for the most part, cut and dry, and you spikes aren’t usually shortcuts. Besides, stumbling upon items by accident or just on your own is a much better feeling than just finding them with radars or whatever in 8-bit games.
The other thing that separates Kick Master from the rest would be the frequency of boss battles. Most NES action games have bosses at the end of each level. Kick Master has about 2-3 per level. Mid bosses, end bosses, three thirds bosses, the whole nine yards. It was kind of different for the time; otherwise, I wouldn’t mention that. Just a heads up for gamers looking into this game, though this really begins in the third level, and goes on for future levels.
As for the actual bosses themselves, just get their attack patterns into your head, and beat the hell out of them when they’re most vulnerable. This is more typical, but the battles themselves are good. You fight decrepit old witches, gargoyles, and a whole bunch of monsters. The battles can sometimes repeat, usually in the form of another creature, but since there are heaps of bosses and it’d involve a lot of coding which might not fit on the average NES cartridge, that’s kind of a given.
I’m not sure where else to go with this. The level designs are pretty good, managing to somewhat challenge you, though the enemies and bosses are where the true challenge lies. In fact, this game can get pretty challenging, especially towards the end. Even when you’re spamming certain moves, bosses and even enemies can destroy you (especially when that slide kick acts like an arrogant son of a bitch, not responding sometimes). At least you got a password system, just in case you get too frustrated or you need to be somewhere, and it’s not too big (12 characters, just numbers, symbols, card symbols, and capitalized letters), so that’s awesome.
Controls: As explained, each new kick you get is corresponded to a different direction on the d-pad, and is executed when you press B. This is executed quite well, since you pretty much need all of these kicks to beat enemies. There is the odd moment where the sliding kick doesn’t work, though, so be prepared to be gangbanged if you’re relying on the sliding kick. Spellcasting requires use of the select button, and start opens up all of the spells you’ve got. As for jumping, it responds, but it feels just a bit too vertical, meaning hazards above you – including solid platforms – might cause an early death, but it’s not a big issue... just if you’re too careless, really.
Graphics: This game looks pretty damn impressive. There’s a lot of detail put into each thing here, like backgrounds comprising of flashing caves, trees, castles, and what have you, and the colors used in the locations are fitting, like brown for the cave, and dark, pale colors for the castle level. The sprites also look nice... really, the visuals for this game are pretty damn good, some of the best that the NES has. Animation is also astounding, if a bit primitive. Each enemy and boss animation flows like the wind, which is something worth admiring, especially on the NES.
Audio: Tunes sound pretty good. Level tunes are fairly pumping, like it’s getting you into the action, while the boss tune really gets you pumped up to kill them all, which is what you really want with an action game. No calm tunes or anything, just pulse-pounding 8-bit tunes. An A+ soundtrack, really. The sound effects are mostly meh, and that seems to be normal... hmm... Like, nothing stands out in terms of effects. Not to worry; the soundtrack can vouch for it.
Replay Value: The game is another one of those games where once you’re through the first time, that’s it. Of course, the adventure is such a good one, you’ll probably want to replay it a few more times before putting it back onto your shelf as a collector’s item.
Overall: Kick Master definitely kicks ass where it counts. I’m not huge on having to scamper around to get EXP before it gets off the screen, but everything else is done right. The gameplay is fast paced and quite fun, and the controls manage to compliment them. Add some awesome visuals and a kicking soundtrack, and you can’t really say no to this game.
Replay Value: 7/10
My verdict: Buy it!