Monday, April 28, 2008

Master Kick Review

Master Kick, developed and published by Industry Entertainment.
The Good: Fast pace, custom formations, league play, fair computer opponents, very low system requirements, available for multiple platforms (Windows, Linux, Mac, Palm, Windows Mobile)
The Not So Good: Poor controls makes playing very frustrating, low resolution graphics makes it hard to see the action, no multiplayer
What say you? A foosball game hampered by an odd control system and the lack of PC features: 4/8

Did you know that foosball has been around for over 100 years? Me neither. This bar and rumpus room favorite has been causing injuries (both physical and mental) for years. But what if you don’t have another person to potentially injure with a fast-moving rock-hard ball? That’s where Master Kick comes in, a foosball game originally developed for the mobile platforms but now available for your desktop operating system of choice (Windows, Linux, or Mac). Does this game capture the excitement of its real-world counterpart?

Master Kick was originally designed for mobile platforms, and the game certainly hasn’t been enhanced for desktop operating systems with much larger screens. The game is set at a fixed resolution of 480 by 320, and boy does it look small. It’s so small that the game is nearly unplayable if you have a high native desktop resolution. The graphics are decent, considering the resolution the game is played at, with animated players and some special effects like snow. Still, this is clearly a title made for slow machines and overall Master Kick appears very archaic. While it’s nice the developers have ported the game over to the major desktop operating systems, they could have at least bumped the resolution up to make the game easier to see. Master Kick also features pretty generic sound effects: the ball bouncing and the crowd cheering. Of course, these frugal features means the game is small (2.88 MB) and it runs on pretty much any machine. Overall, though, the transition from mobile to desktop formats did not come with any enhancements in Master Kick.

Master Kick is a foosball game (I think I’ve made that pretty clear so far). The game lets you play a quick match against the AI or engage in a round-robin league, which is pretty cool. For a game, you need to pick a team to lead; all of them are exactly the same except in uniform color. One cool feature is the ability to choose a formation, as you can pick from a real soccer arrangement (4-4-2, 3-6-2, et cetera). This puts some strategy into the game: do you want to play aggressively, defensively, or somewhere in the middle. This is a great feature for the leagues, as you can be more offensive-minded for must-win games or protect the net for can’t-lose games. You will also need to set the CPU difficulty level, field type (grass, snow, et cetera), and match type (timed or first to five goals). The CPU is a very challenging opponent, even on the easiest difficulty levels, and should prove to be quite an obstacle for any skill level. There isn’t any multiplayer for Master Kick, even on the same computer. While online play is a feature I assumed was going be missing, not allowing multiplayer on the same computer when one person can use the mouse and another can use the keyboard is puzzling.

And that brings us to the game’s downfall: the controls. They are simple enough: use the mouse or the keyboard to move the players up and down (just like you would do in real life) and press, hold, then release the mouse button or arrow keys to shoot. The game only spins one set of players at a time, so most of the game you’ll be constantly clicking in order to keep everyone in motion. But here is the fundamental problem with Master Kick: in real foosball, when you start to spin the players, the players start to spin. In Master Kick, when you start to spin the player, you have to wait before you power up and then release the button before the players start to spin. In addition, it takes a fraction of a second too long from when you release the button to when they begin to spin. These lag times add up, and you need to be about three or four seconds ahead of the action to be successful. This means that Master Kick is more about luck than skill, and that’s quite disappointing. Master Kick is also really difficult, as it’s almost impossible to get the timing down correctly. Playing foosball in real life is far easier than playing foosball in Master Kick.

A simple game such as this needs almost flawless controls, and Master Kick lacks that critical feature. I like a number of the features in the game, namely league play, formations, and support for multiple operating systems. But the controls are too delayed and cumbersome to be enjoyable or even usable. It’s frustrating when you see the ball coming but it takes 2-3 seconds for your players to respond, the time required to press the shoot key, power up, and release. It’s just a whole lot easier to play foosball in real life. The graphics need to be easier to see on the PC and the addition of same-computer multiplayer would be cool. Master Kick is also a bit pricey at $20; I feel the game would be more suited for the $10 level considering the amount of casual fun it delivers. While Master Kick might be fun on a mobile platform, the poor controls and lack of PC-specific enhancements make it a less than stellar title for computers.