Author’s note: Developers have been taking player feedback seriously and have worked on this game significantly since originally writing this review. Level design has become more accessible, known framerate and graphical errors have been patched out, and general performance has been improved through various patches. This review reflects my experience with the launch version of the game.
Admiring Speedrunning from Afar
Speedrunning is something I will always love from a distance. I enjoy watching streamers go for PBs or bingeing Summoning Salt’s catalogue of videos in one sitting, and GDQ is always a fun time to learn something about a game I’ve never heard of before. Most of the time I avoid deluding myself into thinking I can do it too; Speedrunning requires more patience, persistence, and time than I have at my disposal. 15 minutes of meticulous grinding is far too much for my ape brain to handle. That is why I adore games like Kick Bastards, titles that fit into a genre I’ve personally dubbed “Accessible Speedrunning”. Collections of tightly designed levels that each can be finished in less than 2 minutes, all bundled with satisfying movement, a banging soundtrack to keep you hyped, and a global leaderboard for bragging purposes. Most importantly, there’s always a fantastic community that gets behind these games! It’s the reason I come back for more every single time these kinds of games come out! Thankfully, I can say that Kick Bastards ticks all these boxes, creating an enjoyable and accessible entry into the First-Person Speedrunning Platformer category.
Minimal Narrative, Maximum Gameplay Focus
There isn’t a whole lot of narrative coming out of Kick Bastards. The titular, nameless protagonist wakes up inside a cell surrounded by the fiery pits of Hell. After a small exchange with the Devil, using their amazing Kick and Parkour powers, the nameless figure is determined to escape his prison and return home. With the premise out of the way, the focus strongly remains on the gameplay for most of the player’s time.
Fluid Movement and Responsive Kicking
Standing in contrast with its plain narrative is Kick Bastards fluid movement, with developers ‘Something Something Games’ allowing for speeds unbound in the right circumstances. Having been taught the basics in the first few levels, it’s up to the player to combine and chain mechanics together for maximum velocity. Kicking comes across as intuitive, making entry to the game more accessible while raising the skill ceiling for players that want to push for faster times. Additionally, Kick Bastards movement and kicking feel responsive owing to its sound design. Audio feedback differs from whatever finds itself under the player’s little red shoe, feeling punchy and satisfying. Splintering doors and crushing bones, the loud crack of a freshly booted wall, even the wind rushing past as the player picks up speed.
Soundtrack Energy, Level Length, and Reset Functionality
The high-energy techno soundtrack hypes the player up as the level starts, unfortunately, the levels are rarely long enough to hear the entire tune – and once the reset button has been pressed, the song cycles to the next. While not the biggest gripe I have with the game, after 15 hours of gameplay, the most I’ve heard of a particular song was while watching the trailer. Despite this, the small-ish sample of songs doesn’t get particularly tiring as they all suit Kick Bastards perfectly, lending energy to the player and complementing gameplay. None of this would come together as well as it does if it weren’t for the focused, open-ended level design that is on show throughout the game.
Visual Clarity and Creative Freedom
Visual clarity is baked into Kick Bastards DNA, doors and ramps are colored orange, strongly contrasted against the building’s stark grey or white appearance – preventing confusion and telling the player exactly where they should be heading. Enemies stand out with their detailed models and become highlighted once in range for an attack. Every element of the map can be vaulted over or run along if the player can reach it, allowing for more creativity when running routes through different maps. Replaying a level is made effortless with a single button reset, and levels are brief, meaning there’s very little punishment for failing. Giving the player the most creative freedom are the “Defeat Them All” stages. Tasked with taking out every enemy in a small arena, the onus is placed on the player to find the most efficient way around the map for the best time.
Enemy Variety and Replayability
Unfortunately, these stages also perfectly exemplify the lack of enemy variety throughout Kick Bastards, being almost exclusively made up of near-harmless skeletons. Only a handful of foes litter the dimensions throughout the game, often simply being just another head to step on rather than a danger to be wary of. While other levels do have a larger variety of monsters, including very vocal Demon Buses, many end up feeling like small hazards built into the architecture rather than living entities that pose a genuine threat. Kick Bastards is hugely replayable, as it’s primarily a game built around leaderboards, time improvements, and community collaboration.
Collectibles, Bonus Stages, and Global Leaderboard Bug
The player’s first exposure to these features are the 4 medals each level boasts, demanding an incrementally shorter time to achieve each – ultimately ending with the Developer’s own time. Hidden expertly around the game are “Shoeboxes”, with each unlocking a bonus stage once collected. These stages push the limits of the game’s mechanics and can only be completed once movement has been mastered. Unfortunately, Global Leaderboards are currently bugged and can’t be accessed for most levels. The only way of currently knowing if a top time has been placed is to complete the given stage and look at the end screen. All in all, Kick Bastards is one hell of a time! Despite a handful of small issues I experienced, I still highly recommend picking it up if you enjoy mechanically deep movement and a low-stakes competitive environment.