In case you haven't been paying attention to the calendar, we recently stumbled into the year 2014. The future is finally upon us, thanks in large part to the release of new game consoles from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. But instead of looking forward with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, my first review assignment of the year tackles a brand new game on an old system. 2014 starts out with StreetKix: Freestyle, a new soccer/rhythm title for Sony's nine-year-old PlayStation Portable.
You read that right; this is a new PSP game. Coming straight from Brazil, StreetKix: Freestyle is a delightful competitive ball juggling game. It's an intriguing mix between a traditional rhythm game and a one-on-one fighter. Two players duel over points, all while keeping that soccer ball in the air with increasingly complicated trick kicks.
If any of this sounds familiar, then it's probably because you've played a game called Bust-A-Groove on Sony's original PlayStation. Instead of focusing on juggling a soccer ball, Bust-A-Groove was a dancing competition full of colorful characters and time-sensitive button presses. Ilusis Interactive may have changed the location and sport, but StreetKix: Freestyle might as well be an extension of 1998's quirkiest dancing game.
The gameplay is simple and accessible, requiring players to repeat simple patterns on the D-pad and PSP face buttons. The D-pad presses can be done at any time, but the final face button will require a press that is perfectly timed to the beat of the song. For example, the player will be asked to press left, right and up, followed by the circle button to continue the trick.
But here's where it gets tricky; players have a choice when it comes to their next move. Instead of pressing circle after that move, players can hit the X button and bring up a whole new trick, which branches off to other maneuvers. This allows players to cycle through a bunch of different moves, forming a path to a high score and an easy victory over the opponent.
Of course, not every move is easy to pull off. Each combo starts off with a simple two or three-button pattern, but some of the harder tricks will have you quickly trying to hit five or six notes in the correct order. Couple that with trying to hit the final button on the right beat and it's easy to see why StreetKix can be so overwhelming.
Sadly, you don't have a large stable of soccer juggling tricks from the start. In order to earn new moves, our hero is forced to walk around the music-themed neighborhoods, challenging people to a game of soccer ball juggling. After thoroughly embarrassing the colorful townspeople, we're given a quick lesson that results in a brand new move. You'll spend the rest of the time traveling around the city picking up tricks, all which will help you defeat the mysterious boss.
On top of earning new tricks, our hero also snags new shirts and soccer balls. The different soccer balls have special magical abilities, which can be performed after completing a perfect combo. But don't slack off, because you'll quickly discover that the various enemies (with stupid names like Yo Bass Strike, Wild Kitty and Heavy Ozz) also have special attacks of their own.
As goofy as a soccer ball juggling fighting game sounds, it's actually a great deal of fun. Maybe I'm just a sucker for this type of rhythm game, but I had a good time piecing together different juggling tricks and special attacks. Even if it's not especially original, StreetKix: Freestyle had enough charm to keep me going from start to finish in one sitting.
That brings up a few of the game's big problems. For one thing, I was able to play through the whole thing in one sitting. While I am normally a fan of brevity, it felt like the game's ending was rushed and anticlimactic. Furthermore, I never fully understood our hero's quest. It seemed like he was just wandering around, going through a linear path through several different neighborhoods. I wasn't expecting it to be over so quickly.
On the other hand, I'm not sure I needed to see much more of StreetKix: Freestyle. Even with the new moves, the game doesn't throw much variety your way. Furthermore, I was sick of hearing the same few songs repeated in every duel. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed much of the music in this game. The sound quality is a little iffy, but most of the songs are catchy and worth juggling a soccer ball to. However, there aren't enough songs in the game. You'll spend most of the time hearing the same few songs until you can't take it anymore.
Also disappointing are the title's mini games, which include parodies of Rock Band and Fruit Ninja. As a huge fan of the Rock Band series, I couldn't wait to try out the virtual drums. Sadly, the whole thing came off as a cheap knockoff, burdened by clumsy controls and bad graphics. And in case you were wondering, the Fruit Ninja parody didn't fare any better. You're better off sticking to the ball bouncing.
After spending the last two years playing games on the PS Vita, it was tough to go back to the PSP. The visuals are noticeably low-res, often to the point of being a little blurry. Also, I had completely forgotten that the PSP only had one analog nub. It took the entire play session for me to get used to not having proper camera control. Thankfully, neither of these PSP-related issues are a deal breaker. Just know that you're not getting a brand new Vita game.
Speaking of the PS Vita, StreetKix: Freestyle is fully compatible with Sony's newest handheld. It downloaded right from the store to the system, so don't be miffed by it being listed as a PSP title.
StreetKix: Freestyle is a fun throwback to a sub-genre we rarely see anymore. These days, music games are almost always about guitars and creating music, not seeing who is the trickier soccer ball juggler. It's a bit shallow and anticlimactic, but StreetKix: Freestyle is an oddity worth recommending.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
It's questionable how accurate this is, but this is all that's known about Cyril Lachel: A struggling writer by trade, Cyril has been living off a diet of bad games, and a highly suspect amount of propaganda. Highly cynical, Cyril has taken to question what companies say and do, falling ever further into a form of delusional madness. With the help of quality games, and some greener pastures on the horizon, this back-to-basics newsman has returned to provide news so early in the morning that only insomniacs are awake.