When picking up any platformer for the first time, it's just second nature to check for the jump button. They're so ingrained in the experience, you're likely hearing Mario's sound effect in your head even as you're reading this. Look for a jump button in Kick & Fennick, however, and you're not going to find one.
The opening of the game is almost jarring for this reason. As you run around the crumbling futuristic landscape with boy protagonist Kick and his adorable big-eared robot Fennick, you feel almost naked without the ability to hop about. But then the game gives you a high-powered plasma rifle and you quickly realize there never will be a jump button in this game. What you have been gifted instead is a Blast-a-Small-Child-through-the-Air Button.
Kick & Fennick is a largely physics-based platformer with puzzle elements, and everything relies on the ability to launch Kick with the recoil of his rifle. The right stick controls the direction the weapon is pointing. Point horizontally or above when standing on solid ground and there will be no movement, but point the barrel downward and Kick jets up like a dolphin tied to a firework. The force is even enough to send the poor kid through cracked walls; but he doesn't seem to complain so eh, whatever.
Two shots can be fired before having to touch the ground to reload. This equates to a double jump in a way, but the control over direction is much more fine-tuned. Kick can fly in any direction desired by firing the second shot in mid-air, making for almost billiards-like trick shooting to get to various platforms. Time slows for a short period of time whenever aiming, eliminating much of the need for split-second action. This is a good thing, as timing and placement are crucial elements in many obstacles of the game and trying to navigate in real time would be infuriating. The slow mo, combined with the realistic weight of it all, makes the mechanic feel satisfying much of the time.
There are 45 stages in five different areas to navigate. The goal of most stages is simply reaching the end, but the last stage of each area features a showdown with a giant, four-legged mech that inexplicably chases the boy/bot duo throughout the game. Each stage has 50 small gears to collect plus a larger Special Gear tucked away somewhere. Snagging these can fetch new looks for Kick's jumpsuit, but otherwise don't seem necessary for anything except full completion.
Three difficulty modes are available depending on how much of a daredevil you want to be. Easy will display the trajectory of Kick's recoil path as well as provide infinite rescues from Fennick, placing Kick on the last of many checkpoints in a stage that he reached before he fried himself in a laser beam. Normal also displays trajectory, but provides a finite amount of energy for Fennick to use in rescues. This energy can be replaced by nabbing gears, but run out and the level starts over. Hard mode provides finite rescue energy and only shows the direction of Kick's recoil, not where he will ultimately land. It might sound rather easy, but reach later levels and Hard mode will start to feel insane. In fact, Easy doesn't really feel much like cheating later on in the game, as many obstacles may take more trial and error than you have the ability to rescue for.
As one journeys on through the game, more interactive elements are added to the world. There will be underwater sections, bounce pads, zip tracks, and very, very fun portals. Even with the introduction of new stuff, however, there are times when stages can feel repetitive. There is not a great variation between the looks of the different areas and some things, like timing your path through flickering lasers, can feel overdone. This can all lead to some feelings of stagnation during the middle portion of the game, but the last couple of areas gives the gameplay a needed kick in the pants.
Plot is also very thin in Kick & Fennick, with the only real motivation being to find Fennick a new battery. Far be it we want to know why Kick woke up from some sort of stasis pod, why he's the only human we see, or what caused the world around him to become abandoned: the cute robot needs its taily-bob fixed!
It really is a darn cute robot, though…
The world of Kick & Fennick looks graphically nice, although once again it could stand to have more variation. The sound is well done, with the rifle making a very satisfying release and the soundtrack seeming just as comfortable falling back and letting ambiance take over at times as it does barging in with an orchestral swell.
The game can be bested in about 5 hours on Easy, but will take longer in harder modes and if looking for all the collectibles. This would probably be a fun game to watch an expert speedrun, especially if they find gimmicks to sneak around all those stinking lasers.
Kick & Fennick has an appealing concept to getting around that is backed up with terrific physics. At its best, the game is quite fun in a way that must be felt to believe. Bouts of repetitive level design and a lack of motivating plot can bog it down at times, but fans of Portal-style gameplay can still find a good deal to enjoy.