While the Switch has already booked an array of both dance (Just Dance 2017 and 2018) and rhythm games (like VOEZ, Deemo, and Superbeat Xonic), it’s safe to say that there’s nothing else in the system’s lineup quite like Floor Kids. In fact, this labour of love from Montreal-based duo JonJon (animator and former bboy) and Kid Koala (DJ/producer of Deltron 3030 and Gorillaz fame) alongside a talented team is one of the most unique — and uniquely enjoyable — experiences we’ve come across in gaming as a whole. A breakdance battle trip with infectious sketch-art style, a driving musical pulse, and engaging, creative flow-state gameplay, Floor Kids is a triumph of funky fresh fun.
Floor Kids’ main Story mode is structured as a journey across town, from humble studio beginnings to a final showdown at the Peace Summit. You’ll choose one of eight diverse characters to start with, and then fill out your crew with the rest as you work your way across the map. Each spot, from an arcade and a metro station to the grocery store, plays host to a breakdance battle, with three songs to throw down to, and your goal is to earn a high score — and up to five ‘Crowns’ — in every one. That means dancing your heart out, and in Floor Kids that’s a very good time.
From the moment we stepped into our first cipher, Floor Kids’ unique gameplay knocked us out. It’s ostensibly a rhythm game, but in the moment-to-moment execution it plays more like a stationary Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, or a fighting game with no opponent.
Allow us to try and unpack those analogies a bit. After a few introductory bars, each stage in Floor Kids consists of two longer ‘verse’ sections, each followed by a shorter ‘chorus’. The choruses are more or less traditional rhythm game challenges — you’ll have to match a four-bar pattern by hitting buttons in time, and then go nuts on the next four to tap as fast as you can — but the verses are completely freeform. There’s an underlying base of tapping in time with the beat — the system accepts both single- and double-time with appropriate scoring balance, which is a nice touch — but beyond that, you’re free to dial in and string together moves in any way you like.
Moves are divided into four categories: Top Rock, Down Rock, Power, and Freeze. Top Rock moves — like a sidestep or shuffle — are performed standing up, and triggered by tapping any of the four face buttons in time. Down Rock moves — like a six step or super worm — are done on the ground, and are also performed with the face buttons; flicking the left stick up or down will switch between Top Rock and Down Rock modes. Power moves involve rotating the left analogue stick either clockwise or anticlockwise, with or without the ‘R’ button held, and include showstoppers like headpins and windmills, while Freeze moves — like one-hand-stands and air chairs — are done by holding down a face button with the left stick tilted in the corresponding direction.
These controls take a few minutes to click, but when they do, hitting the mat in Floor Kids feels absolutely incredible. The steady tapping of Top and Down Rock modes makes for a strong rhythmic base, which you can then embellish with Power and Freeze moves, buffering the motions in before a beat for smooth transitions. Power moves can be sped up by continuously flicking the stick left or right after the initial circle, Freezes can be ‘hopped’ by tapping the shoulder buttons, and keeping each of these going for as long as you can — listening to audio cues to avoid falling over and wiping out! — will bring both big bonuses and cheers from the cipher.
Taken all together, these elements converge into an enormously satisfying sense of flow — after a few bars, the Joy-Con are forgotten and you simply find yourself jamming along to the music in an endlessly smile-inducing state of breakdance bliss. It’s also commendably creative; each character has their own moveset, and with four moves of each main type — plus flourishes like Poses and Flips — there’s an incredible amount of variety to work with, and every time through a song feels like a unique performance. Perhaps the closest rhythm game analogy is if PaRappa the Rapper were played entirely in the U Rappin’ Cool state — you’re going for timing, flow, and funkiness with a predetermined set of moves, but the way you rock it is entirely up to you.
Refreshingly, Floor Kids’ scoring system reflects that individuality. You’ll be scored on five pleasantly alliterative aspects of your performance, including Funk (timing), Flavour (move variety, with more points for fresh moves than repeats), Flow (not stopping, not falling, and putting together combos), Fire (taking audience requests as they pop up), and Flyness (pulling off Holds, Poses, and Hops). Again, these guidelines remind us of the best of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater — good dancing means stringing together combos (specific to each character), going for big spins and long holds, not relying on the same moves over and over, and keeping a line going as long as possible. It’s an irresistible rush.
In addition to bragging rights and personal satisfaction, high scores will also help you unlock new characters. Earning more than three crowns on certain stages can net you ‘character cards’, and nabbing all four for a particular bboy or bgirl will add them to your crew. While you can play through the whole story with a single character — in a few hours, give or take — so much of the fun is in going back and revisiting dance battles with new blood; dancers vary not only in their movesets but also their combos and specialties, which in turn affects their scoring. It’s another way in which Floor Kids feels quite a bit like a (non-combative) fighting game, in fact. You’ll undoubtedly settle on a ‘main’, but learning new characters — trying out their moves, discovering their combos, and playing to their strengths — adds a huge amount of depth to the experience.
Continuing the similarities, Floor Kids also has a dance battle mode for two, which lets you face off against a friend in any song you’ve already unlocked in the story. As you might imagine, this is a blast — as perfect as Floor Kids feels as a solo form of expression, it also feels tailor made for dance-offs. The multiplayer mode gives each player equal time to show off their best moves in turn in the verses, while the choruses are tackled by both dancers simultaneously. Single Joy-Cons are supported as well, and while they’re admittedly less ideal — there’s something so effortless about split JoyCon controls here — it’s fantastic to be able to throw down anywhere, with no extra hardware required. Our only disappointment with the multiplayer is that it’s so much fun we wished we’d been able to tackle the main story cooperatively in some way as well.
Even if only one player can hold the controller in Story mode, however, Floor Kids is still a wonderful spectator event, and so much of that is down to the incredible sense of style that pulses through the entire experience. The hand-drawn sketch-art visuals are bursting with colour and personality, with unique and immediately appealing character design, and the animation is particularly lovely; rather than buttery smooth, it’s flip-book chic in a way that lets you appreciate every individual lovingly-drawn frame.
And the music! No rhythm game could survive without a worthy soundtrack, but Floor Kids’ repertoire goes above and beyond. Kid Koala’s cuts provide a beautiful backdrop of instrumental hip hop and breaks for your moves, and it really does feel like a DJ is scoring your set live — you can hear the vinyl hiss and crackle as the records play, and the telltale push-pull of the master turntablist at work in the grooves. None of the twenty-plus tracks stray very far in terms of basic style, but that’s part of the game’s breakdancing conceit; rather than the variety of genres you’d see in many music games, Floor Kids sticks to one broad genre and does it very, very well. Each area’s tracks have their own identity, as well — cuts from the Arcade feature 8-bit synths, for instance, and the Peace Summit’s tunes carry the chaos and chop of a true final boss battle — and it’s telling that even with an all-instrumental soundtrack, we’ve had chorus stings and beat loops stick with us long after playing.
The soundtrack is such an integral part of Floor Kids, in fact, that it extends out of the rhythm stages to seep into every aspect of the game. Menus feature mid-tempo beats that bounce and play with the HD Rumble as you cycle through their options, navigating the dance move database triggers a limitless series of turntable scratches, and the warm analogue dust of vinyl records is a comforting background sound throughout. It’s brilliant because it makes for a ‘music game’ through and through — from the moment you hit the title screen, every element in Floor Kids is nodding and bopping in time to the beat, and it’s completely infectious.
Dizzyingly stylish and crazy fun, Floor Kids is an absolute joy. Its DIY-dancing gameplay grants players a freedom seldom seem in rhythm games, and that gamble completely pays off; instead of tapping along to the beat, you’re tapping into a sense of flow, creativity and fun to make your own moves, and that’s both immensely satisfying and wholly unique. Whether you’re a wannabe breaker or a music game guru looking to dance to a different drum, Floor Kids is a killer cut.