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, a 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 or PS Vita 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 eighteen-track storyline, they’ll be granted access to a second protagonist, who offers a divergent set of cinematic interludes.
Overcoming KickBeat’s campaign on the normal difficulty setting begins opening up three increasingly demanding challenge settings, as well as the game’s Beat Your Music component. Here, players can use any song stored on their PS Vita memory card to replace the game’s default music. After calibrating the cadence of a track by pressing a button in time with the beat, the tune can be enjoyed in KickBeat. Expectedly, some songs work better than others. Music such as dance and rock anthems with a steady 4/4 time signature generally work agreeably, while slower or varying tempos didn’t always seem to synchronize with the on-screen action. Beating KickBeat’s highest difficulty 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. Rabid rhythm-game aficionados may dislike the requirement to trudge through KickBeat’s lesser ranks instead of jumping to a difficulty setting which matches their level of expertise. 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.
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, while the cross-buy promotion will help to sweeten the expenditure for those less enamored by the genre. 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.
KickBeat was played on the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita using review code provided by the publisher.