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Kick Master (NES) artwork

Kick Master (NES) review

"With a name like Kick Master, you pretty much know exactly what youíre going to get."

Thereís something to be said for truth in advertising. With a name like Kick Master, you pretty much know exactly what youíre going to get. Yes, kicking is the name of the game here, and Kick Master doesnít fail to deliver all the roundhouses, sweeps, and knee drops you can handle. I just wish that Thonolan, the main character, was as good at kicking as the title implies. Heís more of a kick apprentice, really.

Going beyond the obvious, Kick Master is a gothic action game that mines a lot of the same territory as the Castlevania series, thanks to some dark imagery and a spooky soundtrack. The young Thonolan is out to avenge his brother, who claimed that only Thonolanís kicking ability can save the world from the evil Belzed. Itís a paper-thin premise, but itís all good as long as thereís plenty of stuff to kick, right?

Well, perhaps not. The unfortunate reality is that Thonolanís starting kicks donít have very good range. This seems doubly problematic considering that the whole point of using kicks is to keep an opponent out of punching range, but Thonolan is content to bust out a high kick that hits just in front of his own face. The obvious problem with this is that heís constantly trading blows with enemies in the early going. Even his low sweep kick doesnít seem to help, and I could never tell if this was because it also displayed poor range or if there is a deeper hit detection problem at work.

Things improve for good old Thonolan as he levels up, though. The game hails from an era when RPG mechanics were usually relegated to, you know, RPGs, so itís nice to see steady character progression take place throughout its string of action stages. Thonolan levels at a good pace thatís neither too fast nor too slow. Items burst forth from defeated enemies, usually in sets of three, and there often isnít time to grab them all. Tough choices have to be made between experience points, magic, and health pickups.

Thonolan eventually adds a decent arsenal of special moves to his kicking repertoire, and the knee drop goes a long way towards fixing that problem I mentioned with traded hits. Even so, it takes a few levels before the hero learns any truly helpful standing attacks, and I ran into problems where Iíd lose so much health trading blows in cramped spots that I wouldnít be equipped to handle the multiple bosses found in some levels.

By the end of the game, Thonolan feels like a badass. He possesses a huge life bar, slide kick, helicopter kick, and spinning flip kick. In addition to all of that stuff, he also gains access to a plethora of magic spells over the course of the adventure. I was impressed with the large number to choose from, and many of them are hidden within the individual levels. Spells range from simple secondary attacks like fireballs or a wave beam, to the ability to fly and the much-needed cure spell. The only problem I had with the magic system is that I ended up taking so much damage that I had to save all my MP for cures.

Kick Master is a short game, but the difficulty ramps nicely despite all the devastating new spells and kicks Thonolan eventually learns. Unlike many NES action games, each level features multiple bosses that require deft reflexes and proper kick execution. I felt challenged but not aggravated until the very final level, which contains a gauntlet of annoying enemies and boss battles. In addition to those headaches, this last stage includes a lot of vertical scrolling. When you take a wrong turn (which is easy to do when youíre executing some of the crazier kicks), Thonolan falls off the screen. Yes, this counts as a death, even though we all know that there was a platform right below him. Itís a minor gripe, but itís also one of my biggest NES pet peeves.

This game was developed by KID, the same studio responsible for the two G.I. Joe games, and as such youíll notice a similar graphical style in place. This is a very good thing, and Kick Master holds its own even when compared to other acclaimed action games for the NES. Many of the bosses fill the screen, and the gothic backgrounds definitely deliver a sinister feel. The regular enemies are also quite varied, but they offer little in the way of movement animation. This is most likely due to the fact that Thonolan has some of the most fluid attack animations Iíve ever seen in an 8-bit game. Some of his kicks almost look like they were rotoscoped, but closer examination of the rest of the game shows that this isnít the case. Itís still impressive to watch him kick away, and each level gained adds even more elaborate moves to marvel at.

Kick Master falls just short of meriting a mention in the same breath as Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden. Itís a little-known game that features some wonderful ideas and great character progression, but spotty hit detection, cheap hits, and a middling soundtrack hold it back. It also features a very short campaign, and I canít see a person going back to it unless he really wants to explore every level and nab all of the spells. If you track down a copy, keep in mind that there is a lot of fun to be had. Just know that it will all be over far too quickly.


AlphaNerd's avatar
Freelance review by Julian Titus (May 17, 2013)

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