Retro gamers of a certain age are likely to recall with some fondness Kick Start (or Junior Kick Start for younger competitors) which was often a staple of the TV schedules during the long summer holidays. The programme was essentially an obstacle course for motorbikes, with the rider who completed the course in the fastest time declared the winner. It also had a jaunty little theme tune which you’re probably now singing even as you read this.
Shaun Southern’s KikStart series, on the other hand was completely different. The game was essentially an obstacle course for motorbikes, with the person who completed the course in the fastest time declared the winner. It also had a jaunty little theme tune which you’re probably now singing even as you read this.
Oh, who am I trying to kid? The KikStart games were a pretty blatant rip-off of the TV series. Barring a copyright-infringement dodging dropped c and missing space, it’s pretty clear where Shaun Southern took his inspiration from. But then again, when the game is as good as this, who cares?
The original KikStart was decent enough, but it’s sequel was simply superb. Look past the fairly bland graphics and pretty basic sound and you found a game that was perfectly designed, incredibly addictive and immense fun to play – especially if you roped in a friend and tried the game’s two-player mode.
In one sense, the game was relatively simply – you drove your motorbike along the screen from left to right, across the various obstacles to the finish line. Obstacles included jumps, balance beams and logs which you needed to bunny hop across. The whole thing was done against the clock, racing against either a computer controlled or human competitor the winner the one who reached the winning post in the fastest time.
That all sounds pretty simple right? Just rev the throttle up to maximum and hurtle your way along the course as fast as possible, surely? Wrong. And don’t call me Shirley. The beauty (and depth) of the game came from the fact that the various obstacles were beautifully implemented, making the game a perfect balance between speed and patience, risk and reward. Take some obstacles too quickly and you would fall off your bike; take some too slowly and… you guessed it, you’d fall off your bike. Falling off attracted a time penalty, meaning your chances of winning were reduced. You needed to judge exactly how fast you could safely take each obstacle (and some of the obstacles could be very precise), keep an eye on how your opponent was doing and (since obstacles often came thick and fast) be aware of what was coming up next so that you could increase/reduce your speed accordingly.
A friend and I played this endlessly over the Summer of ‘87. We never got bored of it and, in the end, got really good at it, knowing exactly what speed to take the various obstacles for that maximum balance between speed and safety. We both got so good that we reached the stage where the computer opponent was totally unable to beat us. Yet still the competitive element of trying to beat each other kept us coming back. Once we’d got so good at that that we would literally finish courses within a tenth of second of each other, there was always the challenge of trying to beat the best time recorded on each course (and, of course, we diligently recorded all the best times in a little book, together with who had achieved them). When it came to KikStart II, the word “addictive” found a new definition in that summer of ’87.
Even when you mastered the 24 in-built courses, the game still had one final trick up its sleeve in the form of a course designer which allowed you to create and save your own courses. This was brilliantly simple to use, although (in my experience) merely highlighted how difficult it actually was to design a course which was challenging, yet playable and fun – yet more evidence of how well-designed the supplied courses were.
And the best thing of all? KikStart II was released on the Mastertronic label and cost a paltry £1.99. For an original game (albeit a sequel), this was an absolute steal. How the game wasn’t awarded a Zzap! Sizzler is beyond me (it scored 86% in the September 1987 issue). However, I’m sure that Shaun Southern will be more than consoled by the fact that, almost 30 years after its release, it made its way into RetroReactiv8’s coveted (by me at least!) Top Ten Commodore 64 games!