Over the last 30 years, the combination of hip-hop and video games has had decidedly mixed results often failing to translate across the gaming medium thanks to many cheap cash-ins by artists and video game companies looking to make a quick buck. That’s not the case with Floor Kids a labour of love from Montreal-based duo JonJon and Kid Koala. The indie breakdancing game from Merj Media, released on the Nintendo Switch in late December is one of the best games you’ll find on the console to date – mixing likable personalities and wall-to-wall toe-tapping music to paint a picture of a subculture that promotes diversity among its audience. It happens to be one of the freshest gaming experiences in quite a while and you don’t need to be a hip-hop fan to appreciate it. Even as it pays earnest homage to turntablists and beat jugglers, Floor Kids is great fun, stitched together with energy, intelligence, and verve, and enhanced by a surplus of breakbeats that will make you want to get up and dance.
The main attraction of Floor Kids is its story mode, structured as a journey across town, starting at a recording studio to a final showdown at the Peace Summit. You’ll choose one of eight diverse characters to start with, and then build your crew as you work your way across eight venues spread across the city. Each location, ranging from an arcade to a metro station to a grocery store, plays host to a breakdance battle, with three music tracks to test your skills in each venue and crowns being awarded based on your performance. Your goal is to earn a high score and at least three crowns at every stop in order to unlock additional characters and stages.
What makes Floor Kids stand out amongst other games in the genre, however, is how it encourages players to express themselves whichever way they like. In other words, success in Floor Kids is not earned by just following a set pattern. Unlike Guitar Hero, Just Dance or even Rock Band, there are no indicators onscreen telling you when and how to tap the buttons on your controller. Instead, Floor Kids is all about freestyle improvisation so it leaves it to the player to decide how to mix and match moves however they please –and with hundreds of moves at your disposal, you’ll never play each session the same way twice.
There’s a diverse set of b-boys and b-girls to choose, each bursting with personality – and even an in-game breakdown of each character’s move set and combos to study before entering the next level. At any given time, you can swap between different dance styles split into four categories: Up Rock, Down Rock, Power, and Freeze. Top Rock consists of pulling off killer dance moves on your feet while Down Rock is all about getting down on your hands and knees. Power moves consists of famous spin moves and is pulled off by spinning the analog stick in a circle. Freeze moves, on the other hand, are performed by holding the analogue in any four directions while holding the corresponding face button. It may seem simple but the breakdancing here is pretty complex as each character has a set of combos that score bonus points if done right. They may all control the same, but it’s their unique dance styles that make them fun to experiment with. And you’ll need to mix it up since the score is divided into the six categories of Funk, Flavor, Flow, Fire, and Flyness. Each battle is approximately two minutes long, and the more you switch between each style and its assortment of moves, the more you wow your audience and the higher score you accumulate.
If you’re a fan of music rhythm games, Floor Kids is a ‘must have’.
Without a doubt, the audio and visuals of Floor Kids are the real stars and the combination of the music and art makes it hard to not fall in love with Floor Kids. The gorgeous yet simple hand-drawn animation courtesy of the award-winning JonJon oozes with style. Meanwhile, Kid Koala provides a fantastic backdrop of instrumental hip-hop that makes it feel as if a DJ is actually scoring your set live. No rhythm game would succeed without a worthy soundtrack, and the soundtrack here is truly amazing. In total, more than 20 songs are available, leaving you bobbing your head and tapping your feet, wishing you could contort yourself like the character you control, but knowing full well you’d probably displace a hip if you did.
Floor Kids is a welcome addition to the Switch library. On the surface, it’s a fun rhythm game that’s easy to grasp but if you dig deeper, Floor Kids does a superb job showing the form’s incredible complexity and technical diversity and makes a persuasive case for breakdancing as both an art form and a form of self-expression. All in all, Floor Kids is one of the most enjoyable experiences we’ve come across in gaming as a whole. Those gamers who would automatically bypass a hip-hop rhythm game should give Floor Kids a second look.
- Ricky D