It’s always difficult to step out of your comfort zone. In my case, I have always adored Italian food and only dabbled within it when going out for lunch. Then, just recently, I discovered Japanese cuisine and my world was blown. Life became even more delicious when I became free of that particular limitation, so why would a game developer not do the same?
In the case of Zen Studios, moving into genres other than pinball has been hugely successful so far. And with Kickbeat, they might just have found a much needed twist within the tired and saturated realm of music gaming.
Kickbeat takes some of the simpler aspects of gameplay from Guitar Hero and combines it with kicking people in the face. Said equation sounds great on paper. Executing it well might have proved difficult, so I’m happy to say Zen did it extremely well.
The best rhythm games from the past were hits due their easy to pick up and play nature, so Kickbeat‘s simple four button controller layout should be instantly recognizable, as enemies approach you in the beat of the music. Timing attacks earns you extra points, so hitting thugs at just the right time is paramount to getting a high score.
Unlike Rock Band or Guitar Hero, missing a hit won’t mess up the song being played – it’s your health point meter that goes down instead. With that in mind, making strategic use of power ups not only helps keeping your score and combos going, but helps make the game fun, even if you mess up a lot. Levels usually take about three minutes, so starting over isn’t as big of a deal, especially if you are on the go and have a Vita around to pass the time.
The use of power ups might feel like a cop out way of hiding the fact that Kickbeat is kind of cheap at spots, even though their effect only lasts for a short while. The difficulty is ramped up from the start and it can be quite easy to be overwhelmed, especially at moments when the button prompts become obscured by the army of thugs lining up to be kicked. There’s also an annoying ¨cinematic¨ camera pull out that can throw your game off but thankfully, that can be turned off in the options menu.
On the other hand, or in Kickbeat‘s case, foot (sorry!), there´s a fair amount of depth to be found with repeated attempts at a level. The enemy types are varied and fun to deal with and the tracklist helps with delivering plenty of challenge. Stages are also split into boss battles at certain points, which help change things up a bit by adding a few unique elements to just pressing buttons after prompts.
Constant camera pulls aside, Kickbeat‘s presentation is mostly well done. There’s a limited amount of voice acting that is limited to cutscenes that help deliver what little there is to be told of a story. The music ranges from heavy metal from the likes of Marylin Manson to techno, which might seem extremely off when compared in any other scale, but works in the context of Kickbeat.
After you are done with story mode, there are a few extra modes to tackle that pretty much ramp up the difficulty even further, like a song after song survival mode. There’s also an extra campaign that mostly tells the same story from a different character’s point of view and ramps the difficulty up even more.
Zen Studios excelled at jumping out of their comfort zone with CastleStorm earlier this year and Kickbeat proves to be a fun twist in yet another game genre. It isn’t the most technical or complex music game you are bound to run into, nor is it the easiest to get into at first. Once it gets going, though, you´ll find it hard to resist the urge of kicking fools in the face.