Everybody was kung-fu fighting!
Quick, name a game that combines both the fighting and rhythm game genres! If you said Bust-A-Groove, congratulations! You’re old. [Or you're a GR veteran! ~Ed. Nick Tan] The rest of the young’uns probably named Kickbeat, a new PS3 and Vita release from Zen Studios.
Kickbeat is a peculiar combination of '70s martial arts exploitation flick and colorful Saturday morning cartoon. You take the role of a powerful warrior beset on all sides by a staggering number of foes including ninjas, wrestlers, and cyborgs. Luckily, all these villains follow evil peon rule #57 which states that no matter how overwhelming your numbers are you can only attack the protagonist one at a time. Similarly, you follow martial arts protagonist rule #57 which states that you cannot run from a mismatched fight until every single peon is defeated. So instead of trying to get away from your assailants, you simply sit in the middle of the goon circle, punching and kicking your feeble attackers.
But this is a rhythm game! So every single peon that comes your way is doing it to the beat of a song. Enemies are color-coded according to what beats they fall on, a lot like the arrows in DDR. They also come at you from one of four different directions, corresponding to the face buttons on the Vita. Just press the right button at the right time to deal out kung-fu justice.
Of course, Kickbeat isn’t going to make it easy on you. Enemies will constantly circle you, confusing you as to their angle of attack. Luckily, the game is also kind enough to highlight the next enemy to attack, so you always have fair warning. Easier difficulties even flat out tell you which button to press as well, while harder difficulties take away these cues altogether. Miss a beat and you’ll get punched in the face, losing a bit of health in the process. Your goal is to take out all the enemies before they take out you.
And that’s it! That’s the game. The action is mixed-up a bit with the addition of power-ups that can restore your health or block a few enemy attacks and a “chi” ability that allows you to multiply your score, but at its most basic Kickbeat is really all about pushing buttons to music. As such, your enjoyment of the game will largely hinge on whether or not you like the music that it has to offer. Rebellious children of the nineties will be happy, as arguably big names like Marilyn Manson, Papa Roach, and Rob Zombie are probably the most well-known entries on the track list. (Maybe the game really was meant to appeal to people who remember Bust-A-Groove.) The rest of the tracklist is filled with bands like Styles of Beyond and Southpaw Swagger, stars of that one bargain bin at the record store that the weird smelling guy in the leather jacket always seemed to hover over.
Thus, it comes as a huge relief then that Kickbeat actually lets you import your own music as new levels to play. Most of this work is automated, but you will have to tap a button to the beat of your chosen song first, which may be frustrating for people without a sense of rhythm… but if that’s the case, why are you playing a rhythm game in the first place? This system works really well for electronica, techno, and even dubstep, but more vocal genres like hip hop end up producing kind of a random splattering of beats that don’t really match with the rhythm all that well. It also tends to get confused when dealing with songs that change their tempo. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s by far the preferred way to play the game. Just make sure that you have a lot of space on your Vita or PS3 hard drive to import your music collection.
One of the most frustrating aspects of Kickbeat, however, is its content unlocking scheme. Songs are split up into multiple difficulties, as is the norm for rhythm games, but you won’t be able to unlock them for free play until you beat the songs on that difficulty level in story mode first. This means that old rhythm game veterans have to sit through multiple boring levels with enemies attacking once every three beats or so before they even begin to feel challenged. Overall, you’ll have to beat the game four times to unlock everything, and at that point your only real reward is Survival Mode, which is made up of the same 18 tracks you have already played over and over again. You’ll probably get bored and start importing your own songs far before you reach this point, but you’ll have to beat the game at least once even to do that.
Kickbeat is odd in that it’s a fun music game with, frankly, kind of an abysmal track list. I don’t care what your musical preferences are—“The Beautiful People” is inappropriate music for a kung-fu battle, especially when you have to listen to it four times. But if you can weather the unlocking grind enough to import your own library of music, Kickbeat can be a fun diversion. At only a ten-dollar price tag for a Cross Buy, which nets you both the Vita and the PS3 version, Kickbeat is a good value. It’s not a phenomenal killer app that will keep you playing for hours, but it will certainly make a bus ride feel a little bit shorter as you kick people in the face to the dulcet tones of Papa Roach.