Played on Windows and PlayStation 3
Also Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Wii U
Zen Studios has been a studio I’ve kept my eye on for quite some time. They made Zen Pinball FX2 which quickly became my favorite Pinball game, mixing arcade-style pinball with a more playable and interactive table. I was hooked instantly. So when I heard they had made a KickBeat which appeared to be kung fu inspired rhythm game, I knew I had to take a look as I used to play a lot of DDR and Stepmania.
Well, KickBeat is definitely a kung fu inspired rhythm game, but it’s also a bit of a budget title at an MSRP of 9.99 when it was released on PS3 and Vita. I’m not sure what I was expecting. But could a small budget harm a rhythm game?
KickBeat starts with a number of options locked off, there’s a tutorial, and a story mode available. If you start with a story mode, you’ll find the option for two different characters, Lee and Mei, with Mei’s story being locked out. The stories have cartoon style cutscenes explaining what’s happening and why you’re using your kung fu against random people.
As you progress you unlock a mode to play any song on any level with any character, as well as the ability to import your own music. These turn out to be all the modes KickBeat has, however, there is a number of unlockable characters for the former.
So when you begin KickBeat, Lee’s story is actually quite funny, while there are only about 7 cutscenes I laughed a few times, and the scenes are humorous. It might have been a pity laugh but I still find it hilarious when the old wise master, asks “Even Justin Bieber?” when all the music in the world had been stolen.
It’s cheesy but it made me laugh.
In fact, I had a rather good time seeing all the cutscenes, and technically this is my second playthrough because I own this game on PS3 and got it a long time ago. It’s still a rather good story and gives the player a reason to go kick ass around the world.
But, it doesn’t attempt to take itself seriously for Lee’s story, and while it’s based on Wuxia style fighting, it might offend the die-hard fans of that genre. Still, I don’t think that’s intentional, someone wanted to write a humorous story, and you’re playing a game where you fight people in time to the music. It’s not intended to offend, it’s just trying to be a bit silly.
There is one problem though. I’ve talked about Lee’s story, and it’s all true. I enjoy his story a lot. Then you beat the story and unlock Mei’s story, everything changes. You get a more traditional Wuxia story, but you also replay almost all the same stages, so the question of where you go next is never made. You just follow the same path because of “story”. If only that was the only problem with the second story, but we’ll tackle her story again after we talk about gameplay.
So when you start KickBeat you probably will try the tutorial and it’s a good place to start, but if you ever played a rhythm game before it’s a bit frustrating. KickBeat decides to explain itself to the player, explaining that there are four directions that enemies can come in and then shows you enemies attacking from four directions. Every single part of the tutorial has you watch the gameplay itself and then you do the same thing. The problem is it’s a rhythm game, you can’t learn how to play DDR by watching, you can’t learn KickBeat by watching, so half the time doing the tutorial is pointless.
The main game is played with the d-pad and the face buttons, you can attack enemies as they attack you in time with the beat by pressing their direction. There are three types of enemies, yellow, blue and red. The yellow are standard enemies that attack on the beat, the blues attack with multiples at a time on the half beat, and reds attack two at a time so you’ll have to hit two or even three directions at once.
It’s visibly appealing though, enemies walk to counterclockwise to countdown to an attack..
Then there are the bonuses. Some enemies will approach with an item attached to them over their head, the items can be scores, “Energy”, health, multipliers, shields, and bombs. To earn them you press the same attack button twice in a row. The first being a normal attack and the second magically earning the bonus. This double tap becomes natural over the course of the game, to the point you can attack even the enemies attacking on the half beat and get their bonuses. It’s an odd feeling but rewarding.
There’s also a combo system, which increases the score multiplier as you kill more enemies. This is necessary to get the highest score, and at lower levels, you can just focus on the enemies attacking to earn the combo. At the higher difficulties, you need to get the bonuses as missing them will reset the combo.
This is mostly standard for rhythm games, though the combos and multipliers do add a little more strategy to the score, and the shields and bombs items are both triggerable items, the core game really focuses on beating the enemies in time with the music.
KickBeat is all based on kung fu, and after most complete sections the game zooms in on the character and sees the player attacking an enemy. These are all rather cool, but at the same time, KickBeat is a rhythm game. The window dressing is the kung fu and there’s a lot of style to the screen. I always have a problem with fancy rhythm games as the player can’t really enjoy it as much as they’re focused on playing the levels. While there are small pauses in the gameplay to show off a single fighting move, it’s all noise that distracts the player, the focus is on the buttons and actions, not on the Kung Fu.
I absolutely love fighting the wrestlers, if the rest were as memorable…
However, in a rhythm game, there’s really one thing that matters. The music, and how the game plays along with that. Well, KickBeat plays well with the built-in music, but the music is … interesting.
There’s Marilyn Manson singing Beautiful People, POD singing Boom, Papa Roach singing Last Resort, and Rob Zombie singing Scum of the Earth. All of these are good songs and work well. Though Last Resort is censored, and I heard it earlier today on the radio where they played static over the word fuck, in the game, there’s just this odd empty space.
Otherwise, those four songs are fantastic. The problem is the rest of the music is a little weak. There are 20 other songs, and they aren’t recognizable. I like the music in this game, but it’s clear there are some known songs and they’re winners, and there are some songs that are only acceptable.
It’s not that the songs are terrible, though there are one or two songs I could have done without. Most songs got me hyped and pulled into the game. Yet, while the music fits with the game, the artists are not that recognizable and they are not as strong as the major licensed music.
There’s also the ability to play your own music but it has two flaws that kept me away from it. The first flaw is KickBeat requires the player to tap out the beat, that’s a bit of a shame because it’s a very manual process, and honestly it is all based on how good you are at matching the beat. I’m not very good at that, to be honest.
The second issue is that there is no adjustment for beats per minute. If your song slows down or changes tempo, KickBeat completely loses the beat, and most songs do change tempo, at least most of mine.
It’s a shame because as a feature “Play your own music” sounds good, and it works great in other games like Beat Hazard. However here, I didn’t feel the need to really play with the feature that much.
So the fact there’s only 24 songs becomes a bigger problem on Mei’s story, as you play through KickBeat a second time, you actually go through the exact same stages. There’s not even a change to the songs or the difficulty. You literally play the same songs a second time.
A variation on the difficulty could have been a nice change because the difficulties in KickBeat are a bit extreme. Normal is relatively easy, however, the “hard” difficulty is very challenging. Extreme and Master are extremely difficult, but I feel like there’s a potential step between Normal and Hard that Mei’s story could have had a half step between them.
The problem is that step isn’t there, and you’re just playing the same songs a second time. As mentioned above the story isn’t changed, and ultimately, you’re doing everything a second time to pad the length of the game.
Overall KickBeat is what it promises. It’s a martial arts inspired rhythm game with some good music. It’s not deep, but then it probably shouldn’t be. It could have used more music, but the gameplay is solid while it lasts. If you really get into it, there’s infinite replayability with the import music options, I just didn’t find that as entertaining a prospect.
When I got to the end of KickBeat, I enjoyed the game as it was. I played for 6 hours playing through both stories. There’s a good challenge if people really enjoy rhythm games, but the music selection and sharp difficulty curve do diminish my desire to keep playing it. Though I do admit I liked the music while it lasted
Final Thoughts: It’s a budget musical title, whose budget does hurt the soundtrack. While it has good graphics and style, only a few songs are noteworthy and a couple are memorable. But the story is solid.
Stats: 6.2 hours played, 21/42 achievements earned.
I didn’t include gameplay footage in this review because obvious concerns about copyright. I contacted Zen Studio to see if there’s any of these songs that would not be taken down on Youtube, and didn’t receive an answer back, as such I won’t be featuring gameplay.