Floor Kids (Switch eShop) Review
I have a long and complicated history with rhythm games. I played my first — Parappa the Rapper — as a child, back in the early 2000’s; I was not very good (I’m still not), but the concept fascinated me. Music had been a big part of my childhood, and to see a game not only focus on music, but incorporate it into its core gameplay was something magical. Since then, I’ve tried my hand at every rhythm game I could get my hands on, from Guitar Hero to Piano Tiles to recent games like Voez. Of the dozens of games in the genre I’ve played, Floor Kids stands out as the best rhythm experience by far in my 15 years of gaming.
Floor Kids is not like any rhythm game you’ll have played before. In other rhythm games, your goal is (usually) to follow a strict set of instructions in time to the music, Floor Kids has you dancing to your own beat. There’s no instruction (with the exception of some small instructed sections here and there), your goal is simply to dance in whatever way you see fit. As long as you’re dancing, as long as you’re pulling moves, you’re doing well. It’s a more free-form type of rhythm game, and it works remarkably well.
But let’s break it down a bit. In Floor Kids, you play as one of eight b-boys or b-girls, on a quest to find your groove and make friends doing what you love most — breakdancing. The characters each have their own unique sense of style, not only in their clothing, but in their dancing too. Each character has their strengths and weaknesses in the four breakdancing disciplines — Up Rock (moves performed while standing), Down Rock (moves performed while low to the ground), Power (spinning moves, like the classic headspin) and Freeze (tricky balancing moves that involve, well, freezing).
Scribbles, my favourite character, for example, is extremely proficient in Down Rock, about average in her Top Rock and Freeze skills, and not so great at Power moves. A character like O-live, on the other hand, excels in Top Rock, but struggles to rack up points in Down Rock. Each character’s dance moves reflect their strengths, with the more impressive-looking moves and combos usually falling within their best disciplines. That doesn’t mean moves in other disciplines aren’t impressive or useful, they just won’t rack up as many points. The diversity in play styles is as fantastic as the diversity in the cast of dancers available; Floor Kids is one of the most representative games I’ve played.
Once you’ve picked a character and get a grip on how to find your groove, it’s time to move through the city to choice dance spots to break it down in front of an audience. What makes a choice dance spot? Well, if there’s people, there’s a place to dance; it’s a simple philosophy but it’s certainly a striking message. The world is your audience. You’ll start at the dance studio and work your way through bigger and bigger crowds — the metro, the grocery store, the arcade — unlocking new dancers as you go. Each venue has three songs, and your performance to those songs will net you a score out of 5 crowns. You need crowns to unlock more venues, and scoring a certain amount of crowns in any given song will give you a character card. Collect four character cards of the same type, and that character will join your crew. It’s all fairly straightforward.
Floor Kids is fairly light on story, but it does have a message to send. Before your first dance in each venue, you’ll be greeted with a comic book-style cutscene, in which the game will offer you advice. The advice you get serves two purposes: the first is to teach you about the world you live in. It teaches you about the struggles you face as a b-boy or b-girl, and how to overcome those struggles. The second purpose is much more useful to the player; see, these life lessons you’re learning are actually cleverly hidden gameplay tips. At the metro, for example, you’re told to adapt, to change your approach to problems often, and to just keep moving. Useful life advice, sure, but it’s also advice to switch up your moves in-game to earn more points. This isn’t the first time a game has weaved useful tips into its world building, but it’s certainly one of the most effective uses of the technique I’ve seen.
One of the biggest things you’ll notice when playing Floor Kids is just how unique the art style is. Erring on the side of a quick sketch more than anything else, it’s a little rough around the edges and a little underdeveloped. That might sound like a bad thing, but it’s a stylistic choice that’s packed with charm and it reflects the feel of the game with such precision that it gives me chills when it all comes together. Breakdancing, and by extension, Floor Kids, isn’t about being the most refined, it’s rough and dirty, and it’s all about finding what works. In this case, the almost animatic-style animation works, and while it’s not an aesthetic that would fit 99% of games, it does fit here, and there’s beauty to be found in the unrefined nature of it all.
And so we get to the music itself. Every rhythm game is built around its music right? Well, in most cases that would be true, but not so much in Floor Kids. Most music in the game consists of little more than a beat and a few backing instruments. It’s basic, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Because there’s little structure to how you react to the music, the music itself doesn’t need to be complicated like most other rhythm games. All you really need to breakdance is a beat, and that’s what you’re given. This comes with a small downside: while the music is great at what it does, it can be a little bit forgettable. I couldn’t point to a particular track in the game and say that it’s my favourite. But that’s okay! It doesn’t need to be memorable, it just needs to give you something to dance to, and it does that job wonderfully.
As structureless as the gameplay usually is, there are some more traditional rhythm sections in the game. Usually twice per song, you’re tasked with tapping along to a structured beat. These sections were my least favourite part of the game, largely because they’re the only parts you can overtly get wrong. And given the lack of structure in the rest of the song, it feels a little bit out of place to suddenly be forced to move to somebody else’s beat. In a game in which your only goal is to find your groove, it can be jarring to have that autonomy taken away from you, if only very briefly. These structured sections also feel a little bit unfair at times, and it’s easy to miss the first beat because of unfamiliarity with the song. However, that just means that in order to get the best score possible, you’ll have to play the song again, and given how much of a joy it is to play, it’s hardly a punishment.
Floor Kids is one of those games you really have to play to fully understand the beauty of it. It takes a simple premise in an established genre and flips it on its head, focusing more on how the player moves than how they’re supposed to move. That’s a powerful feeling, to suddenly be in control in a genre that so typically gives the player little to no choice. With uniquely wonderful aesthetics, engaging gameplay, and a world that is truly fascinating to experience, Floor Kids achieves what so many other games aspire to — a new experience unmatched by anything else on the market.
Beautiful art style
Clever world building
All about having fun
Controls are a bit complicated
Music is a bit forgettable
Structured sections are a little unfair