The image above is what you see as soon as you boot up Behold the Kickmen. It sets the tone for the rest of the game. And , if like me, you saw that image and wondered why someone would spend so much time of their life making a game about something they have clear contempt for, then I have the unpleasant task of telling you that after finishing this game I still don’t have an answer.
Behold the Kickmen is a football game by someone who does not like football. It is meant to be a game that satirizes some of the silliest aspects of the sport and of its fandom. This is achieved by its story mode, which is made up of visual novel style slides between matches, and an arcady version of football that serves as the bulk of the gameplay. There is also a team management sheet, but it is pretty pointless, and, as the game likes to point at any opportunity, boring.
Behold the Kickmen puts you in the role of a talented up and coming kickman (which is the word the game uses for player) that you name. I named mine Master Kickman becasue it seemed appropriate. You are the son of a famous Kickman that won the world cup in ’65 (or ’66 or ’64 the game purposely is unclear about this detail) and now you year to bring the World Cup back for your club team, while at the same time thwarting your rival Pedro of current title holders Brazil United. If its not obvious by now, part of the humor of the game lies on getting things purposely wrong. The cup Master Kickman is competing is the World Cup despite playing for club teams, and the Premier League being the worst league in a game that is clearly inspired on English football. The referees are umpires, players are kickmen, etc… It is not hard to image some irate stereotype of a football fan being irate about this intentional mislabeling.
Sadly, this little bit of humor does not translate to the rest of the satire. Behold the Kickmen’s tone is not that of an outside observer looking at the sport in a different light and highlighting how silly it can be at times; a point of view that even a fan of the sport can be appealing. Rather, it comes off as bitter and dismissive. It comments over and over how over paid athletes are, but this information is never relayed in the format of a joke or clever quip, instead it comes across as a rant. The game is also strangely homophobic. Anyone who listens to our podcast knows I have no particular objections to a gay joke. But in this case being gay is the joke, and it is particularly jarring as the game styles itself as most sophisticated than those its mocking at the same time. The story itself seems to be a mishmash of things the developer doesn’t like about football and sports movie cliches. There is the plot about your father and the mandatory sports rivalry, as well as weird plots about some conspiracy that never materializes, another one about your coach romancing your mother, a bomb… it goes on. None of it is funny. While I understand that this isn’t meant to be a serious story, some focus would have served it greatly. Maybe fewer random threads would have given the creator time to come up with some actual jokes.
The rest of your time in the game you will spend footballing. The game takes place on a circular field that is surrounded by a sort of force field so you won’t have throw-ins. Both teams field 9 players including the goalies, in formations that don’t really matter, as the AI seemingly runs around randomly. When you have the ball you can kick, pass, use the bumpers to do a sort of quick dodge, and sprint. Shooting from far away makes a goal worth more, for a maximum of 3 points per goal. In one of the most baffling design decisions I’ve seen, the button for passing and kicking are the same button. This means that if you are holding the passing button to wait for a timed pass, you will end up kicking instead. It also means that if you want to take a quick kick, you will end up passing instead. In defense, you really only have one recourse, which is to tackle. If you time the tackle right, your player will retain the ball. You cannot change on the fly which player you control in defense, as you can in other games. This means that you might end up with a player that is far from the action, watching helplessly as the bad AI fails to defend.
There is no offside rule in this game. Or rather, there is an offside rule that is arbitrary and random, as I am sure the developer feels the real world rule is. This means the computer AI will camp in front of your goal and wait for the ball that come to it, and the defending AI is not smart enough to get in its way. It ends up being a wonderful illustration of why the rule exists in the real world. The AI, in fact, can do a lot of things the player cannot. AI players can spring into position when not holding the ball. The AI can do quick pin point passes and shoot immediately upon receiving the ball, which the player cannot. In fact, the AI can very easily destroy you when it wants to. It is an idiot savant, which has flashes of unmatched brilliance in an existence shrouded in complete idiocy. It is not rare to be up eight or ten goals and having the AI catch up in a few seconds by passing really quick and getting around your own stupid players and useless goalies (which to be fair are useless for both sides) before going back to being competently inefficient.
When the game begins, you will not have access to all of your moves, only basic movement, tackling and kicking. You must learn passing, sprinting, etc… by winning matches. You will earn all the moves so quickly and the game is such a chore without them, I am not sure why that feature is there at all, especially becasue Behold the Kickmen has a completely separate and much longer lived upgrade system. When you do something impressive in the game and fans get riled up, you get money. That money is banked whenever you score. This means you are supposed to hold off scoring to do impressive things to let money accumulate before you score. With that money, you can upgrade your team. There are several categories you can upgrade, but you only really need Staminae, which makes your team run faster and longer. This was the promising feature of the game, and I feel it could have worked. But the AI holds it back. There is very little reason to delay scoring, because you don’t know when your team’s AI will decide to get in position to allow you to do all those cool plays or when the enemy AI will have flash of brilliance and score several 3 point goals in quick succession. And as mentioned before, the game is quite playable without it, as you only really need to upgrade Staminae. You can also change your formation and where your players are, but they are all the same so its pretty pointless.
The problem with Behold the Kickman can best summed up this way; when you make a bad game as a joke, you still made a bad game. And I am not even sure that the game play is bad on purpose. Adding to that the bad, and unfunny campaign, I am not sure who I can recommend this to. There are far better arcade football games you can play if you don’t want to play a strict sim. There is also no multiplayer, which severely limits the replayablity of this title. To be quite frank, however, if there was a multiplayer, the core gameplay is so bad, I am not sure it would be worth playing. If you are looking to play it for the satire, I would counsel against it. I get humor is subjective so maybe it works for you, but with the heavy undertones of bitterness and anger, I am not sure how it could be funny for anyone who doesn’t share in those feelings. And if that is the case, the I guess Behold the Kickmen is for you, but everyone else should avoid them.