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Review: Behold the Kickmen

Can a videogame be a comedy sketch? UK duo Size Five Games thinks so, and its growing oeuvre reads (or plays) more and more like the gaming equivalent of an old-school BBC sketch comedy show. The latest addition is this: a comedy ‘football’ (i.e. soccer) game, which claims on its splash screen that its developer knows nothing about “the football” and made no attempt to recreate the sport accurately.

The game instead focuses on the basics of kicking, passing, tackling… and aftertouch? “It’s only Football,” the game says. “How hard can it be?”` The eponymous Kickmen do battle on an unexpectedly circular football pitch, and goalies – sorry, “goldkeepers” – are entirely AI-controlled. This is ball-sports at its leanest.

You can’t select which Kickman you control, control just snaps to the next team member, often capriciously. Controlling the ball imposes a running-speed penalty, allowing other Kickmen to tackle. When a team member is within range, a line connects them to the player with the ball.

Passing is as simple as tapping a button. Holding and releasing the same button does a Big Kick, where more power means less accuracy. Like real Football, the aim is to “do a goal”.

The Offside Rule can come into effect at any time, where half the field becomes “offside” and you need to race to the on-side to avoid a penalty. Tackling a player without the ball also imposes a penalty. Aftertouch means using the left-right controls to curve the ball after it’s been kicked – a feature real-life soccer players would probably love.

And Dash allows a dribbling player to scoot left or right and become temporarily immune to tackling – but they must lose and regain control of the ball before they can use Dash again. And so, these simple mechanics combine with elegant animations and a surprisingly deft sense of kinetics to produce… a genuinely fun little soccer(ish) game. Sure, it’s more Foosball than FIFA, but the speed of the players and the ball, and the way it bounces crazily off objects, and the speed of a Big Kick, all just work.

On top of all this foolishness is an even more foolish career mode. A rookie Kickman must lead his team from the bottom of the ladder to win the World Cup, all the while suffering the taunts of the evil Brazilian elite Kickman, Pedro Brutus. Insinuations about your father’s mangled corpse won’t be enough to kill your dream of becoming the world’s greatest Kickman… and superior chaining of abilities and tricks sees the fans almost literally hurl money at your team.

Okay, so it’s a comedy game about how people take soccer too seriously. You won’t be investing 100 hours in this thing. But for less than five bucks, Behold the Kickmen represents genuine value for money.

And thanks to clever programming and a good eye for what makes a soccer video game work, Size Five has, perhaps unwittingly, created a surprisingly good-hearted, and playable, parody of The Wonderful Game (sic).

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