STAFF REVIEW of KickBeat (Xbox One)

Sunday, September 21, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

KickBeat Box art When you think of Zen Studios, you most likely think of their fantastic Pinball games and licensed Marvel and Star Wars tables for them. With their success they’ve been able to branch out and make other types of games, KickBeat being one of them, now available for Xbox One. At its core, KickBeat is a rhythm game but with its own unique twist. Combining music based rhythm along with kung-fu combat, KickBeat is definitely a unique take on the genre with its distinct gameplay and interesting soundtrack selection. KickBeat will test your dexterity with its rhythm but also challenge how well you can keep track of multiple things on the screen all at once before it becomes overwhelming. If you know your rhythm games, KickBeat most resembles Bust-A-Groove more than any other in the genre.

KickBeat does feature a story in the campaign mode that revolves around two heroes, Lee and Mei, trying to stop an evil organization from stealing all of the world’s music. There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the core of it, and in all honestly, you won’t care about the story as you’re here to play the music more than anything else. It probably doesn’t help that the voice acting is forgettable and the writing of the ‘jokes’ is terrible at best. I get that it’s not trying to take itself too seriously, but the combination of those two things simply makes the story laughable.

Being that KickBeat is a rhythm game, the life or death of it will be based on how much you like the soundtrack selection. Given that music likeness is subjective, this will vary from person to person, but if you’re a fan of late 90’s rock and similar music, KickBeat might be right up your alley. There will be some bands you probably recognize like Marilyn Manson (The Beautiful People), POD (Boom), Papa Roach (Last Resort), Rob Zombie (Scum of the Earth), and Celldweller (Switchback, I Can’t Wait), and then there are some lesser known and indie bands like Shen Yi, Blue Stahli, Pre-Fight Hype, enV, and more. Again, it’s an interesting mix that is reminiscent of a possible mix tape I might have had in high school, but if you’re not a fan of the name bands above or that genre of music, there’s not much else in regards to song selection for variety. This isn’t held against the game at all, as it was a relief to not have current top 40 pop in a music game for once, but something that is worth mentioning up front.

At its core, you’ll have to hit the appropriate face button (or Dpad direction) on the controller to the beat of the music, but how the notes are visualized is what makes KickBeat different. Most rhythm games have the input spot in a specific area and the notes come along a specified track, much like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, though here it’s quite different, as your main character Lee (or Mei after you complete the story) is standing in the middle of a ring or area with enemies surrounding you. As enemies circle around you, they’ll eventually come in closer to the middle, and based on what section they step near that’s the button you’ll have to press along to the beat to attack them down and succeed.

Because the enemies are constantly circling and there’s quite a few on screen at once to watch for, it can become quite chaotic, even more so on the higher difficulty levels. As stages get harder some new mechanics are introduced but difficulty is more represented with sheer number of enemies you’ll have to attack more than any new crazy mechanics. As you successfully hit the note on beat, you’ll attack that enemy with a punch or kick, allowing for a flow to happen when you finally get the hang of it and become skilled.

So not only do you need to watch all of the moving enemies around the outer edge to come closer for the attack, there are also differently colored enemies that represent different beats to hit them with. Regular enemies will always attack on the main beat of the song, blue are half beats and generally come in twos or threes, yellow guys are hold notes, and finally red enemies come in duos and trios and will have you pressing multiple buttons at once to correctly hit the note. To make things even more tricky, certain enemies, of any color, can also have a special icon above their head, either health, extra points, multiplier, and more, and to nab these you need to press the appropriate button twice really fast instead of the once. It adds some depth that isn’t forced until you play on the hardest settings, as not doing these ‘double taps’ will cause you to lose your combo or take damage like in the final stage.

The general gameplay is very easy to pick up and play, but even for someone like me that is very skilled at rhythm games, the learning curve is quite steep as you need to more learn on what to not focus on instead of specific notes. With all of the enemies moving around and different colors associated with them it can become very easy to get overwhelmed and lose your focus. Bright colors and enemies blending together doesn’t help the matter to keep things from standing out and distinct. Visual cues are going to determine how successful you are at a song and this is also KickBeat’s biggest frustration, as it’s not always clear and you’ll have to rely on memorization. Having to guess which one of the next three blue guys coming next in the middle of a faster tempo song can be very frustrating when you guess wrong, but great when you do get it right. On the hardest difficulty you’re not even given the queues so there’s definitely some challenge here for those that want it. You’re going to really have to pay attention to be successful and you don’t actually control your characters movements at all aside from if they succeed at the right time or not.

If you’re the type of player that likes to replay songs over and over to earn more stars and a better score and work on climbing the leaderboards, there’s plenty of that to be had here. If you’re not however, the very small song selection (quite a few of which are by the same artists) will start to wear on you quite quickly after completing the story for both characters. Even though I was a fan of the music genre that most of these songs are categorized into, it eventually became dull playing the same handful of songs repeatedly. There are multiple difficulties you can choose from the beginning, and there is a lot of challenge within should you take the time to learn the small nuances, but with a story that doesn’t matter and some terrible voice acting in the cutscenes, I wish there was more selection to keep me coming back for more. If you’re a rhythm game enthusiast like myself it’s worth checking out just to see how music and kung-fu can come together at its cheap entry point, but if you aren’t a fan of the bands listed above or that musical genre, it’s a lot tougher to recommend.

Overall: 6.5 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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