If you’ve ever watched or loved the movie Shaolin Soccer, and found yourself wishing that someone captured its spirit in a video game, then wish no longer. KungFu Kickball is as ludicrous, anarchic and fun as the movie, and you even get to bring a few friends along with you.
The idea couldn’t be simpler. Take a 2D football pitch, drop in a ball, and then toss in some characters from a beat’em up to see what happens. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they punch each other just as much as the ball. In many ways KungFu Kickball resembles those moments in a Looney Tunes cartoon where people fight in a cloud of punches and kicks, albeit with a football flying out of it in a random direction.
The aim is to get a football to the opponent’s side of an arena and use it to ring a gigantic bell, effectively the ‘goal’. The opponent is doing the same, so the ball soon pinballs around the arena as both players chase after it. The winner is the one with the most goals at time-up.
Developers WhaleFood Games know that things could quickly get the wrong side of chaotic, so they give you a great deal of control over your character. In KungFu Kickball, you can punch the ball forwards, or hold that punch button for a powered up version. A kick gives the ball an arc, looping it towards the bell, while a kind of roundhouse kick launches the ball directly upwards. With the arenas being quite large, it’s important to keep up with the ball, so there is also a blink teleport, which moves you a few metres beyond where you are. And each character has a signature move, pulled off with a double button-press.
What hits you round the face first is how high KungFu Kickball’s skill ceiling is. The ball bounces everywhere, and it’s not exactly Rocket League-sized. This is a small ball, and your first moments will be spent dancing around the ball without really hitting it, like you were practicing some capoeira. There are a fair few controls, which only make things more complicated, and you have to be incredibly precise to hit the ball, let alone direct it the way you want. We all but gave up in these first moments, as KungFu Kickball made us feel like Sunday leaguers versus a Premier League side.
But to KungFu Kickball’s credit, it gives plenty of methods to git gud. Jumping into the Arcade Mode, as close as you get to a campaign, it’s possible to dial the difficulty down to Easy. Here, the NPCs have just as hard a time punting the ball as you do, and it offers breathing room and time to learn (plus, you can replay matches as often as you’d like). Training and a Target Practice also offer learning possibilities, while playing in 1-v-1 or 2-v-2 matches locally are also opportunities.
Soon, the value of a kick over a punch becomes clearer, and you begin to time your jumps correctly. There’s still an unpredictability to the path of the ball, particularly when the arenas differ, giving you roofs and outcrops to anticipate, but your bewilder-o-meter goes down and down until you feel like you have a modicum of control. You can start to ratchet up the difficulty and win more tournaments.
Regardless, the steep difficulty gradient will lose KungFu Kickball some players. In multiplayer, it can mean that matches are over almost as soon as they begin. You might invite a new player to play, but the combination of a complex move-set and crazy ball physics means that they may never find a handhold. You can’t necessarily just pick-up-and-play KungFu Kickball with a group of mates, particularly if one of you has made time to practice.
And while there are several arenas, each with different nooks to tuck their bell into and different obstacles on their approach, KungFu Kickball feels a little slight. A good comparison is Guts ‘N Goals, a similar game that launched at the tail-end of 2021. While KungFu Kickball, at its peak, feels more fun and second-nature than Guts ‘N Goals, it can’t match its depth. In KungFu Kickball, you have tournaments and quick matches, against AI, local players or online players. But a match never really feels different, and the context of that match doesn’t change much either. In Guts ‘N Goals you have all of that, plus hundreds of unlocks, multiple game modes and a campaign of sorts. With any of those inclusions, KungFu Kickball would have been elevated, taking it into the higher scores. But, as it stands, this is a lean offering.
There’s undoubtedly a problem at the heart of KungFu Kickball. It’s at its best when booted up for a throwaway match: a chaotic game of quasi-Rocket League while you’re waiting for a takeaway to arrive. But the skill ceiling is so incredibly high in KungFu Kickball, that it leaves ample space for problems. If a player knows what they’re doing, they can wipe the floor with someone else. Equally, a poor player will just dance around the ball without moving it in any way. KungFu Kickball feels casual but is anything but, and that discordance might cause more problems than it solves.
Which is a shame. Because KungFu Kickball can create moments that are nothing short of a riot. Those moments fall somewhere between Smash Bros and pinball, as a chasing pack of fighters fall over each other to get to the ball first.
Just remember that those moments won’t come easily or often. KungFu Kickball is certainly not the casual, immediate party game that it presents itself as, and it needs some repeat play to master it. If that sounds like a fun project for you and your mates, then KungFu Kickball can be hilariously rewarding. Twin it with a screening of Shaolin Soccer, and you are golden.
You can buy KungFu Kickball from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S