There are a lot of puzzle games out there, so it’s usually difficult to create a new one that stands out. However, from time to time something special always seems to crop up out of seemingly nowhere; a game that goes above and beyond to really set itself a part from the others. That’s pretty much the best way to describe Kick & Fennick.
Developed by the two-man studio Jaywalkers Interactive, Kick & Fennick bleeds with charm through-and-through. The game takes players on a journey where they control a young, mute, and fearless boy named Kick who finds himself waking up in a post-apocalyptic science facility. Under the protection of Fennick, the helpful robot sidekick, Kick traverses the labyrinth facility by means of a huge laser gun. The interesting thing about this gun is not only that it is bigger than Kick himself, but it has a recoil so powerful that it shoots Kick off at amazing speeds.
Let’s recap for a second: Mute character waking up in an abandoned science facility, comes in contact with a robotic companion, and then finds a completely un-traditidonal gun that has a special feature. Does any of that sound familiar? If you happen to be a fan of Valve’s games, then you more than likely know about the Portal series. Kick & Fennick is basically a Pixar-like version of it.
The core mechanic of the game is to use the laser-gun’s powerful recoil to vault Kick off to new areas. This is enhanced by a time-slowing mechanic which automatically activates as soon as you aim the gun. This feature is both incredibly helpful and not to mention cool to look at (more on that later). There are many instances where you will need to have precise timing in order to progress, so learning how to make use of this time-slowing feature is completely essential. As the levels progress, new gameplay elements are added which add depth to the overall experience. Seeing that the entire game is 2.5D, it gives it the feeling of a traditional platformer, but the jumping mechanic really helps set it apart; just like how the Portal games felt like traditional first-person shooters, but offered a totally different experience.
The game’s controls are incredibly simple, allowing for just about anyone to play. The challenge comes in with the level design. As mentioned earlier, later levels will begin to add new elements in order to spice up the gameplay. This includes things like laser-barriers which require precise timing to pass through, super-fast conveyor belts, and even underwater sections. I was quite surprised with the amount of variety that Kick & Fennick offered. There was never a time where I felt bored, just frustrated. Some of the levels really had me scratching my head. But that’s actually one of the main highlights of the game.
Kick & Fennick pretty much hands itself over to the player. There’s no time limit to worry about, leaving you to traverse and explore the level from top-to-bottom. In fact, it’s encouraged. I found myself wandering around some levels for as much as 10+ minutes on quite a few occasions. The game’s collectibles come in the form of power cores and special gears. The power cars act as both the common item, and the only way to restore keep Kick alive. One of the ‘Pixar-like’ aspects about the game is that it is incredibly clean, right down to the point that Kick never truly gets hurt. Anytime he’s about to get injured, Fennick will almost instantaneously zap him back to his last safe position. But this requires Fennick to use a bit of energy. This leaves you to collect as many power cores as possible, in addition to the fact that they are counted at the end of every level as part of your ranking. There’s also the aforementioned special gears, which serve as the one and only unlockable item. There is one hidden in each level, and after you collect a few it will unlock a new outfit for Kick.
The one true downside to the gameplay are the boss battles, or rather, boss encounters. The boss, which I can best describe as being a huge robotic dog-like guard actually never changes, you just come in contact with it in different situations. Kick’s gun cannot pierce its armor, so each battle requires you to use the environment in a specific way to inflict damage on the contraption. Boss battles are supposed to feel rewarding, but these encounters just felt like they were shoe-horned in just for the sake of it. But really, that’s the only true complaint I can make about the gameplay.
As for presentation, Kick & Fennick continues to impress. Let me start by saying this—I love the animation. The game’s cutscenes are rather short, but the fluidity in character movements is comparable to that of big-budget titles, seriously. This is also shown off during when the action goes in slow-motion, resulting in a pretty cool display. The animation is complimented by a bright and vivid color pallet, which adds to the Pixar-like atmosphere of the game. The only downside to the visuals is the mixed bag of asset quality. The Wii U version seems quite limited compared to that of the PC version, possessing quite a few low-quality assets here and there. It isn’t a truly glaring problem, but definitely a noticeable one. On a better note, the game’s (limited) soundtrack is well done. Like Portal, most of the time you will find yourself hearing almost nothing except quaint ambient sounds and Kick’s grunts. Music is reserved for the more action/discovery-filled sections of the game. I had no problems with this at all, as it added to the game’s ‘weird’ atmosphere.
At the end of day, Kick & Fennick was a truly surprising experience. I offered to review it because it just looked strange, and I was left feeling more than pleased. It’s definitely one of those games that shows that you don’t always need a super-massive budget and elaborate development team to create a fun, memorable experience. Kick & Fennick definitely takes a lot of pages from Portal’s book, but it still ends up doing things in it’s own special way. While I was left feeling frustrated by some of the more difficult sections in the levels, I kept coming back for more. The game never made me want to give up, but just to try again. On top of that, the animation was much better than I ever would have anticipated. Even if the Wii U versions visuals aren’t as great as the PC version, the colorful palette and simple, yet effective soundtrack all help build a solid level of presentation to compliment the addictive gameplay. With a price tag of only $15, do yourself a pick up Jaywalkers’ awesome puzzle-platformer!