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Review: Kick-Ass (PSN)

6:00 PM on 05.03.2010 // Nick Chester

Frozen Codebase's Kick-Ass already has two things working against it. One, it's a movie tie in videogame. On top of that, it's not even a full retail title, instead a game in the PlayStation Network digital download space, where smaller games are often looked at as being of dubious quality.

But the film opened to great reviews from fans of action flicks, many of them gamers themselves. So in name alone, Kick-Ass had already caught the attention of its target audience. But does the game live up to the movie's hype? Can it take the action role-playing beat 'em up formula and make it interesting as a downloadable title?

Hit the jump for the full review.

Kick-Ass (PlayStation Network)
Developer: Frozen Codebase
Publisher: WHA Entertainment
Released: May 29, 2010

MSRP: $14.99

As far as brawler role-playing games go, Kick-Ass is about as no-frills as a title can get. While a solid gameplay foundation can often be a game's biggest strengths -- leaning on tried-and-true mechanics to support support it,  despite its repetitive nature -- Kick-Ass doesn't even manage that.

Players can choose from three characters -- Kick-Ass, Hit Girl, and Big Daddy -- in the offline two-player cooperative beat 'em up. While each character has his or her own attacks, they're more or less functionally identical. Each comes equipped with light and strong attacks, a jump, and a selection of three special attacks.

The game has you pummeling crowds of thugs across eight missions, each with multiple objectives like "go there," "get here," and "go here and press circle to plant C4." Despite having two attack buttons, there's no noticeable way to string combos together. Instead, you rapidly tap one button or the other to unleash a series of attacks, doing this over and over again until you clear one area and are asked to move on to another.

Games of this style are understandably plagued with button-mashing repetitive gameplay, but Kick-Ass is particularly offensive in that truly nothing truly different happens from the first mission through the last. The game's "bosses" are nothing really but re-skinned thugs with additional health and more powerful attacks that require the same offensive tactics you'll use in every other part of your mission. Even the game's final area, which puts machine gun-mounted jet packs on players, is an exercise in mindlessness.

To make matters worse, despite the fact that players will earn experience points for taking out enemies, the "upgrades" to each character is completely underwhelming. You can dump points in offense, defense, and special, yet the only changes are behind the scenes. Your attacks do a bit more damage, but you won't get any new combos, for instance. Even upgrading specials doesn't give you the opportunity to get new attacks -- you're stuck with the same three you started with at the game's outset.

When played with a friend or alone, the game can also get extremely frustrating starting around the third or fourth mission. Enemies start doing more and more damage, so you'll find yourself hopping around the level and using a ground pound technique to avoid death. Each character has a dodge, but I found that using it in the heat of battle would just find me getting hit from behind when trying to escape or evade. So hopping around it was.

It doesn't help that the game's checkpoints are also inconsistent; there were some stretches between objectives that were so long that I found myself dying and having to replay large chunks of the game over and over again. I soon found the best way to get through these more difficult areas, though -- spamming the "heavy attack." Dumping all of my upgrade points into offense seemed to be the best tactic, making the the special attacks -- the only thing that might break up the repetitive action -- completely pointless.

Despite there being a few hours of game here, there's little actual content in Kick-Ass. I've already covered how repetitive it is, but allow me to add the fact that you'll be finding the same enemies over and over again, and at least one area is repeated in the story campaign. Sure, once the game is finished you'll unlock an arena mode and a new difficulty mode. But it's unlikely, outside of wanting to net some PlayStation trophies, that you'll want to continue playing once the credits have rolled.

The game is also a missed opportunity to deliver some (excuse the usage) "kick-ass" content to fans of both the comic book and the movie. It would have been cool if Frozen Codebase would have explored the world outside of the film or comic book narrative, but instead it delivers the same content you're likely already familiar with. Those who haven't seen the movie (or read the comic, despite changes) will have it spoiled for them, and those who have probably won't care enough to even pay attention.

Even the extra content is a disappointed -- you find and unlock the covers of all eight comic books, and eventually unlock the entire first issue. But for little more than the price of the digital download, you can buy the entire series in a single collection, which is probably a better use of your cash.

It should also be noted that the game suffers from odd production and technical problems throughout. The sound mix, for example, is all over the place. And when it comes to large crowds of enemies, the game can't keep up, and the framerate suffers considerably.

It's unfortunate that the potential of Kick-Ass to be a solid RPG beat 'em up is never fulfilled. The game never really takes off, relying on very few tricks to support itself from beginning to end. With more substantial character upgrades or even some truly "must have" extra content, the game could have found a place in the collection of Kick-Ass fans. As it stands, you're better off spending your cash on the graphic novel collection or popcorn and the movie.

Score: 3 -- Poor (3s went wrong somewhere along the line. The original idea might have promise, but in practice the game has failed. Threatens to be interesting sometimes, but rarely.)

For more Kick-Ass, check out the first ten minute of the game in our video Ten Minute Taste.

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Nick Chester, Former Editor-in-Chief (2011)
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