At Christmas I received a subscription to Playstation Plus from a family member, their rationale being that it was the “gift that keeps on giving” and it’s hard to argue with that kind of thinking. As the months go by I will receive a selection of games for all Playstation consoles, some big and some small, some well-known and others not so well-known. It’s kind of like waiting for Christmas to come as each new month rolls in. In addition to the fantastic Rogue Legacy, this month also saw the inclusion of a lesser-known game called Kick & Fennick, and what a delightful surprise it has been.
I usually get a little dubious when I see these smaller games thrown in with Playstation Plus, with little fanfare or PR buzz, but Kick & Fennick is legitimately a great game that has flown under many people’s radars. You play as a lad called Kick, who has just woken up in a sleeping pod among the pretty urban decay of a crumbling industrialised city. You aren’t alone though, as you soon become friends with a cute flying robot called Fennick, who quickly assumes the role of your caretaker. The game’s intro sequence shows Fennick helping Kick to safety, but in the process he accidentally damages his tail which allows him to teleport Kick out of dangerous situations. The new friends set off on a quest to traverse the city and find a replacement part for Fennick’s tail. Did I mention that Kick, a child, also acquires a massive gun? Because that’s kind of important.
In a surprising twist you won’t be using the gun to destroy many enemies, although you will definitely get the chance to, it is primarily used as your mode of transport. The recoil on it is so powerful that you can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but you’ll need to be careful where you fire or Fennick will end up having to transport you to safety. The game’s developer, Jaywalkers, rolls with this “gun as a means of transport” idea throughout its 40 or so levels, and they constantly surprised me with their unconventional uses for the goliath rifle. It’s kind of like a pogo stick that fires you on a laser powered journey into the air, and you even get two bullets to maximise your reach. Using it you can get to high up areas, blast through walls, and very carefully navigate electrically charged mazes.
Controlling the gun feels smooth and intuitive with the right analogue stick acting as a trajectory marker. letting you roughly plot out where Kick will end up when you press the right trigger to fire. Whilst in midair you can fire a second time to push you even further into the air, and time even slows down to allow you to carefully calibrate your aim. The control scheme is truly inspired and there is a surprising amount of heft and weight to your shots as Kick soars through the air. He even manages to land on his feet every time, what a guy!
Jaywalkers keep the formula simple, only adding slight changes to the guns capabilities or to your surroundings to keep you going. At regular intervals you’ll find yourself tackling puzzles in new ways, using bounce pads or conveyor belts to reach new areas, or by using the gun, well, as a gun, to kick some robotic ass. Making it through each level is mostly a matter of timing, be it trying to time when to fire Kick on to a platform, or when to blast through a flickering power grid. Levels are suitably compact, with only a handful taking upwards of 15 minutes or so to complete, so I always felt that the game’s various mechanics were fresh. There’s a fair amount of content in Kick & Fennick, with over 40 levels and a handful of clever boss battles that play out like carefully crafted puzzles.
It’s slightly regrettable that Kick’s surroundings don’t change-up too much because they are gorgeous to look at in motion. Visually, Kick & Fennick is the love child of Mirror’s Edge and the Portal series, with neutral blocky buildings highlighted by post box red pipes, as well as blue skies and doorways. The two-man team at Jaywalkers also dot plants and other bits and pieces around the environments to breathe some life into them, something that, with the exception of Fennick, is nowhere to be seen. Personally, from this point on, Kick & Fennick sets the visual standard for indie games on Playstation Vita.
I like when a game takes me by surprise. Last week I was singing Odd Bot Out ‘s praises for its quirky gameplay and originality, and this week I am extending that praise to Kick & Fennick. It’s a tight platformer with solid controls, beautiful visuals and animation, and it’ll keep you hooked until the end. It also marks a triumphant Vita debut for its developers and has come out of nowhere to rank among some of the system’s best, and easily within my top ten.