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Kick Master (NES) artwork

Kick Master (NES) review

"The kingdom of Lowrel has been decimated by the forces of the wizard Belzed. Regicide and kidnapping are among the crimes committed, and the only remaining member of the royal family is the princess. Belzed has taken her to his tower, leaving the last two men alive in the kingdom, Macren and his brother Thonolan. Macren is killed on the way over, leaving the martial arts expert Thonolan to continue the quest. "

Being awestruck is a great feeling. It's humbling, almost euphoric. If you stand before Niagara Falls or Old Faithful, you might just be awestruck. Those of us gamers who don't get out much find awe on our televisions. I found complete awe twice when I found an NES action game called Kick Master (KM). Not only was it somewhat graphically advanced for 8-bit, but I actually found it to be a slightly better game than even Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. KM passed by under the radar, scored maybe a few rentals and sales, but totally caught those who played it by surprise. I recently dusted this game off and played it again, and I found that sense of awe. This game is not only action-packed, but challenging and addictive despite some issues in hit detection. It's almost everything an NES action game should be.

The kingdom of Lowrel has been decimated by the forces of the wizard Belzed. Regicide and kidnapping are among the crimes committed, and the only remaining member of the royal family is the princess. Belzed has taken her to his tower, leaving the last two men alive in the kingdom, Macren and his brother Thonolan. Macren is killed on the way over, leaving the martial arts expert Thonolan to continue the quest.

Think of other action titles on NES. Castlevania, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, and even a large number of license titles. This one plays pretty much the same, but with some key differences. You advance in levels mostly going left to right, fighting off the Belzed's forces. You must kick the crap out of eight levels worth of baddies. No, literally. Instead of a whip or a gun or a katana your weapon is your feet! How awesome is that? Everything you encounter you have to kick. Wizards? Kicked. Zombies? Kicked. Birds? Kicked. Sirens? Kicked.

There are RPG elements that add depth to the kicking. Killing an enemy causes them to explode into three different power ups that fly into the air. They fly in different directions, so you can normally only grab about one or two. Some items will boost your experience, allowing you to level up every thousand points. This doesn't make you stronger, per se, but gives you access to new and useful new kicks, like a knee drop or a flying kick, as well as increasing your HP. Grabbing flasks will increase your MP, allowing you to use the various spells you can find throughout the game. The only problem with the magic is that it's not useful enough. It consume large amounts of your MP, and MP is not as easy to come by in this game. You have to kill enemies to keep grabbing MP, and more often than not you wind up hording the MP to use your healing spells while fighting bosses. You don't get much MP from the flasks they drop.

Graphics look well designed and full of life, and even texture. There aren't many NES games that have this complex of texture, but this also serves as part of the graphics' undoing. The first level looks great. The woods have depth to them, even life, and the enemies look phenomenal. It's like the game tried to be an SNES game. But then you get to some later levels and the graphics look funky. One marsh level later on pits you against zombies that look like someone vomited on them after eating a pack of Skittles. The background is also a nauseating salmon color. What is it with salmon as a background color in NES games anyway? I guess this is supposed to be a sunset, but it looks awful and bleak. If I can say one thing positive about the level, it's the water in the background. The way it moves is quite impressive.

The straightforward levels help keep the pace fast. This game places a very heavy emphasis on action, especially since there is a huge incentive to killing every enemy you see. Leveling up and gaining MP are invaluable aspects to the game. They force you to fight and advance not only the levels, but yourself. It adds an addictive aspect to the game. Each level isn't just a walk in the park. The first one is pretty easy, but after that you might be getting your rump handed back in a bucket. Enemies become tougher, not just to kill but to hit. Many of them move in such different pattens that you have trouble figuring out a good strategy to kill them. Having the new kicks allows you to masterfully implement a new strategy, even if it is just jumping high up and dropping a knee on their skulls. Bosses appear frequently, as each level has multiple. This also adds to the game's strong challenge by wearing you thin before you fight the main boss. Each one tests your strategy, both in using spells and in using your kicks.

The levels themselves seem to tell a story. Where they lack complicated design, they all follow a scheme very similar to Ghosts 'N Goblins. Each level has a theme, and each theme seems to follow a certain order. They were planned that way. You really get the feeling you're on a long, important mission. A journey. You start off in a forest, then go through a series of caves that lead to cliffs, only to jump on a boat and go to a far away land. Even though there are only eight levels, you really feel like
you've been on a hell of a trip. There are no cutscenes apart from the opening one either. You pretty much have to piece that story together in your mind. It really engages your imagination.

That trip requires patience, and the controls and hit detection will try them. The controls feel a tad stiff, but they don't take long to get used to. Mainly, it's figuring out how to do the new kicks. The game doesn't give you any indication, so if you don't have an instruction manual or access to an FAQ, you're pretty much screwed. There are some kicks in this game that are too valuable to not know, especially the knee drop. Many of the new moves, while valuable, leave you wide open. The sweep kick especially. It causes you to slide a little ways across the screen. You'll slide through enemies, damaging them, but often times wind up in a position to take a beating or wind up on top of an enemy sprite. In either case you take damage. The collision detection is the worst part. It's actually not bad, but there are times where you will cleanly and soundly hit an enemy and your attack will be ineffective. This happens especially with the main attack, your basic kick. You really have to time that thing just right. It does have a higher success rate as you level up, but it becomes pretty much worthless once you gain your first level.

KM is an exciting trip with loads of action. It really inspires awe to see something so little known work so effectively. Taito had an idea in mind, and they set out to do it properly. The only moderate flaw is the sometimes faulty collision detection, which really isn't a huge problem. The game itself is amazing, well paced, but above all loads of fun.

Recommended for any NES action fan.

Rating: 8/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 01, 2010)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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