Kick & Fennick is the latest indie platformer to hit current-gen consoles, although it already made its debut on the PlayStation Vita last year. Dutch developer Jaywalkers Interactive has created a sidescrolling sci-fi adventure here that, while rough around the edges in many ways, also houses one of the more novel traversal mechanics I’ve seen in a platformer, and gets enough mileage out of this aspect to make it worth a look for fans of the genre.
The thin story sees a young boy named Kick awaken from cryosleep in a city that, while housing futuristic machinery and buildings, seems long deserted, with plants growing everywhere and nothing but robots roaming the land. While many of them are hostile, he is able to befriend Fennick, an animal-like flying robot with a damaged battery. The two set out to find a replacement part for Fennick in a quest spanning over 40 levels, routinely meeting with an unfriendly robot that looks like someone combined the ED-209 and a frog.
There are few cutscenes outside of the opening and ending, and no spoken dialog outside of miscellaneous vocal utterances by the heroes. However, while I’m routinely able to deal with fun platformers being light on story, Kick & Fennick‘s world made me feel like there were some missed opportunities. We don’t know what happened to make it this way, why Kick ended up there, if there’s any human life left, and what the pair will do after getting the part they need. The ending does nothing to answer any of these questions either, which left me wishing that the designers had chosen a more conventional location, rather than creating something so vague.
Where Kick & Fennick feels more well-constructed is its main gameplay gimmick. To both protect himself and get through each level, Kick utilizes an energy rifle he finds early on, which can be manually aimed with the right analog stick. Not only is its shot enough to take out the enemy drones scattered throughout the world, but its recoil can be used to propel Kick in any direction, as well as fire one more shot in midair before reloading once he hits the ground. Since there’s no traditional jumping mechanic, players will need to get the hang of properly aiming and timing each shot. Thankfully, the game automatically slows down when aiming, while showing an outline of the projected path for extra precision.
Jaywalkers takes this hook and does quite a bit with it. The main obstacle in Kick’s path ends up being not the numerous unfriendly robots he encounters, but various dangerous energy beams. As they’ll often flicker off for short periods, players must learn to time their jumps right and get through them at the right moments, or avoid them altogether. Later portions also add more recurring elements, including warp portals and underwater sections that allow for unlimited firing.
Fennick’s only contribution to gameplay is a dynamic checkpoint system of sorts, as he’ll zap Kick back to the last place he was standing if he hits a hazard while traversing. This is another handy element, though a life meter means there are only so many times you can rely on it before having to restart the level, which becomes a bigger annoyance in the overly long final sections. The game’s cartoon-y sci-fi aesthetic and incorporation of rail grinding and gear collecting also reminded me of a certain PlayStation duo, so it’s a shame that Fennick never feels as integral to the adventure as other iconic sidekicks.
While you don’t have new gameplay elements constantly thrown at you, the level design does a good job of keeping things from feeling dull and reptitive, with the responsive controls helping to keep it a generally fun experience throughout its four-hour play time. Unfortunately, the actual look of the levels never seems to deviate, with the same theme of overgrown buildings continuing from beginning to end. This problem, combined with the narrative mysteries mentioned earlier, makes me feel that while Jaywalkers crafted a game that’s fun to play, they ultimately bit off more than they could chew in terms of presentation.
Technical performance is generally fine on PS4, without any framerate issues or severe glitches. The only major exception comes from the dynamic camera it sometimes utilizes, which zooms in on Kick from a diagonal angle during the game’s more slow-paced moments. I ran into multiple instances where it ended up stuck this way, leaving me unable to properly see the level ahead of me until my next respawn. Also, unless I missed something, beating the campaign didn’t award the trophy that the game’s list promised.
Despite these issues, and an intriguing but ultimately shallow world and plot, I still generally enjoyed my time with Kick & Fennick. Good sidescrolling platformers have become plentiful again in recent years, but it’s rare that I find one that tries to do something a bit different the way this game does. There are certainly better titles in this genre, but there’s still enough here to make for a generally fun game that can stand on its own.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version, which was provided to us.
Although it's held back by a lack of variety in its presentation and some other clumsy elements, Kick & Fennick still boasts a clever gimmick with its recoil-based traversal, and does enough right to make itself worthy of a playthrough for platformer enthusiasts.