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    Kick & Fennick PS Vita Review

    Kick & Fennick may be the latest game named after a protagonist pair, but it is not another Ratchet & Clank or Jak and Daxter. By that, I mean that neither Kick nor Fennick is developed enough to leave much of an impression on players as characters, and the game probably will not spawn any sequels as a result. However, that does not mean Kick & Fennick is forgettable. What it lacks in plot and character development, it more than makes up for in its gameplay, which helps to create a challenging and engaging platformer unlike anything else on the Vita.

    Story- 3/10
    Kick, a young blond-haired boy wearing a jumpsuit, awakens in and is ejected from one of several incubation pods located in a chromatic room of a vegetation-infested building in an abandoned, futuristic city. Exploring his surroundings, he trips on a pile of rubble and encounters Fennick, a Y-shaped cycloptic robot, lying next to a rifle that resembles the Super Scope (also known as the Nintendo Scope, it was an accessory for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System). Almost immediately, Kick has to use the rifle to escape from another robot, significantly larger than Fennick, and of which Fennick seems to be frightened. They crash through a nearby wall, and just before Kick is about to fall into an electrical hazard, Fennick teleports him to safety. In the process, Fennick's power core is damaged, and the remainder of the game covers their journey to the Core Tower, the tallest skyscraper in the city, in search of a replacement.

    The premise is simple, and there is nothing inherently wrong with a simple premise, especially in platformers, which, in general, aren't known for their storytelling. However, the game tries to establish some sort of a relationship between Kick and Fennick, but it does this without explaining their origins or explaining why the only inhabitants of the city are robots that want Kick dead (or at least want to cause him harm, since they charge toward him on sight). Because of this, moments that otherwise would be impactful, such as Kick and Fennick embracing, just aren't. Similarly, cutscenes that attempt to provide some scope or suspense to the journey fall flat because of the game's lack of dialogue combined with Kick's limited facial expressions and Fennick's lack of a face, thus providing little insight into either character's thoughts or feelings aside from a brief moment at the very end of the game. 

    Gameplay- 8/10
    Kick moves through the game's five chapters and 45 levels by walking, controlled with the left stick, and using the aforementioned rifle, which is as long as Kick is tall. Fired by using either the Vita's touch screen (i.e. pressing a finger on the screen to aim and releasing it to fire, as in the Vita port of The Swapper, for example) or by a combination of the right stick and R button, it is equipped with a laser sight that allows Kick to accurately dispatch enemies. More importantly, when fired, the gun has significant recoil. This gives Kick the ability to "jump" when the gun is aimed at the ground or other solid surface, and since he can fire the gun twice before touching a solid surface, he can alter his trajectory in mid-air.

    Kick uses this ability to cross gaps, reach higher areas, break through walls, and bypass hazards. Fennick moves alongside Kick at all times and acts as his protector and guide. At the top left of the screen is an icon of the broken power core surrounded by a blue meter, which represents Fennick's energy. Should Kick touch an enemy or one of the numerous electrical hazards, Fennick will zap him to the last platform Kick stood on, partially depleting the meter. Touching the icon or pressing the triangle button will cause a blue arrow to briefly appear in front of Fennick, indicating where Kick needs to go to reach a large green terminal that serves as the goal of each level, with the exception of the ends of chapters, which are confrontations with the robot Fennick fears.

    This function is occasionally necessary because the levels themselves are somewhat large and mostly non-linear. In addition, they become more complex as the game progresses. Players will encounter red terminals that augment the gun's recoil, doors that are only opened by shooting switches, aquatic and anti-gravity segments, bounce pads that impact Kick's momentum, rails that increase Kick's speed, and one-way portals that transport Kick from one area to another in a similar fashion to those in Valve's Portal games. Introduced to players through simple graphical displays on monitors in certain levels, the combination of these elements results in a game that is much faster paced and more difficult than the appearances of its protagonists make it seem.

    That said, the gameplay is not perfect. When using the touch screen to aim, the gun occasionally locks up, forcing players to fire it before they can adjust its position, which can lead to an unwanted collision with a hazard or enemy, depending on how that firing affects Kick's trajectory or position. It could be an issue specific to me, but I'm mentioning it in case it is not. In any case, the issue isn't helped by the camera's tendency to zoom in and out depending on where Kick is located, which can make hazards, enemies, and platforms difficult to see until it is too late for players to do anything about them. Scattered throughout each level are 50 gear-shaped power nodes that refill Fennick's energy when collected. Collecting them is not a problem, but it becomes one if Fennick's energy meter is depleted and Kick touches an enemy or hazard, causing the level to reset, or a level is finished without collecting them all, since players then have to recollect the power nodes upon playing the level again. Depending on the complexity of the level, this can be a minor or major annoyance that might detract from players' enjoyment of the game. 

    Replay- 5/10
    The game has three levels of difficulty, with the only differences between them being the amount of energy Fennick uses to rescue Kick from danger and how Kick's trajectory is displayed. On the Easy and Normal difficulties, Kick's trajectory is a represented by a dotted line that shows players where Kick will land or otherwise end up when the gun is fired. On the Hard difficulty, this is replaced by a blue arrow that only indicates the general direction in which Kick will travel. At the end of each level, players receive a ranking based on the number of power nodes collected in the form of a star, which ranges in color from bronze to platinum. Each level also has a "Special Gear" that often requires clever use of Kick's rifle and his surroundings to reach. However, the reward for reaching and collecting these gears, alternate outfit colors and designs, isn't really worth the effort, as they don't affect the gameplay, and to non-completionists, neither is collecting more power nodes than are necessary to avoid a level reset, although doing so makes the game slightly more challenging. 

    Graphics/Sound- 6/10
    Visually, the game is cartoony and mostly colorful, resembling the Ratchet & Clank games to some degree. Roots, leaves, and branches occasionally provide a nice contrast to levels that consist mainly of metallic rooms and open areas filled with pipes, excluding the prevalent arcs of electricity throughout, though many of the outdoor areas feature glimpses of the city and Core Tower from a distance. The soundtrack is repetitive at times and mostly forgettable because it is either drowned out by other sounds (Kick's grunts, Fennick's beeping, Kick being zapped to safety, etc) or silenced during the few seconds of slow-down that occur when the gun is aimed, reducing it to occasionally audible background noise. To its credit, the music is appropriately tailored to various situations, ambient during easy-going portions and frantic during the game's more suspenseful portions. 

    Offered as a PS Plus title at the time of release, Kick & Fennick, currently one of two games developed by Jaywalkers Interactive (the other being Blue Marble, a demo for the Oculus Rift), is, overall, a charming and decent platforming game best played in short bursts that ends much better than it begins, so anyone who puts it down after the first chapter or so is going to get the wrong impression of the game. Unfortunately, this means that players who have the wrong impression and keep going, especially if this impression reflects the game they want to play, may wish the game was over long before it is.

    Story- 3/10
    Gameplay- 9/10
    Replay- 5/10
    Overall- 7/10

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    Item Reviewed: Kick & Fennick PS Vita Review Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kenny Gagne
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