Ah yes...who could forget Kick Master, a Taito game made late in the NES' lifespan? Well, I guess I should point out the keywords: "late" and "NES". While big companies like Nintendo and Sega had moved on to greener pastures with the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, Taito, developer of incredible arcade classics, wasn't exactly finished with the NES just yet. Unfortunately, many ordinary gamers were...and so were the gaming publications of the time. With that being said, Kick Master slipped into the gaming world undetected by the masses and only showed its face and told its story to the few who cared to listen. Lucky for me, I cared to listen. After all, how could anyone resist the cartridge? It has a guy who looks like a Tae Kwon Do master and he is going up against a creepy wizard and terrifying monsters. Once I later saw the plot for the game on the back of its box, I HAD to play this game.
Kick Master takes place in the Kingdom of Lowrel, a once peaceful place that has been burned by the monstrous forces of Belzed, a cruel wizard. The king and queen are killed, and their only child, Silphee, is kidnapped for unknown reasons. All of the castle guards are defeated in battle, except for the powerful knight named Macren. Macren and his younger brother Thonolan, an aspiring martial artist, take off on a long journey to rescue the princess and defeat Belzed...isn't that just nice? Of all the things in the world that Thonolan could have been, he's a martial artist. Not an archer, squire, samurai, or even a robot...a martial artist. Why does it matter what this Thonolan guy does? It matters because YOU control that "Thonolan guy". At the start of the game, Macren is slain by a skeleton soldier...and only Thonolan, with his great kicking skills, can save the kingdom....wow, the only thing I can say is that the plot for this game is VERY original, though it makes absolutely no sense. However, it does provide an unintentional humor that makes playing Kick Master more enjoyable.
For a late NES release, Taito does not disappoint in the visual department. As you travel around the Kingdom of Lowrel, you will see some detailed backgrounds and even more detailed bosses...all of which can be kicked in several ways and in different amounts. You come up against a group of the undead...just kick them. You fight a wizard...kick him in the gonads. You fight a friggin' Kraken and...you guessed it...you can kick it in the face too. It's a good thing that Thonolan kicks all the detailed foes he comes across because the animation that goes into each and every kick is fluid and worth watching. The animation of the enemies is also excellent, though some enemies don't possess the same level of attention to detail as others in terms of animation. Still, it's enjoyable just watching Thonolan kick them into oblivion.
Thonolan's sprite does sorta remind me of Richter Belmont from Dracula X or a Belmont in general (which is why the game is often seen as a Castlevania clone) and the color usage in some areas such as the "Ship of Strife" could have been touched up. Still, Kick Master also has a few cool special effects such as lightning, water rippling in the background, and other cool effects too. Thonolan's wonderful kicks rival that of Chuck Norris' fancy footwork and to make things even better, Thonolan ain't the only thing kicking in this game. Kick Master has a kickin' soundtrack that seriously reminds me of Castlevania at times. The first level tune is particularly great and sets the mood as you fight your way to the end of the level with the fast paced fantasy tune playing in the background. The sound effects are average fare; they are neither annoying nor particularly memorable, but that is probably for the best. I don't think that anyone likes aggravating sounds accompanying good music.
Kick Master is often compared to Castlevania and/or Ninja Gaiden, but while the game does share similarities with those games, Kick Master offers its own style that sets it apart from both of the aforementioned titles. You see, Thonolan is not just an aspiring martial artist (as the story states), he is a Kick Master and believe me when I say that there is a huge difference between the two. The game is interesting in the fact that Thonolan never uses his hands to fight...ever. Instead, Kick Master uses basic RPG elements and Thonolan uses nothing but his legs in every way humanly possible and not-so-possible. He will gain different attacks when he gains experience points from defeated enemies and levels up. Such attacks include a flying kick, a sliding kick, flip kick, a knee drop (a very effective technique), and more. All of the attacks are very useful in different circumstances and he can use these moves to attack above him, below him, and even in multiple directions at once.
Besides gaining new attacks from leveling up, Thonolan's life bar is increased and he can also carry more magic power. When enemies are defeated, they burst like a piñata and candy comes out...only it isn't candy, but various other items. Such items include items for points, items for experience points, 1-ups, and magic potions that give the hero magic points...OK, so maybe the title is a little misleading. Kick Master has more than just kicking...Thonolan can also use twelve different spells that he obtains during his journey. I won't lie to you; as fantastiriffic as Thonolan's kicking prowess is, the spells in this game are awesome and you will want to use most of them at some point. Thonolan can use magic to walk on spikes, fly, stun all enemies for a brief period, heal (small and large damage), a spell to help locate items, create a shadow clone of himself, create a force field, and several attack spells. One attack spell bounces all over walls and can be used to hit enemies in annoying areas...another one shoots a shockwave that grows in size the further it travels...and the last two spells I didn't mention yet are two lightning spells that can be used to take out big groups of enemies.
Naturally, this game has its faults, though I am glad to say that they are few and relatively minor. The spells are great, but the spell to walk on spikes, the shadow clone, and the spell that helps you find items...they aren't really needed. The controls may also throw people off initially since you cast magic with the select button and some maneuvers can get you into a tight spot if used carelessly. The game is also moderately challenging, is fairly lengthy (if you want to see the credits), and you may have to access your magic select menu a lot. Thankfully, you have passwords so that you can quit whenever you want and resume play later on. Besides those small issues, the game is solid in nearly every way and I find it interesting that you control an aspiring martial artist in a medieval/fantasy setting. In the end, while Thonolan can kick the undead, wolves, giant squids, dark knights, ninjas, balls of pure energy, amphibians, mimics, an evil wizard capable of destroying a kingdom, and even karate kick a trail into the soft spot of my heart, Kick Master could not kick up enough popularity for a sequel. It hasn't been ported in any way that I am aware of and that's just a shame. If you are looking for an unknown classic and something to pass the time (since I've probably bored you half to death with "kick" puns), I strongly recommend that you play this game post-haste. - Written by Vyse the determined -