KickBeat Review

Back in my University days, the music rhythm game was king. Many a gaming (and drinking) session consisted of me and some friends strumming plastic guitars, trying to beat each others’ scores. They provided many laughs and some great competition, but now the rhythm game genre has pretty much faded away. However Zen Studios has attempted to revive the genre with a twist.

KickBeat is a rhythm game that focuses less on instruments and more on kicking people in the face, in time to the beat of course. The story of KickBeat revolves around the Sound Sphere, an object which holds the spirit of all the world’s music. Whoever controls the Sphere controls all the music, so it is guarded by an order of monks to stop that from happening. When that happens, Lee, one of the game’s protagonists, goes after the thieves to bring the music back.

[drop]This journey takes Lee through different areas, all of which throw hundreds of opponents at him while a song plays in the background. The tracklist of KickBeat contains 18 songs, with the likes of Marilyn Manson, Pendulum and Rob Zombie included in the variety of music you’ll encounter through the stages.


The way gameplay works is based on the enemies and their types – there are three types, which are colour coded as yellow, blue and red and each of which reacts differently to the music. Yellow enemies attack on a normal beat, blues on half beats and red enemies attack in pairs, which requires the push of two buttons at the same time. Occasionally yellow enemies are tied together, meaning to get the best score you attack the first of the pair and then hold the attack button before releasing to launch a second attack.

You also have a health bar and chi, with the latter acting as a temporary score multiplier when activated, refilled by hitting enemies. There are also bonus points and power ups, which are a shield and a shockwave. The shield stops you getting damaged for a little while and the shockwave destroys some enemies. However, using either means you gain less points in the long run. These are all accessible by attacking enemies with a double tap should they have the power up floating above them.

On normal difficulty you’ll have help in getting through levels as the button prompts will appear on screen. However there will still be some difficulty as you get used to the way the rhythms and enemy movements work. You will fail a few times as you learn to work to the beat, but that’s not a major criticism as most rhythm games work like that, and when it all falls into place KickBeat is fun. On Vita you can also tap the enemies to beat them, but that particular skill takes a lot of practice to master.

As you press the buttons you can just feel it synchronizing with the music, and those double taps to get power ups match with the beat too. Visually the game looks really nice, with stages having their own unintrusive equalisers in the background, and the designs are nice especially the nightclub area. The game feels like a well choreographed fight scene when everything is smooth. The first couple of times you play through the game you will have fun, the music itself managing to capture you even though you may not be a fan of the songs present in the game.

However the Beat Your Music has you covered in that regard. The game allows you to import your own songs to use as tracks in customised levels. Before you begin you have to set the BPM rate of the song through a quick set up. It’s easy to do but isn’t always accurate, as I found with a couple of songs where the beat was consistent but enemy movement wasn’t.

KickBeat isn’t without other faults and frustrations either. The main story features Lee and a second protagonist, Mei, who provides the second half of the story. I was hoping that Mei would receive her own track list but instead you have to complete the same songs twice to get the complete story. And even when you complete the story on Normal you don’t unlock everything.

[drop2]The aforementioned Beat Your Music is unlocked after Normal, but things like the Survival Mode and other difficulties require  multiple playthroughs. When you finish
Hard, you unlock Expert and when you finish Expert you unlock Master. It’s only when you complete Master difficulty do you unlock Survival Mode.

This is a pretty lazy way to extend game time, when more tracks would have been welcome; playing the same songs over and over does soon start to grate. Occasionally it also feels like the game throws a lot of enemies at you almost at once, which makes you lose concentration quickly even on Normal.

There is also a Freeplay mode in the game but once again it is limited. You can’t play a song in Freeplay mode on any difficulty you desire, instead having to complete that song in the Story mode first, which makes this mode pretty much redundant as you can go into Story mode and select to play a song again on the difficulty you completed it on anyway. Freeplay gives the illusion of extra content that isn’t there.

What’s Good:

  • Zen Studios have tried something new in the genre and it is fun.
  • Visually both the gameplay and the 2D cutscenes look nice.
  • The game manages to draw you in very well.
  • Can add your own songs in Beat Your Music.

What’s Bad

  • Having to play the same 18 songs over and over to unlock all the content.
  • Freeplay mode is unnecessary.
  • The onslaught of enemies in some cases seems a bit much.

Zen Studios have to be given some respect in taking a stale genre and breathing new life into it. KickBeat is a good game and it does provide good entertainment, however the game is crying out for more songs in the Story mode as imported songs don’t feel as well synced as the in game music. The quite blatant padding also feels a bit of a cheap way of extending the game time to unlock every mode too. KickBeat is a fun game that is let down by some silly decisions.

Score: 7/10



  1. Hard difficulty is actually unlocked from the start – you are never forced to play/complete Normal unless you want to unlock a few outfits. And in our experience, it was extremely rare for any player to be ready for Expert before completing Hard. I will grant that certain aspects of the unlocking scheme are too restrictive, though.

    Also to consider:
    – Elite Beat Agents was well-reviewed with cover versions (we had masters) of 19 total songs for $40, and it had no import function. We have 1 fewer song plus music importing for $10 ($8 with PS Plus), not to mention Cross Buy support
    – Audiosurf is well-reviewed, has an import function, but its original version included only a negligible amount of original compositions and no licensed music.
    – We have a forum, which we direct people to with loading messages, etc. in-game, where we (and other players) help people find optimal settings for the songs they are having trouble with and share working settings for other songs. If a song with a consistent beat is out of sync in-game, it is 100% certain that incorrect beat settings are to blame, and you can easily get correct ones by posting there.
    – Free Play mode is all playing in whatever arena you choose, with whatever characer/outfit you choose, and it gives you the ability to make custom playlists. Since boss battles add some scoring constraints, it’s also the best way to improve your score for those songs.
    – Survival Mode is only unlocked at the end because it’s designed to be the end-game mode that provides a challenge for the most skilled players. It’s (sort of) like the Endless setlist in Rock Band, which is only unlocked after dozens and dozens of song play-throughs, including sets where you frequently repeat songs you’ve previously played.

  2. A couple addendums:

    – Elite Beat Agents also has 4 difficulty settings with 2 unlocked form the start.
    – “Perfect…unlike the game”: why the need for cheap shots like this, especially since the review’s biggest complaint is undercut by a glaring mistake of its own (the claim that Hard difficulty is ever locked)? We’re all professionals here.

    • Hi Neil. I amended the difficulty bit, that was my fault. I wrote that bit in by mistake and missed it in my draft. I think it is a disservice to compare KickBeat to Elite Beat Agents which is a 7 year old title. Times have changed a lot since then.

      Overall I really think the score is fair. KickBeat is an enjoyable game and I like it for being different. I’d like to see the series grow personally.

      • I have no complaints about the score, only the unrealistically high standards to which the game is being held. It’s really disappointing to see the game being dinged for the length of a soundtrack that offers far more content for the price than any other indie/digital game.

        I challenge you to find any indie game or any music game that launched under $39.99 in the history of video games that offers as much licensed mainstream music (vs. generic non-licensed electronic done by in-house/contract composers – and even then we offer more than many of these games!) as KickBeat does.

        Sure, AAA dance games offer 40-50 tracks for $40-60 (still much higher $ per track than KickBeat), but unless you are going to start holding all games to AAA content standards, I don’t see how the amount of songs is a valid complaint.

        While games do evolve over time, and genres get more competitive with regards to gameplay and features, amount of licensed music in a typical music game has not changed for the simple reason that music publishers are still charging essentially the same rates for them. Furthermore, EBA is still considered a great game, not just a great game for its time.

        Plus, very few music games outside of AAA dance/music performance titles have actually been made since then. So standards have not really changed.

        However, even by *recent* non-AAA game standards, KickBeat is more than competitive in this regard. Tap Tap Revenge might the only one that’s even close, but only when DLC is considered, and that’s because a) it’s a mobile game, where prices (included licensing costs) are different, and b) DLC-based model eliminates the risks associated with an included soundtrack. KickBeat even has a longer music running time than any of the retail Patapon games.

      • Of course I put my foot in my mouth and neglected Rock Band Blitz (25 songs for $15), but we’re still in the neighborhood there and are cheaper on a per-track basis, which given their licensing connections is a pretty herculean feat.

        I wouldn’t expect the series to grow. A lot of stuff in the game was very difficult to do (combining animation with precision beat matching – first games ever to do this, importing use music to a precision beat-matching game – first game ever to do this and have it work well, 60fps on Vita w/competitive 3D visuals, music licensing, etc.) and offered it at a very competitive price. EA tried to do this with Def Jam and failed. Ubi had a prototype of something similar and failed.

        We succeeded, and reviewers don’t really seem to care about these things. It’s just a another slightly subpar music game. And as an indie studio, we simply can’t succeed without good reviews. Fine. We thought originality, value, style, presentation, etc. were important. Nope, shoulda just made a retro pixel art platformer with chip tunes.

      • Could you not have sourced some unsigned tracks? There are thousands of producers who would have given you tunes for free.

      • Hi, Neil.

        I’d just like to show you our review policy – while other sites might regard 7/10 as average or “less than good”, we actually think it’s “quite good”. There’s no way that your game is subpar, and no way that this isn’t a good review as you seem to think.

      • Hi Neil.

        You mentioned Aran being unprofessional about his “perfect” comment then come out with “Nope, shoulda just made a retro pixel art platformer with chip tunes.”

        You did exactly the same. You had a sly dig at the expense of someone/something else. 90% of what you write is completely valid but then you come across as “toys out of the cot” by the end of it all. As a lowly member of TSA, I’m simply giving you my take on things. Nothing more, nothing less.

        However, the rest of your mentions and input here is very much welcome as it’s lovely to see devs frequenting the articles’ comments section.

        Best of luck with the game.

      • Fair enough, Blair. But again, I’m not complaining about the score, just the issue of number of songs, which if you compare objectively to the best games in KickBeat’s weight class, is pretty solid. Like I said, the unlocking scheme is a very legitimate and annoying issue, and it’s one we hope to address in an update.

        Tuffcub, the reason we didn’t solicit free tracks is that it’s really hard to get good ones for free, and we wanted the tracks to showcase the game’s potential and fit with its theme rather than having potentially weaker tracks that weren’t as good a fit in terms of being “fight music” mixed in. In other words, we didn’t want to water it down or pad it with cheap-sounding stuff. We have the music import tool for extra tracks.

        And the reason I’m posting at all is to give readers another perspective. What tends to happen, in my 13 years of experience making games, is that people read a review and repeat what they’ve read elsewhere. Not to mention other reviewers cribbing opinions off of existing reviews. On the other hand, if readers and reviewers read some counterpoints afterwards, they’re more likely to think for themselves more carefully.

        My intention wasn’t to call out the reviewer, who actually played the game and got further into it than most, and thus has a very solid basis for his opinions. I just think that some of the points are debatable, and who better to present the other side?

      • bunimomike – yep, you’re right, my mistake.

  3. Vibes PSP minis.

  4. How much is it? Looks like fun and I could do with a distraction. @Neil 7 is a good score. Regulars to TSA know this. Is there a demo?

    • Yeah…I should be more of a regular. I’m just kinda angsty because I have a bet going with my boss. If the game gets over a 70 Metacritic, we port it to PC. If not, I buy him a magnum of expensive Napa wine. And it’s sitting at a 69, which normally I enjoy, but not in this particular instance.

      There is a demo, but for some reason we put the hardest song in it. Oops.

    • Oh, and it’s $10 with Cross Buy, $8 in North America with PS Plus.

  5. All this and looks like the SixthAxis review isn’t even listed on Metacritic! You need to talk to some of the other reviewers on there as you got a couple of 5/10 scores which are pulling you under your goal of 70%

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