KickBeat Special Edition – Review

Title   KickBeat Special Edition
Developer  Zen Studios
Publisher  Zen Studios, SCEA
Platform  PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Windows PC, Wii U
Genre  Music, Rhythm
Release Date  September 16, 2014 (PS4)

KickBeat has been around on the PlayStation Vita for a while now but has found its way to the PS4 which is probably a port that no-one was asking for, but shush! You’ve got it now. That’s good news for people who like rhythm-action games that are styled to look like mass brawls and even better news if you like your rhythm-action games to be as difficult as being in a mass brawl too.

You play as Lee, and later as Mei, who stands in the middle of the screen as wave after wave of thugs come to punch his face off much like any kung fu film from the ’70s or any Van Damme movie. Enemies approach from one of the four main directions and walk a quarter circle around you before attacking. Press the corresponding button (triangle for up, square for left etc) and you counter-attack them.

The mechanics of the game really are as simple as that. A little additional complexity is added by enemies that you have to hold the attacking button on and release at the right time and anyone carrying a power-up has to be double-tapped in order to get it but that’s really it.

However, as simple as that sounds, the game is actually a complete son of a bitch. Straight from the off (well once you’ve got past the tutorial), the game pulls no punches. Complex patterns are thrown at you and these only get worse later on, especially when you have to hit double attacks. It takes a while to find your rhythm, and you will eventually. But that doesn’t mean you’ll get good.  At least not by this game’s standards.

The main problem is how the rhythms are portrayed on the screen. All you are looking for is the button indicator to show up and where the enemy is in relation to it so that you can hit it correctly. Your timing is scored (miss, good, great, perfect) and as you press the button you throw a punch or kick at the enemy. You won’t even register what your character is doing as there is always another attacker on his way and the attackers themselves slightly obscure the action. Where something like Guitar Hero puts the visual cues at the forefront, KickBeat puts it on the background and indeed removes it entirely on Master difficulty which isn’t a great gameplay decision.

Also, using the movement of enemies to gauge the timing is troublesome too. Feeling the beat will probably lead to mistakes because of how the game interprets a song’s rhythm so you really have to concentrate on the screen. It’s just not very satisfying, even when you are doing well.

Visually, the game is pretty ordinary. There aren’t many arenas and the character models look like they are from an Xbox Live Arcade beat ‘em up. It all looks a bit too dated for the powerhouse PS4 and this is further reinforced by the game’s soundtrack which is mostly nu-metal and alternative hip hop from the early ’00s. It’s 2014 and I don’t expect to hear Papa Roach unless I inexplicably turn on Kerrang TV.

The Vita/PS3 version allowed you to use your own MP3s to create levels but that feature is missing here, at least for now, and the PS4 version isn’t a cross buy with the others even though the originals are. You do get six new tracks, but that’s not really enough to make existing fans upgrade.

Die-hard fans of the genre may well get more out of the game than I did, but as someone who has played and enjoyed games such as Parappa The Rapper, Elite Beat Agents, and Gitaroo Man, I should be one of them. The on-screen action is too fussy to put this much reliance on, the beat matching doesn’t always feel natural to me (as a musician), the gameplay allows progress but punishes you with some very harsh scoring (and the trophies are going to be out of reach for most players), and there’s no variation aside from the occasional boss battle, none of which play much differently to ordinary levels.

However, if you’re a nu-metal kid with exceptional beat-matching skills then this is a cheap way to punch people while listening to Celldweller and Marilyn Manson.

  • Challenging rhythm action gameplay
  • Overly challenging rhythm action gameplay
  • Fussy visuals
  • Dated soundtrack
  • Lacks variation
  • Not cross buy
  • No MP3 support
  • Near-impossible trophies

KickBeat adds a kung-fu flavour to the rhythm-action genre but also adds an unnecessary level of difficulty that comes both by choice and by some bad design. If they stripped out all the things that get in the way of the action, you'd be left with a very uninspiring game but with all those things put in, you're left with one that's too demanding for what it offers the player.

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