Let’s face it, football is inherently rather boring. It’s just a bunch of guys running around after a ball, there’s all these barely intelligible rules and yet, for some baffling reason, hundreds if not thousands of people will gleefully watch this and hurl obscenities at their TV screens when their team lets the other team do a goal.
Why you’d want a game of this when you could be playing Farming Simulator 2018 or going for nice long walks to hatch little monsters from their eggs is anyone’s guess. That’s probably why Size Five Games, AKA Dan Marshall, has decided to charge as little as possible for his football game, Behold the Kickmen. As good as it is, you need to be able to have favourable comparisons to the price of cups of coffee, pints of beer, pints of milk, and other consumable liquids. Considering you can buy it now for £2.79 (actually less, because it’s got a launch discount), it stacks up pretty well.
Truth be told, one of the most enjoyable things about Behold the Kickmen up until the moment you play it has been Dan Marshall’s steady stream of amusing tweets about its development process. As a fan of his steampunk heist ’em up The Swindle – which is really great, by the way – seeing his veritable fever dream of tweeting about the early stages of Behold the Kickmen’s creation was fantastic. Dan’s not a football fan, he doesn’t know the “real” rules of the game, and he very much doesn’t even want to.
Everything about this game has been pushed through the lens of someone who thinks the fervour surrounding football is excessive and ridiculous, then filtered through someone with a great sense of humour. The famously difficult to understand offside rule is twisted into a deus ex machina event that strikes out of the blue, creating a danger zone across half of the circular pitch at any time, scoring a goal rewards you with a little kiss from the referee (or is that umpire?), the best team in the world is Brazil United, the tutorial gradually covers more and more of the screen with interesting “facts” about the sport. The list of silliness goes on and on.
Yet it actually, and somewhat ironically, does understand what football actually is, or more accurately, what football video games are. Gearing up for a shot or a tackle is hugely overblown, slowing the game down, bringing up bombastic screen-wide visual effects and, in the case of shooting at goal, making it more likely that the ball will spray off in a completely different direction to the one you’d intended as the aiming cone widens. Passing the ball is sharp and snappy, with a clear little line drawn between the Soldier you’re in control of and the one he’ll pass to, you’ve also got sprinting, the ability to keep control of the ball when tackling, aftertouch once you’ve done a Big Kick, dodges and Goldkeeper fumbles and abysmal positioning.
Yes, it’s taking all of these ideas to the extremes, but a lot of this is actually not that far removed from what you’ll see in FIFA or PES. Another thing it has in common with FIFA is a story mode, with a rags to riches tale as you battle your way up through the Big Boring British Football Spreadsheet. Your self-named character immediately comes across the ridiculous Pedro Brutus of Brazil United, and you then play match after match, unlocking each new move as you go – you don’t even start with the ability to pass or tackle. It’s here that Dan Marshall gets to stretch his comedic legs, and leads to the surprise that Kickmen is purely single player.
There’s other signs that Dan didn’t really know if this would be good and/or successful, with a number of rough edges, such as the mouse-only menus in a game that demands the use of a controller in the splash screens when you start the game, and how awkwardly tiny some screens are.
I’ll forgive those menu faux pas, simply because the music’s so damn good. Just like the story artwork, the music has common ground with The Swindle, but it’s cranked up to 11. It’s like a playlist of chip tunes played at 2x speed, and speaking of narcotics, like having speed converted into musical form and then poured into your ear canals. It’s probably too excessive for most, but I love it.
Honestly, Behold the Kickmen is nonsense, but it’s good nonsense. It’s the kind of nonsense that you dream up when you’re messing around and chatting with your mates, but it’s been turned into a video game, and it kind of just about works. Behold the Kickmen is really quite rough around the edges, but it manages to be a game that I think will somehow be appreciated by those who love sports games and those who hate them.
Also, it’s only £2.79 and if enough people buy it Dan might be convinced to add multiplayer, fix up the menus, and potentially bring a Kickmen game to console.