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.
- 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.
- 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.