Kickbeat is a rhythmic beat-em-up by Zen studios. It was released on PS3 on September 3rd 2013 and Steam on January 2014 and is available for £6.99/$9.99.
Kickbeat is similar in style to Guitar Hero in that the player must press the correct button on the controller, in time. to hit the note (Or in this case, beat up the enemy). Each enemy represents a different type of beat and they usually sync up with the music. Big yellow enemies are single beats, blue ones are half beats and reds attack two at a time – simple to learn, but difficult to master. Gameplay is kept fresh with the inclusion of features points, chi powerups, health powerups and Chi mode which allows you to double your modifier.
During the course of the game you will beat enemies up in various different styles and to different styles of music, as you track down a criminal mastermind who has stolen all the music in the world from the “Sphere of Music”. The levels are very colourful, with enough action and flair to keep you interested without being distracting. To get between levels the game features a rather loose comic panel story about finding the criminal mastermind and retrieving music. Even though it handles the story quite loosely it makes up for it by weaving a very personal tale about the main character’s love interest, and occasionally throwing in some humorous lines by Master Fu.
Kickbeat’s soundtrack features artists such as Blue Stahli, ENV (Of Electronic Super Joy), Rob Zombie, Papa Roach and quite a few other large and independent artists. It also features a “beat your own music” mode in which players are able to insert their own tracks into the game but unfortunately this mode relies too much on the player’s rhythm knowledge. When inserting a track you are asked to listen to excerpts from the beginning, middle and end and tap out the beat of the song. If you do it wrong, the enemies spawn incorrectly in the game and it becomes a challenge separating the rhythm of the enemies from the rhythm of the song. Rhythm games like Audiosurf pulled this off much better.
It’s understandable that Zen studios wouldn’t be able to accommodate every song on the planet (God only knows how difficult it is to prophesise the beat of some Post Rock out there) but the problem is that they use this system for their own songs. A system that does not perform as perfectly as it needs to, so quite often we would lose our modifier because certain enemies are off beat. This doesn’t happen often enough for us to claim Kickbeat is a bad game, but it does mean that there is a large disconnection between the music and the gameplay, removing us from the experience. A good idea with some decent songs under its belt but, sadly, poorly executed; wer get the feeling that this was down to bad technology rather than bad design.
Kickbeat does have a nice little underlying subtext that we think most people can agree with. The idea that all music comes from the same place and belongs to the people but is stolen and controlled by money hungry corporations – very similar to what’s been happening for years. It makes you wonder if the Order of the Melodic Fist really does exist and are looking for the chosen one.
It could be you, perhaps if you beat the game on Master you are contacted by musical ninjas to come and be the saviour of music. There is only one way to find out …