Gadgetorama reviews Master Kick by Industry Entertainment

 

Introduction

Master Kick from Industry Entertainment takes the classic game of foosball, shrinks the table and players into a version that will fit on your Pocket PC and throws in a pinch of soccer (or football depending on where you’re from) realism for more entertainment. It also promises a great atmosphere, addictive gameplay, amazing visual effects and vivid sound effects.

A little history

Foosball was invented in the 1930s somewhere in Europe (Germany, France and Spain all seem to be possibilities according to various sources). Suffice it to say that the game quickly grew in popularity and is often a fixture in bars and cafés. Foosball tables first appeared in North America in the 1950s but did not really catch on until the late 1960s. Today a number of variations of the game can be found.

Traditionally, the game features 4 rows of players to a side, one being dedicated to the goalkeeper. They are mounted on rods that move sideways and spin so that the players can move laterally and kick the ball. Like soccer, the objective to score goals by passing the ball back and forth between players.

Beginning a new game Goal!
Figure 1: Starting a new game Figure 2: Goal!

Installation

There is not much to tell here. I installed the game through ActiveSync, simply following the usual prompts. I run the game from a storage card with no issues.

Master Kick takes up just over 3MB of storage capacity.

Time for a game

When you start up the game, the first thing you have to do is ‘Insert coin’. This serves absolutely no purpose and gets annoying pretty quickly. Fortunately, one tap and it’s gone. Your options (Figure 1) are then to play a Quick Match, run a League, see the Options, see the Credits or Exit.

Let’s start with a Quick Match to see what Master Kick is all about. Selecting all the default options, we are quickly ready. You will immediately notice that the entire field does not fit on the screen. Rather than shrinking the field and losing a lot of detail, the action scrolls back and forth, following the ball. The action flows furiously as you try to try to move the ball up to your front row to score a goal (or not so furiously as you struggle to get past a particularly tough line of opponents).

When you score a goal or let one through (Figure 2), the crowd goes wild and an instant replay lets you relive your moment of fame or shame. You can skip it by tapping the screen to immediately resume the match. Definitely a useful feature when you would rather not watch your goalie completely miss the ball! 3 minutes later, the final whistle blows one last time to mark the end of the game.

The game comes with six different AI levels ranging from Loser and Rookie to Smart and Superb. There is no question that the higher AI levels display better ball control and are tougher to beat. The higher levels will have you working furiously to earn your wins. Fortunately, after some practice, you will find that they are still beatable.

A number of other options are also offered to make the game more interesting. First, you can choose which team you are (Five cities are represented by different colours) but all this does is change your team uniform colours. More interesting is the fact that you can change player formations. Of the four lines of players, only the goalie line cannot be modified. For the other three lines, you can choose how to distribute your players. If you prefer to play a more defensive game, you can choose to have 5 defencemen. Go for a more aggressive style and have up to 3 attackers. In total, there are 7 formations to choose from. This feature definitely adds a nice wrinkle to the game. Pick a defensive strategy with only one player in your offensive line and it will be a tough game if your opponent also went completely defensive.

Different terrains
Figure 3: Different terrains

You can also pick what type of terrain you want to play on. For example, you can choose from Normal, Snow, Cyber or more. As much as the fields look great (See Figure 3 for a comparison of three field types), they do not contribute anything to affect game play or the physics of the game as far as I could tell. Lastly, you can also select to play a timed game (3 minutes) or one that goes up to 5 goals.

Other options offered include game volume, clouds (on or off), shadows (on or off), audience (on or off) and ads (on or off). One thing that I noticed is that I always had the clouds option turned on but never actually saw a cloud. I’m not sure what this option is supposed to do.

When you are ready to play a full season, you can select League play. Instead of one quick game, you will play against each team once for a total of 5 games. The game keeps track of your wins, losses and draws (Figure 4). All games are timed and you don’t have the option of using the number of goals to end the game. You also lose the ability to choose what field to play on.

MasterKick is a great looking game and it can be fun. But the more you play, the more you will become aware of its many shortcomings. For example, you cannot pause the game during play. Okay, that’s not exactly true! There is a way to pause games but I can’t find it. So far, I’ve only been able to pause games when using SOTI’s Pocket Controller! Somewhere on my iPAQ is a key combination that should work but I haven’t found it yet!

There also is no way to save a game in progress. Worse, there is no way (that I could find) to save a league in progress. Shut down the game and you will lose your league results and standings. Sure, 5 games at 3 minutes each is only fifteen minutes but sometimes you want to play in League mode and can only spare time for one game or two.

And as I indicated earlier, League mode also removes your ability to select options like terrains and how to end the game. I would have preferred to see these options remain and instead offer a new League option where terrain would be random. Instead of taking away options, give the players new ones!

After a few games and being frustrated with the lack of features that I expected to be there, I figured I’d look through the help file. Unfortunately, the game does not come with one except a short ‘Read Me’ file that fails to shed any light on whether these features exist. I was left to experiment to see if I could find the necessary controls. Purely by accident, I found that I could use the ‘Record’ button on the side of my iPAQ to control kick power.

League standings
Figure 4: League standings

Lastly and worse of all, the game is also quite prone to crashing in certain circumstances. The game consistently crashed on me when I would dock my iPAQ or would receive an IR signal from my laptop nearby. This is very frustrating when you realize that no one will ever believe that you were on your way to defeating Rome in a 8-0 rout!

Graphics, Sounds and Music

Once you’re out on the field, the game looks great. By not shrinking the game to fit onto the screen, a high level of details has been maintained. The action scrolls smoothly back and forth across between the two ends of the field. The fields themselves look great and if you play in the snow, the ball is of a pinkish hue so that it does not get lost. At the ends of the fields, you can see the audience wave banners and flags as well as scrolling advertisements.

One setting that I turned on was clouds but I never saw any and never saw what effect they can have on the game.

The players look great and they spin smoothly as they try to kick the ball. If you want, you can turn on shadows, another feature that adds another touch of realism.

Unfortunately, landscape mode is not supported. The list of compatible devices does not show any square screens so I suspect that they are not supported as well. VGA devices are listed on the compatibility list but I’m not sure that the game runs in true VGA mode.

Music and sound are delivered by the MODULA Audio Engine also developed by Industry Entertainment. For example, you get sounds like the roar of the crowd, the whistles of the referees, etc. I found some sounds (the crowds in particular) annoying. A feature that offers better sound control (like turning on/off individual sounds) would be a great addition. With the current version, you can simply turn off all sounds.

Controls

MasterKick offers a number of options to control the action. For example, you can use the d-pad or your stylus to control the lateral movement of your players. The ‘Read Me’ file also indicates that the first, second and fourth hardware buttons can be used to shoot. Only the first and fourth worked for me on my iPAQ hx2750. And the third button is supposed to bring up the Ingame menu but it never worked for me.

Being right-handed, I used the leftmost hardware button to control shooting strength. But, if I held it down for too long, it would switch the screen orientation to landscape mode which the game does not support. The game does not crash but it’s nearly impossible to play until you revert the orientation back to portrait. Fortunately, the ‘Record’ button works quite well.

Moving your players up and down (all the lines move in unison) works well with the stylus. I found the d-pad much harder to use but this is device specific and might work better on other PDAs.

Another frustration with the controls is that the power of the kick (or spin) is dependent on how long you hold the button down. So, often, you don’t get the right power behind a shot. Practice does improve this and as frustrating as this can be, it does remind me of playing real foosball where you don’t always have the opportunity to get the perfect shot.

What I liked

  • Great scrolling game
  • Physics seem pretty accurate
  • Customizable formations

What I did not like

  • No landscape support
  • Frustrating and missing controls
  • No help file
  • Cannot save League games
  • Prone to crash in certain circumstances

Summary

Master Kick ultimately fails not because it’s not entertaining but because it lacks the polish that it deserves. When on the field, this is one very entertaining game. Unfortunately, the rough spots like the crashes and the lack of supporting features that are expected in almost any game today all detract from the game. Being unable to save games in progress (particularly leagues), the lack of landscape support, lack of stability and poor help support all contribute to sour a great gaming experience. Should Industry Entertainment address these deficiencies, they could end up with a real winner on their hands!

Rating

2 out of 5

Where can I get it?

You can purchase Master Kick for $14.95 USD from our affiliate Clickgamer. A version for the PalmOS ($19.95 USD) is also available. A trial version is available for both operating systems.