KickBeat: Steam Edition – PC
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Release Date: January 20, 2014
ESRB Rating: T
Nerd Rating: 8 out of 10
Reviewed by Malefico
From Zen Studios, makers of the Pinball FX series and CastleStorm, comes KickBeat – an epic Kung Fu contest set to high energy music. KickBeat features amazing visuals, energizing sound and pure fun. If ever in your life you picked up a pad or instrument and started jamming to Guitar Hero or Rock Band, you’ll probably love KickBeat .
The game features a comprehensive training mode, and a story mode featuring two protagonists, Lee and Mei (unlocked after beating the game as Lee) so all players can realize their dreams of hand-to-hand conquest, fame, and glory as a hero or heroine. In addition, it’s possible to unlock free play, fight to your own music, and take part in the frenetic survival mode.
In story mode, you pursue the Sphere of Music, a relic that encompasses all pieces of music, past, present, and future and contains the combined knowledge and power of all the techniques of the Order of the Melodic Fist, the monks who guard the Sphere. Sounds like a solid, kung fu type of quest, n’est pas? Really, they could have just said, “Hey, you’re a kid wandering home late at night, just listening to your iPod, minding your own business and suddenly you get jumped by hundreds of evil vampire ninjas…” Cuz that would have worked, too.
KickBeat controls are extremely simple. Using the keyboard or a game pad, tap the directional buttons in time to your enemies’ attacks in order to defeat the waves of bad guys using your Melodic techniques. Variously, you have to be ready for attacks that match the beats and counterpoints of the music, as well as linked and simultaneous attacks from multiple directions.
The graphics in KickBeat are solid and look great, but won’t tax lower-end systems. Old School stayed at a steady 60 FPS throughout. Despite the program’s paucity with system resources, the game environment looks first rate, with excellent use of color throughout and a wide variety of eye-pleasing effects present during the action sequences.
The animations are excellent, with enemies launching a variety of attacks with their hands and feet. Even while the player is simply looking over the main menu, the protagonist runs through some basic techniques as if warming up for the impending contest. Each tune is divided into sections, and beating the last enemy in a section rewards you with any of a number of awesome finishing moves.
Enemies crackle and dissolve in a flash of yellow energy, so really this game must have gone through ESRB on a day when the censor’s bowels were acting up as it contains no blood and violence that’s on par with most platformers; the “T” rating is iffy in my opinion. Then again, that’s probably why I’m not a censor.
In-game music, being one of the highlights of the game, is great, even for an old gamer like me. You’ll get to listen to hip-hop, dance, metal, and other genres as you kung-pow your way through the hordes of masked attackers.
Sound effects are less than stellar – all your attacks sound the same and produce the same flat smack when you hit an opponent. But given the nature of the game, and that the music track is much louder than the combat, it’s not really a huge disappointment, just something you realize could have sounded meatier.
KickBeat scores you based on the number of successful attacks, with a score multiplier as you chain together successful moves in the sections of the song. You start with full Health and Chi, the two complementary sides of a yin/yang symbol dead center on the fighting floor. Missing an attack resets your multiplier and drains your Chi, one of two bars that gauge the fighting fitness of your character. If you run out of Chi your attacks lose energy and leave you open to Health damage. Also, if you blow an attack and the bad guys hit you, your health level is likewise depleted. If you’re doing well on a song, you’ll have opportunities to replenish Chi and Health by defeating specific enemies.
Enemies attack from one of four directions, each corresponding to a color. The game highlights the color of the impending attack, and outlines the ninja just before his onslaught. It also rates you on each of your attack, from Perfect to Good, with pluses and minuses indicating your attacks are either to fast or too slow to be perfect. Misses are also subject to helpful hints, like Too Fast or Slow.
Some enemies attack in linked pairs, with yellow energy tracers defining the start and end of such strikes. Common enemies attack with primary beats of the music, while blue enemies attack between beats, and red enemies attacking simultaneously from different directions.
At the end of each music section, you can activate awesome finishing animations by beating the last enemy of the segment. These intervals are great, as the hapless opponent always has the same stunned, wide-eyed look just before you pummel him. It’s terrible that I only captured one example of this in over 100 screen shots, because it’s as hilarious as it is rewarding to see. The ubiquitous ninja look embarrassed, downtrodden or just befuddled, depending on the spin your brain puts on their expression just before you deliver the smackdown.
KickBeat also features Boss battles that crank up the heat on players and feature some excellent atmospheric effects during the combat.
The Bottom Line
I was immediately taken with the fast action, great music, fluid animations and engaging environments in KickBeat. Although I was never outstanding at rhythm games, the training mode got me up to speed quickly and I was popping off perfect sections in no time. Sure, there were moments that took me way back to Simon, that bleating electronic conundrum that often left me feeling like a brain-damaged chimp, hooting and hammering away at its inscrutable, unbeatable buttons…
But, although KickBeat is quick to punish you for falling out of rhythm, it’s equally adept at rewarding the player with a sense of accomplishment. You’ll feel like a real master whenever you out together a mistake-free song and get your Steam alias posted on the leader board, at least until you realize that you’re only ranked 5708th. High scores aren’t what they used to be. Oh well, try and try again.
I can find no fault with the basic mechanics of the game. The animations are varied, the colors vibrant and the atmosphere compelling. Lightning-fast action set to high-energy music doesn’t hurt the experience, either. And the controls, while simple, never miss a (Kick)beat, giving the player no excuse for missed opportunities.
If there are grumbles about this game, they would be aimed at the mercilessly repetitive, uninspiring sound of player attacks hitting enemies, and the fact that you can’t choose to play male or female protagonist from the beginning. Neither of these truly diminished my enjoyment of the game, but then I’m a guy. I say, give the ladies equal time without making them play through as Lee.
The story is kind of bunk, in my opinion, but let’s face it, rhythm games are not renowned for the strength of the plot, and for good reason – it just doesn’t matter. I appreciate the effort on the part of the developers, but these games charm for their simple concept and challenging play, not because anyone cares about whatever narrative strings the action together. If you are completely enamored of the narrative and think I’m too dense to appreciate the intricate exploration of the nature of unarmed combat as a path to self-awareness, and that I have no appreciation for the deep philosophical questions the player is compelled to address as a member of the human race, you have my apologies. Now go kick someone in the head, preferably a virtual masked ninja and not your sibling, neighbor, or some innocent at the 7-11.
KickBeat is a solid, tautly wrought work of digital domination set to kick-ass tunes. It marries action and rhythm, and throws in a little Street Fighter just for grins and giggles. One of our writers recently noted that one must exercise caution when firing up a video game at a party. KickBeat is a title destined to become the focal point of more than one shindig, with party-goers calling dibs on next song, figuring out ad hoc drinking rules based on all the elements of the game, and generally monopolizing the system, possibly for longer than is desired by the host(ess).
Basically, this game will entertain players of all ages and provides substantial replay value based on the various difficulty levels and game modes. If you enjoy dance, rhythm or fighting games, check out KickBeat, it’s definitely a standout among recent releases.
Solid 8 out of 10.
Thanks for reading and as always, feel free to post comments or questions, or email me, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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