Indie developer Zen Studios has managed to make a pretty big splash in the game industry over the past couple of years with a relatively small staff and budget. After churning out some solid pinball titles featuring our favourite characters from the Marvel and Star Wars universes, and then the more recent tower defence game, CastleStorm, Zen has decided to take on something a little different this time around with the rhythm fighting game, KickBeat.
KickBeat puts you in control of a young Kung Fu practitioner named Lee in a quest to reclaim the music that has been stolen by ‘Radio Earth,’ led by Mr. Halisi, owner of ‘Entertainment Earth’ and leader of those who would use music for power and control. Other key characters include Lee’s teacher, Master Fu, and fellow student and female protagonist Mei. The story is light and offers some tongue in cheek humour that is sure to get a chuckle or two out of you.
After a brief tutorial I was able to hop right into the game and start tapping away to the beat while simultaneously taking out enemies with Lee’s Kung Fu and Capoeira dance-like fighting style. Enemies approach you from four directions (up, down, left or right) and can be easily thwarted by pressing the corresponding button on the d-pad or face buttons. As you stand in the centre of the stage enemies will encircle you and give off a slight glow just before attacking. At the precise moment that they make a move for you, which is synchronized to the beat, a timely button tap will take care of them in a one hit counter-attack.
There are three basic types of enemies and they are colour co-ordinated to make the gameplay a little easier. Yellow enemies are the basic type and the most common, blue enemies will need to be defeated in quick succession one after the other, and red enemies will come at you two at a time and require a simultaneous two-button press. There are also orbs that appear above their heads that can be collected with a double-tap of the appropriate button. Orbs grant power-ups such as health, extra points, a score multiplier or a shockwave attack that will wipe out all of the enemies nearby.
Playing through the game on ‘Normal’ wasn’t too much of a chore (I only failed one song), though the game’s difficulty does escalate rather quickly on the higher settings. ‘Hard’ mode is still very doable, but anything beyond that will take some dedication. Gamers familiar with rhythm games such as Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero should be familiar with this type of progression, where playing the game on ‘Expert’ and ‘Master’ levels will mean that you’ve played enough to turn your experience into a true skill.
While some may find that the difficulty is that much more rewarding when you finally get past it, it can also be an insurmountable wall to others – there’s a fine line to be walked when balancing gameplay between being fun while still offering a challenge. I have to say that while I do find the upper difficulty levels a bit much for myself, I’m also fairly content to play the game on ‘Normal’ or ‘Hard,’ and obviously the more familiar you are with a song the easier it will be for you.
KickBeat’s licensed soundtrack features eighteen songs that encompass mostly rap and rock, with a little industrial/alternative thrown in for good measure. I know there were several artists that Zen would have loved to have included but simply weren’t able to for one reason or another. I admit that I wasn’t familiar with all of the songs, but I thoroughly enjoyed rocking out to Rob Zombie and Papa Roach, among others.
Truth be told, the real beauty of the game comes in the ‘Beat Your Music’ mode where you can import your own music you have stored on your PlayStation 3 or PS Vita and sync up the beat using the following four simple steps:
- 1. Select a track from your music library on your PS Vita or PlayStation 3.
- 2. Find the rhythm by tapping the Triangle button along to the beat of the track.
- 3. Once you find the beat, continue tapping the Triangle button to set the beat.
- 4. The Track Generator will check the rhythm to ensure the beat is correct.
This took a bit of tinkering around on my part before I was able to get the hang of it. After experimenting with a few songs I finally had my ‘ah-ha’ moment and the whole process clicked for me. Basically the tool is looking for the song’s BPM (beats per minute) and a beat start point.
It should also be noted that the game only officially supports MP3 format and a 44.1 kHz sample rate with a max length of 6:00. The eighteen songs in the game serve as a tutorial more or less in the same way LittleBigPlanet’s levels show you what’s possible.
The Beat Your Music generator isn’t flawless though. Songs that change in tempo aren’t going to work well in the game and it’ll feel more like background music to a fighting game rather than a rhythm game – as good as the import tool is it’ll never be able to match the more scripted action of the in game tracks. Some current favourites of mine that I found worked well were ‘You’re Going Down’ by Sick Puppies, ‘I Need Your Love’ by Ellie Goulding, and the classic Karate Kid theme song, ‘You’re the Best.’ If you can’t crack a smile while playing to that song then there’s something wrong with you.
For a downloadable network game that is cross-buy for PS3 and the Vita, KickBeat is a good budget title. Some more fleshed out features such as cross-save, more diverse enemies, a larger licensed soundtrack, and more variety in terms of martial arts moves and styles would have helped to fill the game out a little more and give it some more depth. That being said, this is still a fun game that can get quite addictive once you get past the story mode and start creating your own tracks. Hopefully there’ll be some downloadable content down the road to address some of the issues.
As it stands the game’s potential lies with the gamers and I applaud Zen Studios for taking a risk and trying something different. KickBeat was made for user generated content and you’ll get out of it as much as you put into it.
The Beats to Kick to
If your own personal music library isn’t terrific, the story mode’s soundtrack will keep you busy – here’s the full track listing in order of appearance:
- Southpaw Swagger – It’s Showtime
- Styles of Beyond – Nine Thou (Grant Mohrman ‘Superstars’ Remix)
- Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People
- Celldweller – Switchback
- Pre-Fight Hype – It’s Goin Down
- Blue Stahli – Takedown
- Pendulum feat. In Flames – Self vs Self
- Pendulum/Celldweller – Propane Nightmares (Celldweller Remix)
- Voicians – Fighters
- Blue Stahli – ULTRAnumb
- Shen Yi – War Dance
- Rob Zombie – Scum of the Earth
- Blue Stahli – Scrape
- P.O.D. – Boom
- Celldweller – I can’t wait
- Papa Roach – Last Resort
- Pre-Fight Hype – Tug-o-War
- Voicians – The Construct
KickBeat – Launch Trailer
KickBeat was reviewed on the PS Vita