From the developer of the brilliant Pinball FX comes a mash-up of fighter and rhythm action; Zen Studios presents Kickbeat for PlayStation 4. The game was initially on the Vita and PS3 in 2013, now on the next-gen platforms, the special edition is essentially the same game with improved resolution and frame rate.
The story revolves around Lee a martial arts student of Mister Fu (first name Kung?) who guards the sphere of music which contains all the songs in the world, even more than all the dodgy downloaded tracks you have on your iPod. In a series of events, all but eighteen of the world’s supply of songs are stolen and disappear from Earth, including Justin Beiber, so be thankful.
Understandably Lee is enraged by the now repetitive playlist he finds himself listening to, so in a series of rhythmic levels must kick and punch his fights back at the controlling monopoly and reclaim the harmonies for the people. Fight the power!
The basic premise of the game, as the name would suggest, is to kick (and sometimes punch) encroaching opponents in time to the beats of the song being played. The number and accuracy of which becomes more accute as the difficulty level goes from normal through to master.
Initially the player is treated to a tutorial that teaches the fundamental concepts needed to progress through the story, though to begin with pretty much everything within the game is locked out, even the free play mode, which makes little sense. In order to unlock different songs and game features there is no option but to progress through the single player stuff. A second character, Lei, is made available to play through once the first single player storyline is defeated, but as it’s the same songs again previously battled with Lee, it doesn’t add that much to the content.
In this genre of gaming the soundtrack can swell a title to lofty heights or cripple things beyond enjoyment. Kickbeat’s efforts sits somewhere in the middle and is largely inoffensive. The track selection is a little bit limited in terms of genres however, as much of it sits in the nu-metal or electronica camp featuring numerous songs from Env and Blue Stahli with other artists contributing one or two titles including Marilyn Manson’s fabulous “The Beautiful People” in the first boss battle; arguably the highlight of what’s on offer. In total there are twenty-four different songs, across six different environments, with no DLC on offer currently, but what’s available seems to suit the game’s style well.
To get through these tracks the player needs to hit a combination of the controller’s face buttons in time to an onward march of opponent fighters whom charge unrelentingly at the player with their feet and fists. There are some more advanced gameplay elements introduced in the tutorial, such as the press and hold ghosting fighter moves and the double tap button attacks that grant bonus skills and points when connected, depending on the icon flashing above enemy’s heads. It is possible to use the d-pad in conjunction with the face buttons and it seems more natural and easier to use both of these in combo as fingers gel together better with what’s going on onscreen.
The player is scored out on the hits connected and the accuracy of its timing, classified on a five star system – the more precise those actions are, the higher the ranking achieved, and it’s these stars that unlock the game’s greyed out items. It’s here though that things run into some issues; the key presses don’t always coincide with the musical beats, instead it sometimes decides to go with the lyrics, and when this is mixed up within a track things feel quite off, even if this is only by half a beat. The power-ups are an interesting idea, but the double tap requirements mean you often forget about them and their use ends up seeming a bit awkward, spoiling the rhythm’s flow somewhat.
It is a pretty looking game in 1080P, even if some might call it garish in places. All arenas have a very neon look to them, with saturation turned up to eleven. Things don’t slow down when stuff gets busy in-game, thankfully, although the amount of enemies on screen do at times interfere with button direction; it’s quite easy to lose track of where the next punch is coming from as the flashing white highlights get lost amongst all the action. The UI is nicely streamlined and makes getting into the game very easy, with everything presented very slickly and cleanly.
There’s certainly fun to be had with Kickbeat for a few hours; it’s an interesting take on the genre mixing Kung Fu with nu metal beats and for a budget music game it hits the right notes generally in the right order. The downside is the limited soundtrack and lack of longevity – it’s unlikely to be a title returned to again after the initial playthrough and this will be particularly true for those who’ve sampled earlier versions of the game, making it a definitely maybe.