What is the concept? Following a particularly prolific period, franchises like Guitar Hero and Rock Band are taking brief hiatuses, granting an opportunity for smaller developers to enter the rhythm game genre. Budapest-based Zen Studios, best known for their meticulously crafted pinball simulations are the latest developer to enter the aural arena with KickBeat: Special Edition, a PS4 port of the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita title which immerses traditional cadence keeping in a high-tech, Capoeira-drenched, context.
Each stage tasks players with thwarting a procession of aggressive adversaries who menacingly encircle the game’s on-screen protagonist. Once a combatant has reached one of the cardinal directions, players press a corresponding DualShock 4 button to parry the attack in time to the tempo of the game’s music. Although defeating the basic yellow-colored foes is simple as staying on beat, the game throws plenty of enemy variety at players.
Blue opponents attack on the half-beat, while red ones attack in pairs, requiring a simultaneous press of two buttons. Glowing baddies also strike in duos, but oblige games to hold the button down between attacks. Other adversaries carry perks- such as shield which grant immunity for a brief duration or score-escalating multipliers and point bonuses. Echoing the Star Power-mechanic of other rhythm games, a press of the left shoulder button engages Chi Mode, which double scores until the gauge is depleted.
What are the game’s strengths? Although KickBeat’s core campaign is fleeting, the game does provide a pleasing selection of supplements to maintain a player’s interest. For the initial playthrough, gamers control Lee, a Kung Fu uniform-clad combatant with a pompadour that defies ruffling. Once gamers triumph over the twenty-four track storyline, they’ll be granted access to a second protagonist, who offers a divergent set of cinematic interludes.
Whereas the original KickBeat forced rhythm-game whizzes to work their way through the ranks, the Special Edition kindly allows players to begin at any level of challenge. The adjustment is welcome- as whether it was muscle memory, or a reduction in input lag, progress in the PlayStation 4 version was a bit easier than when we played the original iteration of the game. For those seeking a particularly daunting test, surpassing the game’s highest difficultly level unlocks a survival mode, where health isn’t replenished between stages.
What are the game’s weaknesses? Undoubtedly, a soundtrack rooted in 90’s-era angst is going to be contentious. While inclusions from Marilyn Manson, Papa Roach, and P.O.D. all offer a brawny, easily discerned tempo- for some players, a significant portion of KickBeat’s soundtrack will have exceeded its expiration date. Although rock/rap hybrids from lesser names are a bit generic, they don’t feel as antiquated as some of the nu-metal tracks.
While the game’s musical selection is a bit subjective, other flaws are irrefutable. The game’s default camera perspective can occasionally obscure the action near the button of the playfield. Yet, the game’s worse transgression is that fighting is little more than framing device. Although boss battles do demand players to activate power-ups to defeat enemies, everything else in KickBeat is centered on pushing buttons in time with the music. Ideally, interactive fisticuffs would have been incorporated into each stage, such as when the game exhibits a slow-motion motion-captured cinematic at the end of a succession of enemies. As it stands, KickBeat is diverting in short doses, but becomes monotonous during longer durations.
What’s changed for the Special Edition? Expectedly, the PlayStation 4 version of the game has been given a graphical upgrade, with the game now running at a constant 1080p60. While the games assets haven’t been radically changed, players coming from the previous version will notice a large increase in the quality and number of reflective surfaces. The track list has been augmented as well, with the addition of five throbbing tracks from electrohouse band (and Electronic Super Joy composer) EnV. Inexplicably, the Special Edition doesn’t offer the Beat Your Music component found in the PS3 and Vita versions, which allowed players to replace the default tracks with their own selection of tunes. Score chasers will appreciate seeing a leaderboard on the title screen, which goads gamers into improving their ranking.
Is it worth the money? Although KickBeat may not nurture the protracted play sessions of Zen Pinball 2 or even CastleStorm, the game’s shorter sessions can be intense. That said, the title will likely warrant its ten dollar price for fans of rhythm games, but the lack of any discount for owners of the previous version is saddening. In the end, Zen Studios should be commended for stepping out of their comfort zone, even if KickBeat is a bit of a one-hit wonder with the special edition serving as little more than a high-def remix.
Platform: PlayStation 4, Wii U, XBox One
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Release date: September 16th (PlayStation 4, Wii U)
Language(s): English voice/text