Soccer may not be the most popular sport in the United States, but the same can’t be said outside of the country. Around the world, not only is football enormous, but it’s a lifestyle for many. As a result, the beautiful game has its own street iteration, boasting a number of mind-boggling ball tricks. Streetkix Freestyle blends these abilities with dancing, resulting in a rhythm-based escapade for the PlayStation Portable, that’s also playable on the PlayStation Vita. But does it perform a perfect rainbow flick, or drop the ball?
The game sees you following the journey of an orphan named Leozinho, who decides to venture out of his orphanage one day to become the greatest freestyler on the planet. It’s from here that he conveniently happens upon an ‘elder’, who is very gung-ho about training the protagonist in the pastime. As the plot progresses, Elder (that’s actually his name) points out that he actually taught another person the art of freestyle, but he’s long since disappeared without a trace. In truth, the cast is pretty one-dimensional and uninteresting, and that’s not helped by the text-based dialogue and mute characters. There are some serious grammar issues throughout the experience which make it feel pretty cheap, and – in some cases – even change the tone of the dialogue.
The title’s story mode has you exploring three cities, where you’ll face off against various freestyle gangs as part of your quest to become a superstar. As you move forward through each location, you’ll come across two members of a gang that you must beat before progressing. If you try to go further, they’ll shout out to you to return or you’ll face the dreaded invisible wall that prevents you from advancing. When you talk to one of these members, they’ll try to insult you and your skill capabilities, demanding a freestyle battle. From here, you’ll initiate a rhythm-based skirmish that has you inputting appropriate commands as a beat bar scans your input meter on-screen. Normally a rhythm game would have you pressing the inputs in sync with the music playing, giving you a sense of coordination – however, this game throws any of that logic out the window and lets you input the commands at any rate until the beat bar reaches the end of the meter. At that point you have to push a face button command to finish the move.
For a game that has “freestyle” in the title, there’s very little freedom on offer here. You’re not able to perform moves in a custom sequence, as instead you’re forced to follow a skill tree with moves getting increasingly more complex. You’ll start by pressing any one of the highlighted face buttons, and then follow that with a d-pad input and a subsequent button press. The shape that you select at the end of the move will link to a different branching skill, but this is about as much creative license as the release gives you. Later on, you’ll fill up a Special Meter, allowing you to perform a flashy super move. This will depend on the ball that you have equipped, enabling you to either upset your opponent with a tornado or shatter the ground with a quake attack. Unfortunately, these special moves do little to impact the experience, causing opponents to merely ‘miss’ a beat.
Beating opponents will prompt your antagonist to teach you a new move – but you’ll need to manually chat to your rival to learn it. This head-scratching design decision feels like a cheap way to encourage you to initiate conversations with the non-playable characters, which, considering the quality of the dialogue seems a bit sly. It doesn’t help that the title is riddled with bugs, forcing us to play against unintentionally invisible freestylers on more than one occasion.
The campaign’s also woefully repetitive. You talk to a gang member, read their dialogue, battle them, win, talk to them again, move forward, and repeat. At least each city is based upon different types of music – hip-hop, punk and rock, and electronica – but these areas are so incredibly lifeless that it’s hard to really feel immersed. It’s only when you reach the final location that there’s any semblance of atmosphere, with cars driving around in the background. Still, there’s no real opportunity to explore until you’ve beaten the campaign, as the game funnels you down a corridor of ball-based battles. You can come back once you’re finished to peruse the districts at your leisure and partake in Challenge Mode, which is essentially a rehash of all of the battles from the main campaign.
Worse still, even though the game is on the PSP, the graphics are sub-par at best. Character models look bland, textures are washed out, and the framerate is inconsistent. As already alluded, the environments are drab, unimaginative, and there’s nothing to really engage you in the slightest. During the battles, the freestyle animations aren’t too smooth either, with missing frames resulting in some clunky transitions. Even the music is disappointing, with all three of the title’s genres poorly represented. As a rhythm game, that’s an enormous letdown – but it’s made worse by the fact that the gameplay isn’t even beat matched to the audio in the first place. It feels like it’s just there in the background, and will leave you completely disconnected from it.
Rhythm games often provide the basis for some engrossing, addictive entertainment, yet Streetkix Freestyle scores an own goal in almost every department. It’s a shame, because the concept is a good one – but everything about this experience feels rushed, tedious, and unpolished. Poor design, sub-par visuals, and dull audio mean that you should dribble right around this release. It’s honestly a bit of a kick in the balls.