Welcome To The Fantasy Zone Presents: Kicker

Release date: 1985

Systems: Arcade, Commodore 64, Amstrad, ZX Spectrum

Genre isn’t something inherent in a novel, movie or video game. It’s something we do to it when we consume it, a certain prescription of spectacles. Its creator may or may not have had those spectacles in mind when he or she made it.

Last week, we looked at the part-platformer, part-beat em up, Bruce Lee, on the ZX Spectrum and C64. With its emphasis on dodging spikes and fireballs (elements that – lest we forget – appear in Double Dragon, Golden Axe, Splatterhouse and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and – crucially – the potential to play the game straight through without landing a single punch, it falls squarely on the platformer side of the divide.

Kicker (also known by the far more evocative Shao-Lin’s Road) is the yin to Bruce Lee‘s yang – a beat em up with the occasional precipice to avoid, that nonetheless focuses on kicking goons in the face. As a plucky martial artist, you must clear each stage of bad guys by kicking them. They pour out of doors, and you leap up and down the platforms, kicking ’em. That’s it. Every other stage, you face a boss character, some of whom spew projectiles or perform acrobatic special moves.

Kicker comes complete with some cool, inventive power-ups that showcase a genre still finding its feet, still exciting and experimental. By defeating the green-trousered bad guy on each level, you can acquire two-way lasers, a spiked ball that flies out and returns to you on your command (controlled with a deft flick of the joystick), and brief invincibility.

It’s a fun game. Nearly 30 years later, it still feels nippy and responsive and a cracking – but fair – challenge. The difficulty ramps up nicely as the level progress, but in true Robotron: 2084 style, you never feel like you don’t have the tools to deal with whatever the game throws at you. It’s all a question of skill.

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The Commodore 64 version of Bruce Lee was such a nice surprise last week that I decided to check out the C64 version of Kicker (known under its Shao-Lin’s Road moniker). Oh my God it is such. a fucking. stinker! Appalling collision detection, leaden, unresponsive controls, hunks of swiss cheese that fly on screen for no reason – a tepid tankard of pug-dysentery, basically. DO NOT PLAY.

Next week I want to look at some of the developments in 2D, dual-plane side-scrollers. We’re going to put the side-scrollers of the 80s to bed before we move onto the 90s, people. This means you can look forward to a bit of Altered Beast, some Bad Dudes Vs Dragonninja, some Crude Busters, and a soupcon of Splatterhouse, as well as a few titles off the beaten track. If you have any requests, any suggestions of more obscure games I might have missed out on, even vague memories of ‘ooh I can’t remember the name but you were like this gnome and you headbutted people’, pop ’em in the comments box or send me an email via the ‘Contact Me’ button on the right, and I’ll do my best to locate them.