Review by Tachibana Ukyo
Despite its decrepit age and utterly forgettable title, Kicker lives on even today as part of the PlayStation’s Konami Arcade Classics - fitting recognition for a delightful little action game that ensnared players in the mid 80s with its simple yet enjoyable charm.
In locales ranging from the arch-laden interior of a dim Buddhist temple and the sprawling jade-roofed complex outside, to the treacherous crags of the distant mountains, you’ll assume the role of a young kung-fu master as he contends with ten single-screen levels swarming with villainous goons. The visuals aren’t overly detailed but instead aim for a colorful cartoon look that’s not unlike Konami’s better known but similarly classic Yie Ar Kung-Fu, as are the number of catchy if stereotypically Chinese tunes; the appropriately spartan controls are effortless to manage - one button to unleash our hero’s titular snapping kick and another for a short hop that can be punctuated by a quick attack while airborne. Interestingly, each cabinet housed a tall and narrow vertically-oriented monitor, as the playing field is three stories tall and filled with platforms; carelessly strolling off a platform’s edge will send your character tumbling head-first to the unforgiving ground below, but one may leap up and down these walkways merely by easing the joystick in the appropriate direction, making the game a constant sequence of switching floors both to evade and to ambush one’s many opponents with a punishing mid-air introduction to our hero’s shoes.
Good thing, because while the army of bare-chested and weasely-mustached enemies that await are easily sent hurtling off the screen with merely a single blow, more of them continually pour out of nearby windows and doors to gang up and hunt our hero down as they too leap from floor to floor in addition to occasionally brutalizing you with a horizontally-flying assault. Fortunately our hero can shrug off three hits before the music speeds up and he begins to flash, the fourth strike leaving him thrashing comically on the floor; even better, the number of enemies yet to appear will remain the same when you resume play rather than forcing you to start the level from the beginning - coupled with its responsive controls, Kicker is anything but frustrating. Additionally, smash the occasional enemy wearing green, and a colored ball will soar forth high into the air to give our hero a temporary power if he can quickly snag the sphere before it falls away, bonuses that include an encircling protective shield and the ability to throw small green fireballs – but my personal favorite would have to be the spiked ball that he can use to pound enemies or alternatively boot across the screen and retrieve as it screeches back like a boomerang.
With biceps flexed in pride, upon overcoming all his foes in the stage your character will exclaim “GUTS!” to the accompaniment of a victorious ditty; consequently awarding a sizable bonus in proportion to your remaining health, the game frequently rewards your patience and skill in the form of extra lives - you can go a long way on this adventure with only a single quarter. Each of the five different screens consists of two rounds, the subsequent battle immediately throwing a boss character into the mix for good measure; whether a bulky painted warrior who spews jets of flame or an agile female fighter whose dress flies up every time she launches into the air, these various guardians require multiple hits to bring down just like yourself and can make life rather difficult as you simultaneously fend off the regular baddies besides. Even so the first run shouldn’t be particularly difficult, but upon completing all ten levels the game repeats with a noticeably increased difficulty, as the more aggressive AI also sees fit to habitually fling swords at our hero while a mischievous bird sails across the clouds overhead dropping rocks on his skull.
Kicker is hardly a timeless masterpiece - nor does it strive to be one. Rather, it more than succeeds at taking a cute premise and building on it with a number of twists to a straightforward and easy to play coin-op formula. For those who can still appreciate the likes of Donkey Kong and Time Pilot amid today’s flashy graphics and complex mechanics, this kung-fu challenge is a real kick.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
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