KungFu Kickball is a new sport/fighting game, developed by WhaleFood Games, that I picked up recently and I found myself quite pleased with. Finally, another strong entry into the strange niche Rocket League lounges in. Not only that, but KFK is a far more ambitious idea that it may first appear. Fighting games and sport games are two very different creatures. Marrying the two is not an easy feat, but KFK pulls it off really well. It’s simple enough that anyone can get into it, but with a dash of nuance that inspires tactical thinking. Plus, it’s really fun!
KungFu Kickball is available on Steam.
Gameplay – Everybody Was KungFu Fighting!
The goal of KungFu Kickball is to use your martial arts to hit the ball into your opponents bell, scoring a point. The player with the most points at the end of the time limit wins. KFK functions a bit like a 2-D fighting game, with a dedicated jump, hit and teleport button. While the regular hit is just a simple punch, hitting while pointing the joystick in certain directions will change the type of attack. For instance, if you push the joystick right or left, you deliver a powerful kick that knocks the ball further, and knocks your enemy to the ground.
This is where that tactical thinking I talked about earlier comes in. Most of the maps are designed with angular floors and physical barriers between you and the bell. While a powerful kick may move the ball further across the field, if it hits the ground at an angle, you might end up sending it closer to your side instead. Luckily, that teleport button I mentioned earlier comes in handy here. You blink a short distance either right or left, then you can do it again when you touch the ground.
I have to say, once you get into the groove of it, all of these manuevers are a blast. Anticipating the bounce of a ball when it hits that angle, then leaping into the air and kicking it clear. Teleporting just far enough backwards to smash the ball away from the other player. I once almost won a match by juggling, kicking the ball directly up over and over, until the time ran out. But don’t forget, this is a fighting game. You can knock opponents down with a well placed move, giving you a few precious seconds to position properly.
Honestly, I really can’t think of anything wrong with KFK’s moment to moment gameplay. It combines the competetive energy of sport games with the subtle nuance of fighters, without dipping too deeply into either side. It’s simple, it’s fun, and every little bit of it works in tandem with the rest. The only real problem is that nothing is particularly interesting or exciting. Don’t get me wrong, KungFu Kickball is a solid game, but there isn’t anything about it that pushes the experience from good to great.
Arcade Mode – A Ringing Endorsment
Now, I’m not much of a multiplayer guy. I don’t play games at the same time as most people, so it’s tough to find matches online. Luckily, KungFu Kickball has an arcade mode if you want to play when no one else is online. Suffice to say, this is where I spent most of my play time, and I have to say, I had a lot of fun. It also serves to show off the game’s arenas and unlock the three hidden characters, one for each of the difficulties. It’s also the mode where I ran into most of the problems.
Arcade mode takes you through several matches: five for apprentice, six for teacher and seven for master, it would have been nice if they randomized the stages. I’m assuming they didn’t because you’re only meant to play through each once, but that’s the problem. Replayability is the lifeblood for offline content in multiplayer titles. It’s also a little bit too easy to get through the apprentice difficulty. Teacher provides a wonderful challenge, where it’s just frustrating enough to make you want to beat it. Master, on the other hand, feels like performing dentistry on the sun. Difficult, dangerous to my health, and ultimately unnecessary.
Characters – Fighting to Understand
The next problem area is in the characters. I really like the character designs, they remind me of Dragon Ball and the Scott Pilgrim vs The World comics. However, I have no idea who they are. Obviously I don’t need a complete history or complex motivation. They’re martial artists and they want to play kickball is good enough, frankly. But knowing their names would be nice. Knowing what makes them different from every other character on the list would be nice too.
There are about seven characters in total, and each of them feel subtly different. Some feel a bit quicker, some feel like they hit harder, and some feel like they can take a hit better. The problem is, the differences feel too subtle. That’s not always a bad thing, it balances the roster well and immediately stops people complaining that “character X is overpowered.” But what this game is crying out for is a glossary, or just a little stat table to pop up when you pick your kicker. Otherwise, they all start to feel like the same person wearing different outfits, and that is a waste of interesting character designs.
Graphics and Audio – The Bell of The Ball
My goodness, this is a pretty game. I have a soft spot for pixel graphics like this, and KFK puts its best foot forward. Everything looks stylish. Every animation feels like it belongs here. And most importantly, they don’t overload your senses with particle effects and information. The UI is clean, the levels are beautiful to behold, and I can always tell what’s going on. Frankly, I was expecting this game to be kind of a hot mess, but I was really taken aback by the restraint on dispaly. WhaleFood really understands that in a game like this, being able to see everything with clarity is vital.
The music is also great, a nice mixture of rocking action music and specific theme songs for the different levels. The characters’ grunts and yells as they give that ball the business never grates, which is an achievement all on its own. Hitting the bell feels satisfying, and although I would have liked a weightier noise when I hit the ball, it all works together very well. One strange thing is that the game is kind of loud? You can fix that pretty easily in the options menu, but it’s weird that they decided “explosion” was the ideal starting volume.
KungFu Kickball was reviewed on PC via Steam. A review key was provided by Stride PR.