Review by Dave Giarrusso



Graphics: 7

Sound: 6

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

KickmanWhich ONE of the following items doesn’t belong?

A) Balloons
B) Pac-Men
C) Fish
D) Unicycles
E) Clowns
F) Bombs

If you said, "F) Bombs," you’re wrong. The answer, of course, is "C) Fish." If you’re looking for a nice fun, fish-filled videogame, grab a copy of Fishing Derby and your Atari 2600 and knock yourself out. The rest of the items listed above are all elements of the fantastic arcade game, Kickman, or depending on where you played it, "Kick", man. It was released with both titles.

Once upon a time, I remember reading an article that said something to the effect of, "...can you imagine a Pac-Man sequel that DIDN’T make it?" I know a lot of people would immediately point to Pac-Land (though I happen to like that game quite a bit), but the author was referring to Kickman, a game that I’ve always considered a Pac-Man crossover or even a spin-off, but not really a sequel. The article may have gone on to say that Kickman began as a sequel, but didn’t end up as one. Whatever it said, the magazine has been defunct for over ten years now, but I’m still playing Kickman.

In Kickman, you assume the guise of a mild-mannered, unicycle riding, machine-gun totin’ clown, who maneuvers only to the left and the right of a one point perspective city scape via a horizontally constrained trackball. Wait, scratch the machine gun. He does have a hat pin up his sleeve though. Two round, oversized, orange, backlit buttons sit on either side of the trackball, marked "KICK" When pressed, they cause the clown to kick (you don’t say) his big clown feet out to either side of the unicycle. Pressing the button repeatedly and rapidly causes ol’ Clownie to bust a groove. Almost.

Why would we want to make our unicycle riding clown kick? A valid question. Above our hero are several balloons, twelve at the outset, then twenty four after the first board. In a sort of "Circus Atari-in-reverse" tactic, Clownie’s job is to catch all the balloons on his head, without dropping any. If one should fall past his head, he needs to hurry up and KICK it back up in the air with his big floppy clown feet, and then catch the balloon on the rebound. Should a balloon fall down past the Clownmeister and fail to be kicked, WHAM! He promptly falls off his unicycle, his hat falls off, he screams out "crappity-crud!" (oops, maybe that was me yelling), and any balloons that were on his head bounce on his back and off the screen. Oh the pain!

The first board is very easy: simply try to catch the balloons on your head where they will immediately pop. If you’re a greedy pointmaster like me, you can kick each one of them first for a nice 2000 point bonus upon completion of the round.

After round one, catching the balloons on your head makes them pile up in a column on your hat. The more you catch, the less distance the balloons have to travel before catching them, and consequently, the less time you have to maneuver Uni-clownie underneath them. After catching the maximum allowed number of balloons, Clowninator will pop them all with a pin in his hand, and you’ll warp back to the center of the screen. Unless...

Unless there happen to be Pac-Men on the screen. If you catch a Pac-Man, he will eat any balloons on your head on the way down (more points), or, if he’s already on your head and the balloons max out, he’ll just look up and eat ‘em all (fewer points). During later rounds, the monsters from the Pac-series also make an appearance, and score the most points of any of the targets.

Clear a couple of rounds, and you’ll find yourself hanging out between a couple of skyscrapers on the bonus stage. Evidently, the people who live and/or work in said skyscrapers have balanced their checkbooks and/or finished writing their hundred page briefs, and have nothing better to do than hurl balloons, and the occasional bomb, at Mr. Happy Clown. Clownie must catch all the balloons and steer clear of the bombs in order to receive the big points. I find it odd that catching an exploding bomb doesn’t "kill" Clownie, (no lives are lost during the bonus round) but failing to catch a balloon does. It’s just that "bonus round logic" hard at work.

As the game progresses, the difficulty is increased by faster dropping targets and, multiple simultaneous falling targets. That is, if one balloon falls, and you fail to catch it, and you kick it in an effort to catch it on the rebound, good luck! Another balloon has already started falling, so now you’ll have to successfully juggle BOTH balloons in an effort to escape the dreaded unicycle dismount ("death.")

This game is incredibly fun. For starters the beautifully cartoony graphics are superb, and the background, while simple, gives the scene plenty of depth without overpowering the action (heads up, Capcom). The music won the 1981 Grammy award for "Best circus-theme music in an arcade video game," and the sound effects are perfect. We are even treated to many of the sounds of Pac-Man: the Pac-Man "siren" goes off when Pac heads down the screen; upon landing on Clownie’s head, we hear the Pac-death theme; and when Pac scarfs down the targets, we get the Pac-gobblin’ sound. Gotta love those gaming-crossovers.

Kickman is a wacky game that, after the first few rounds, rivals classic aerobic workouts like Track-N-Field, Marble Madness, Atari Football, or Dunk Shot. If you’ve missed that lunch-hour step class or your racquetball partner decided that he or she needed to grout the kitchen tile instead of meeting you at game time, head on down to the arcade and play a few rounds of Kickman. Make it to the fourth round and you’ll be sure to burn off the extra calories from that luncheon of steak and crab legs. If you don’t like clowns because of some irrational fear of them that sprung out of a childhood circus trauma, you’ll still dig Kickman. Just let those balloons sail on past Clownie and watch him eat the pavement a couple of times. Or ten.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:27 PM