Kick, punch, it’s all in the mind….c’mon admit it, whenever you hear the words ‘rhythm game’ and ‘kung fu’, gamers of a certain age will instantly hark back to Parappa the Rappa and his dog filled antics of yesteryear.
And when you initially take a look at Kickbeat Special Edition you’ll find it seems to have a fair old bit in common with that darn dog. Those similarities end fairly quickly though.
For Zen Studios have taken the rhythm action genre, thrown in some high quality rock, drum & bass and hip hop tracks, and combined those with the feel of those old Hong Kong and Kung Fu action movies that we all know and love in a full 3D fighting rhythm game that is an absolute world away from the paper thin rapping dog.
You initially play as Lee, a somewhat clumsy and unlikely hero who finds himself thrust into a world in which music is being controlled by the power hungry Mr Halisi, owner of Entertainment Earth. Halisi aims to use the music to control the world and Lee (alongside his love affair Mei) are seemingly the only ones who can stop him.
Lee and Mei must fight off waves of Halisi’s men and it’s your actions and nimble fingers that will decide their fate.
As is the way with most games of this genre, you’ll be prompted to hit the X, Y, B or A buttons as they are highlighted on screen, but in a twist to the norm, it’s Halisi and his men that will determine which button you’ll need to press, as they circle and attack you from all sides in time with the music.
But it’s not a simple case of just mashing the buttons as and when they are highlighted for neither Lee nor Mei will survive in the heat of battle for too long without the help of the magical ‘Chi’. This is earnt via successful button timings as the forces of Entertainment Earth circle you ready for an attack. Mistime your attack or sit there ramming the buttons as fast as you can and you’ll build up little Chi, instead being left on the floor with a pile of enemies ganging up on you. There are three main fighters that you’ll come up against; the yellow guys are your bog standard fighters, the blue guys come at you a little quicker and with less of a breather between them whilst if you see any red fighters on the horizon, you’ll need to prepare yourself for hitting at least 2 buttons at the same time.
Further to this, certain fighters will have a glowing orb above their heads and to receive the power of these orbs, you’ll need to dispatch the fighter and then quickly press the same button again to acquire the orb power. These range from additional points, to a 2x boost, to extra Chi or a boost to your health bar and without them, you’ll quickly find your progress through the more difficult levels severely hampered.
And whilst things are pretty simple on the standard normal level (I managed to complete the entire campaign first time with only one reset on normal), the move up to ‘hard’ sees you having to juggle numerous enemies at a quicker pace, something which is tricky if you aren’t sure of the track in hand, especially if you are also trying to harvest the additional orbs. However, find a level or five that features some of the better known tracks and you’ll be tapping the fingers (and toes) away whilst you fight off the enemies like no ones business.
A game wouldn’t be a game if it were not for the odd end of level boss being thrown in and Kickbeat has a number of special stages dedicated to this. Initially, the levels centre around locations found in the story (monastery, wrestler arena, night club and the like) but at the end of each segment, Lee or Mei come up against a boss that livens things up a little. Gone are the fighters from around you and instead you need to fight back against helicopter missiles or virtual octopus arms….yes things are that crazy in Kickbeat and it’s with these bosses that the real test of your rhythmic skills come in. Be a little slow or fail to return the vast majority of advances and you’ll never get to hear the end of the song.
Thankfully, the tunes that have been chosen by Zen and included in Kickbeat Special Edition are for the most part fairly well known. You’ll get to enjoy the popular sounds of Papa Roach, Marilyn Manson and Pendulum whilst also listening in and pulling those Kung Fu moves off to lesser known artists including a Taiwanese rapper who fits with the game perfectly.
It would be nice to see a few more tracks included in addition to the 24 that are being smashed already in the campaign, but I guess it’s a tough ask to a) find a number of suitable tracks that lend themselves well to the fighting mechanics on board and b) of those suitable tunes, manage to get them through whatever form of legalization that is required. What is included is good, but from a longer term point of view, once you’ve mastered a few of the levels in front of you, repetition begins to raise its ugly head.
Aside from the campaign, and purely included to kill any repeating of levels comes ‘Survival’ and and ‘free play’ modes. They basically do exactly what they say on the tin with the latter being great if you want to show a few songs off to a mate and the former being a real tough test of your skills. In fact, ‘Survival’ is just a bit too tough for my liking although achievement junkies are sure to hit it in their quest for the full gamerscore on offer. The small addition of some unlockable costumes, visualisers and rewards for hitting a certain number of stars is nice but again, will probably only be of any interest to those collecting the points.
There is however a rather superb split play mode which works remarkably well. Split down the vertical, you and a sofa based friend can choose the difficulty level and then either the story level to obtain the highest score possible on or a custom playlist using any of the songs that are found in the game. The fact you can quite easily battle it out for 5 minutes over a couple of tracks, or take in a whole session in one go (it’ll let you create a playlist that is limited to 100 songs – that’s nigh on 6 hours of play time), is brilliant if you have some friends over….just a shame that the split play doesn’t wind its way onto the Xbox Live service as well.
One issue you may be worried about with Kickbeat is whether the animations, the attacks and the musical background all work well together and I’m happy to say that they do. Whilst a couple of the levels are a little frustrating with attacks that don’t quite time perfectly with the music, this is quite a rare occurrence and it’s obvious there has been a lot of effort put in to make things feel and sound just right. If you do have any issues with controller or tv lag, then there are a few options you can play around with in order to help sort them out. From a personal viewpoint though, straight out of the box was more than good enough.
With the beautiful hand drawn visuals and its own unique art style, KickBeat Special Edition looks just as good as it sounds and should be something that you should at least consider when it releases on Xbox One on 26th Sept. However, due to the short length of the campaign, I can’t really see you going back to it very often once the campaign has been completed and for that reason, kicks out an average 3 stars.