Kick / Kickman
The Game: In an addictive little number from the height of Midway’s post-Pac-Man arcade empire, you are a unicycle-riding clown who occasionally wears a spiked hat. Your job is to keep any of the balloons falling from overhead from hitting the ground. You can bounce the balloons back into the air – temporarily – by kicking them, but the only way to remove a balloon from play permanently is to catch or pop it on your head. In later stages, other objects fall from the sky, including special guest stars Pac-Man and those darn ghost monsters, and also including bombs which are the only thing you must avoid. (Bally/Midway, 1981)
Memories: A wonderfully addictive game with intensely aggravating controls, Kickman has gone down in video game history with unjust obscurity. But perhaps this lack of bona fide “hit” status can be blamed on that wacky lateral trakball control – it was such a pain in the butt until you’d gotten sufficient practice in.
(Just gotta brag here a bit on the photo of the cabinet you see with this review: that machine’s actually sitting in my game room.)
The amusing guest appearances by Pac-Man are another Bally/Midway tradition picked up from Namco, dating back to the Galaxian mother ship’s appearance as one of the “fruit” objects which occasionally appeared at the center of the maze. Strangely enough, Kick didn’t start out with the Pac-Man cameo. That character was added in a revision that wasn’t developed until the first 1,500 Kick machines had already been distributed. Sales and coin drop weren’t exactly kickin’ for the original version of Kick, so a little bit of star power was brought in to give it a boost, and shortly thereafter the name of the game was changed to Kickman to acknowledge the change. Replacement circuit boards (and, later, new marquees) were distributed to the operators with one of the original 1,500 machines. (Returning to brag territory: the machine pictured above is an oddball case of retaining the original Kick signage, but has the revised circuit boards.)
Oddly enough, while Kickman was announced as one of the many Bally/Midway games licensed to CBS Video Games for home play on the Atari 2600, no evidence has yet been found that the home version ever get beyond the licensing stage.