Kick & Fennick is a platformer designed by two-man team Vincent Bonefaas and Laurens Bruins, who make up Jaywalkers Interactive. The game opens with a young boy (Kick) suddenly waking from some kind of stasis. After a short moment, he meets a robot named Fennick, who has a broken battery. Together they find a giant gun, which they lock and load before heading off to find Fennick a new battery. Really though, the ‘plot’ itself doesn’t matter a great deal, as Kick & Fennick quickly dispenses with that to focus on one heck of a great gaming mechanic – the double jump.
Or, rather, double shoot jumping. The massive gun that Kick lugs around is used for many of the usual things, such as shooting enemies or destroying walls, but its main purpose is to help Kick jump across the 45 levels – a wonderful new jumping mechanic that feels oddly like a stepping stone. Using either the thumbstick or the touch screen to direct where you want to jump, Kick can bounce across the ground quite gracefully. You’re limited to two jumps (or shots) before Kick has to touch solid ground to reset his movement. As you aim your next jump, time slows down to allow you to realign yourself or readjust your trajectory past a moving laser. It appears to be a basic mechanic, but there’s quite a bit of depth to it and if it didn’t work the game would be a failure, given the game hinges on this mechanic.
The world you navigate is a post-apocalyptic universe full of lasers and robots. The mechanical look of the world is accentuated with luscious plants that have started to reclaim the world. Each level looks much the same as the last, but they look great with the bright colours of the plants and lasers a stark contrast to the grey buildings.
The level design is similar to other 2.5D platformers, whereby there is the impression of a fully realised world behind the plane where the action takes place. The one problem with this is that there are points where it is not clear what is in the foreground or the background, as they can both appear to be on the same plane. This made some jumps difficult as I would think I was jumping to a tangible surface, but instead found that I was jumping to part of the background. It made for some frustrating moments, which could have easily been avoided with clearer distinction between foreground and background elements.
To help understand what direction you need to go, the camera will slightly tilt the world to show which direction you’re heading. At times it will move in close to Kick, and others it will provide a greater view of the landscape. Occasionally, the camera would be a little slow to reveal parts of the environment, and I found myself dying from some off-screen enemy or laser trap. There were also times in later levels where the camera simply wouldn’t adjust to show potential platforms to jump to. This fortunately didn’t happen often, but when it did it was a major bother.
I personally preferred to use the thumbstick over the touch screen, but both work wonderfully and make for intuitive jumping. The initial instinct to push the X button to jump wears off once you remember that this is a gun you’re shooting. Sure, it defies logical physics that a gun can provide enough force to propel you forward, but it works so well that it simply doesn’t matter. The thumbstick doesn’t truly allow for as precise directional input as using the touch screen, but the touch screen doesn’t allow for super quick double jumps, so it depends on your preference.
In most platformers, there is a dreaded water level. Well, water levels feature here also, but are surprisingly enjoyable, as you use the gun to propel yourself along like a squid from the Mario games. The need to hit land to reset your shots doesn’t apply in water, which is great. Replacing the dreaded water level here, however, is the new dreaded bounce pad.
Whilst the bounce pads are technically a form of solid ground, they don’t reset your shots. Herein lies my major complaint with Kick & Fennick. In a game that relies on precision and provides you with a jumping mechanic that is genuinely fun to play with, it’s frustrating to see the inclusion of the frustrating and unpredictable bounce pads. After being in control of your direction for the majority of the game, to have bounce pads appear as hazards that you need to skillfully avoid somehow makes your skill redundant, as instead you find yourself relying on luck that you’ll end up where you need to. There is another element that appears in later levels that fortunately injects some of the joy back into the game, but it still requires completing some unenjoyable levels to get there.
Surprisingly for a platformer, Kick & Fennick also has a choice of difficulty. On easy, your health level is higher and the direction of your jump path appears on the screen. On hard, your health is reduced and the jump path no longer appears to assist your jumping. It’s a small difference, but removing the jump path from the screen makes completing levels on hard a rewarding challenge.
Health refers not so much to Kick’s health, but moreso to Fennick’s battery life. Whenever Kick hits a laser or is attacked by an enemy, Fennick will zap him to safety. After each rescue, a small amount of Fennick’s battery life is drained. Collect some of the glowing cogs floating around the level and the battery life is filled up. If Fennick’s battery does run out, the screen will go black and say “this shouldn’t have happened” before rewinding back to the beginning of the level. It’s an interesting twist on regular game design, as it would be a fairly bleak game if you had a dead kid on your hands every time Fennick’s battery ran out.
There are boss fights at the end of each chapter, and for the most part they are suitably challenging and enjoyable. However, for the final boss fight a new mechanic is introduced that isn’t explained, which makes the first few minutes of the fight quite confusing. The rest of the battle is therefore just a matter of trial and error to figure out how to defeat the boss. Surprisingly, you don’t lose health in the last fight so it’s impossible to actually die, which is an odd decision.
Overall, Kick & Fennick is an enjoyable platformer with a great mechanic that makes it a pure joy to play. The levels don’t overstay their welcome and for the most part provide a rewarding challenge. The addition of unpredictable bounce pads later on in the game reduces what could have been a truly great must-play game to a strongly recommended game. In a time where new IPs for the Playstation Vita are sadly absent, it’s nice to see a fun little game come along and defy expectations.