‘Kick & Fennick’ Review
Platforms PlayStation Vita
Developer/Publisher Jaywalkers Interactive
The PlayStation Vita has become loaded with an abundance of independent games over the past twelve months, with most AAA gaming support seemingly vanished. This has allowed many independent development teams to flourish, creating unique, addictive and fun experiences for a handheld market begging for quality titles. Kick & Fennick is the latest culprit to check each aforementioned box, with the development team at Jaywalkers Interactive providing a delightful platforming experience that stands out as one of my favourite in recent memory.
Kick & Fennick follows the story of (not surprisingly) Kick and Fennick. Kick is a young boy who wakes up from a sleeping chamber at the start of the game, though the details as to why this occurs are never explained. Kick stumbles, quite literally, upon Fennick, a robotic life form that strangely resembles a torso-less cat. Fennick’s power source is revealed to be broken and requires a replacement, which sets our heroes off on their adventure. Kick & Fennick’s plot is as simple as that, with the basic plot device forcing our two protagonists to explore the vast labyrinth of stages located throughout the factory they find themselves within.
Kick & Fennick avoids giving either character a voice, let alone any dialogue. This made it clear that story wasn’t the main focus, but despite that I still found myself caring for both characters. The kind nature of Kick and the lovable pet-like demeanour of Fennick work well together, creating a basic yet extremely relatable relationship that I found interesting. Though Fennick’s design is as robotic as a robot can get, Kick himself is quite terrifying. Kick strongly resembles a haunted doll from your worst nightmares, with an odd proportioned body that make his appendages look completely unnatural.
Traversing through each stage in Kick & Fennick is done in an elastic band fashion. Kick is in possession of a high powered weapon which propels him in the opposite direction that he shoots, this also allows for Kick to utilise the weapons firing capabilities against foes. Creating the recoil effect can be done with buttons or simply using the front touch screen on the Vita, both methods work well and the choice will come down to personal preference as to which is more responsive. Kick is only able to utilise one extra recoil shot once he is in the air, meaning the initial jump and follow-up shot are crucial to successfully landing on hard-to-reach platforms and avoiding danger. Creating ideal recoil jumps is made easier due to bullet time being introduced whenever the player begins to aim. Of course time will continue to move and these moments can only last for a certain amount of time, but the bullet time introduction helps immensely when needing precision at crucial moments.
The recoil technique allows Kick to reach great heights, slam through weak walls or shoot open switches. Figuring out the right angle and trajectory to pull of an incredible series of movements feels fantastic. During the later sections of Kick & Fennick I was constantly impressed at the sheer volume of ways this method is used for traversal purposes, with the multitude of uses successfully keeping the recoil based gameplay fresh throughout the 45 stages offered. The consistent variations to this recoil formula range from an increased recoil jump distance, to underwater segments, bounce pad sections, Portal-esque puzzles and much more. Though the challenge is significantly increased following the second chapter, no stage ever felt insurmountable. Instead, the increased challenge forced me to make every single jump count – creating some exhilarating platforming sections.
Though Fennick isn’t directly involved in the traversal process, he is able to save Kick from dangerous situations. Fennick has a specific meter dedicated to how many times it is able to save Kick. Once this bar is depleted you must restart the level. The bar can be refilled by collecting nodes scattered throughout the level, offering a risk and reward situation if you happen to be running out of Fennick’s saving ability – should you risk collecting those nodes in order to increase the meter for harder sections of the level? Difficulty also affects Fennick’s life saving ability, with each difficulty decreasing the number of saves offered. Increased difficulty also removes the ability to see a general outline of where you recoil jumps will take you, instead of a reticule judging where you will land a small arrow will takes its place, removing extra help with landing precision jumps and relying on a keen eye instead.
Within each level Kick & Fennick there is a single hidden gear, finding enough gears will reward the player with over a dozen alternate attires for Kick to wear. Don’t get me wrong these outfits are merely colour swaps, but the fact they exist is a nice incentive to uncover the hidden collectibles. Kick & Fennick also features a handful of boss encounters to sound the conclusion of each chapter. Though the majority of boss battles are fairly standard, there are a few stand out encounters that require multiple skills to complete. These include an endless runner variant stage and another which forced me to juggle dodging the violent boss while solving a handful of puzzles. The boss encounters that required multiple objectives were certainly more interesting than the standard fare battles which required simply shoot and dodge mechanics. It’s disappointing that each boss is exactly the same visually, as I would have liked to have seen some visual variety from these robotic foes.
Aside from Kick’s odd design, Kick & Fennick’s 2D level designs with 3D backgrounds look fantastic. Each level feels alive due to the impressive details of each backdrop. These detailed backgrounds made each stage feel like an interactive diorama. I was initially worried that the factory setting would visually diminish Kick & Fennick, (a problem many platformers have encountered when choosing what can be a drab location) but Kick & Fennick continuously kept the visual style fresh and enticing, with a mixture of striking vibrant colours and interesting new areas.
Though one of Kick & Fennick’s major issues is that Jaywalkers Interactive are willing to showcase this visual brilliance, sacrificing practicality in the process. There were over a dozen times where the camera would sacrifice its usefulness to showcase cinematic angles. These moments would hinder my ability to traverse the challenging stages at hand, either making parts of the stage difficult to see, or simply providing unnecessary gameplay problems. Load times are also a painful process, which at times took upwards of 30 seconds to get into a level. These long loading issues appeared whenever I entered a new level, or tried to return to the main menu itself.
Kick & Fennick is a delightful platformer that aims to provide strong gameplay that continues to improve and evolve as you play. Though the first few stages aim to slowly initiate the player to the gameplay mechanics, once Kick & Fennick’s training wheels are removed there is a genuine winning formula here that is delivered strong. The camera issues may frustrate, the load times may annoy, but this is a platformer that aims to deliver a strong gameplay experience – which it does sublimely.
Succeeds in keeping gameplay fresh.
Vibrant and striking visuals.
Diverse level design.
Camera can be frustrating.
Long load times.