Review: Kickbeat Special Edition (Sony PlayStation 4)

Kickbeat Special Edition
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Stuidios
Genre: Rhythm
Release Date: 09/16/2014

I’m discovering that, outside of Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero, I really have zero rhythm, but that hasn’t stopped me from really trying to get over that through repetition with the genre. After all, if you can memorize when you have to hit a button, then you’ll end up doing well. That’s not an affront to the genre, just speaking to my skill level, or lack thereof. That being said, like DJ Max Portable 3, I’ve got a real soft spot for Kickbeat now that I’ve taken it out for a spin, and despite the fact that I have no rhythm to speak of, I keep going back to it because throughout each match up I’m having a blast. Let’s take a look.

The story of the game is pretty straightforward, but also really simple and a bit out there, though no more so than some other fighting games on the market. You play as Lee at first, and unlock Mei later, with both characters having been trained by Master Fu who leads the Order of the Melodic Fist. The Order is a secret group of monks who protect the Sphere of Music, and have for centuries. Every song or melody that’s ever been uttered by a human is contained within the Sphere, so of course someone is going to try and steal it. Enter our villains, a group known as Entertainment Earth, run by Mr. Halisi. There’s a portion of it called Radio Earth who goes in and steals the Sphere, and you’re chosen to put your musical ass-kicking skills to the test and reclaim what was stolen. The story is told through some wonderfully hand-painted cutscenes that move along and don’t detract too much between matches, but it gives something to fight for while you’re going into these areas and kicking and punching people in the face to the beat.

KickBeat Special Edition_20140918220630There is a split screen multiplayer you can play if you’re so inclined to go along with the campaign mode, as well as the requisite leaderboards to gauge your success, or failures in my case. You can also unlock a free play mode to play the songs outside of the campaign, and if you’re growing bored of actually playing the game, you can fire up the Visualizer and make a playlist to watch an expert blow through a song list perfectly with a variety of characters doing it. Yes, the Visualizer takes the place of the Analyzer, which would make playable levels based on your mp3s. This might be a minus for people, especially if you already own it on another platform that can do that, but if you didn’t own it already or only have a PS4 it’s still a decent set of options to play around with. But that’s not all. Survivor Mode is also an option, and yes, you can start at the highest difficulty if you want to see how good, or in my case awful, you really are. Survivor mode relies on you having mastered the art of the double-tap and gotten your timing down to an almost flawless state to keep going.

Visually there’s a lot going on with this, and unfortunately at first, even with doing the tutorials, I found it was a lot to sort through. I do have to say the character and enemy design is well done and fits with the theme of the game beautifully. The animations are great, and watching your character move around to the beat is great. What they decided to do was build up a circular arena to fight in and trigger off your attacks, with the bad guys hitting the trigger points corresponding with you hitting the requisite face button. Basically, this works like the different notes dropping down the line in Guitar Hero and you hitting the button on the controller at the right time. Same mechanic, very different look. There is a score in the left corner, and your boost and shield pop up when they’re ready, but the only other indicator of how you’re doing is a Chi counter and a health counter designed like the yin and yang symbol that you fight over. This is very clean and looks great. My problem was that, between my character jumping around, I lost track of the bad guys moving in and sometimes couldn’t see what button they were about to light up that I needed to hit. This ties in a bit with the camera set up, which is usually quite good, but sometimes it drifts a little too much and you’ll end up missing a guy here or there. It gets easier to time it out with repetition, just like any other rhythm game out there, but it happened often enough that I was cursing it out all the same the first time I went through any particular stage or song.

KickBeat Special Edition_20140918220858Speaking of sound, it wouldn’t be a very good rhythm game without a good selection of songs to go with it, and I’m happy to say there’s some good ones on the list, but don’t be surprised if it’s the radio edit of a song because the game is rated for teens. Even with the Teen rating you do get some Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, POD, Papa Roach, and a mix of ten other artists with songs to fight through. It basically sounds like my mid to late 90’s listening habits, and that’s not a bad thing at all. They do vary up the music selection while you’re playing through so you get a good mix and aren’t left scrambling every song. The song list for each character is the same though, so playing through with one is playing through with the other despite having to play with one to unlock the other. The voice acting is decent enough during cutscenes to move the story along, but the story is pretty bare to begin with. The fight sounds are at just the right level, so they don’t interfere with the song either. It’s a good balance as far as audio goes.

As I mentioned earlier when I was talking about visuals, they’ve changed up the rhythm game formula by eliminating bars coming to you to hit a button at the right time, and instead have replaced them with thugs moving around you in an arena; you have to watch for when they move up to hit you and get them when they step on and highlight that particular face button. Your life is registered on the red portion of a yin-yang symbol on the floor of the arena you’re fighting in, and in the white portion your Chi build-up for special moves. Special moves include getting more points or firing off an attack to clear out a large chunk of the wave of bad guys coming your way. All of the arenas are circular, and you can tell how far along you are by the number of bad guys present. They move in slowly on you in ever increasing waves, all to the beats of the songs of course. Your attacks are all on auto and keyed to how fast you’re hitting buttons and if you’re hitting them correctly. Like Guitar Hero, there are different ways to land hits, with some requiring you to hit once and hold until the next guy steps up indicated by a large streak as they move around you, others requiring you to hit two buttons at the same time triggering a split attack, and others still tasking you to collect bonus points or items by attacking the person carrying them and landing a successful double-tap on the button when they step on it. There are different fights that change up how the action appears on screen, for example Master Fu in the center of the ring instead of your character, but the mechanics are still the same.

kb copterThey make good use of the face buttons, also known as the Triangle, Square, Circle and X, which is what you’re hitting to trigger your fight moves. To fire off your shield or bonus, you use the right and left trigger buttons on top of the controller. The camera is mostly in a fixed point and you have no control over it, but it does sometimes move, which can leave it a bit hard to see where the bad guys are about to hit the button you need, but overall it’s not that big of an issue and the controls respond on time. In my case, it’s a matter of my timing being absolutely awful the first few times through a song and not on the game end.

As far as coming back to the game, you do have multiplayer, and it has the same basic replay value of Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero, where you might want to go back to play through your favorite song or beat your old score. On top of that, you’ve got trophies that will rely on you perfecting your ability to play, which will get you a lot of mileage if you’re looking to get them all for the game. Once you get the timing down, the game becomes even more fun, so going back to songs I’d beaten worked in the game’s favor, as I could anticipate what was coming much better. The one thing I do think works against the game is that there are some longer and tougher songs early on, followed by some shorter and far easier ones. This can be a bit frustrating, even on the lowest difficulty setting, as you have to play through to continue. So song difficulty is a little out of whack at the start. The price point for what you’re getting content wise with the game is fantastic, though. Kickbeat is a great way to kill some time, and for the price is a really good value.

KickBeat Special Edition_20140918220252Now, Kickbeat has been released to several systems already, but I’ve never played the other versions of the game, making this my first exposure to it. I have to say that mixing up the visuals of a fighting game and stripping out the bars or graphs that usually go with a rhythm game and replacing them with waves of enemies is actually a really good idea, and they pulled it off well here. If you’re looking for something different to play between bouts of other PS4 games, this is definitely something up your alley. Despite my frustrations initially with the difficulty and my inability to hit buttons properly, I did sink good chunks of time into this game. It’s a lot of fun to play, and like other rhythm games it’s easy to get sucked in and play for longer than you set out to. I don’t know about everyone else, but I just got my PS4 a few weeks ago, and other than the free to play titles, the games I had in my PS+ collection and an upgrade of my PS3 copy of Assassin’s Creed IV, I didn’t have a lot to play. This is a welcome addition to my library, and at $10, it’s a cheap addition that’s worth every penny, even if you pick it up only once a week just to play through a few rounds of songs.

The game is a lot of fun to play, and I didn’t have any real problems playing, other than too much going on and a few weird angles where I couldn’t see enemies when I needed to. I do have a Vita and play my PS4 a lot using remote play. While they didn’t do anything to really customize this much, mainly because they didn’t need to as the controls are pretty basic, the game does in fact stream through remote play really well. Considering timing is usually an issue in games like this, I didn’t notice any lag or anything like that, other than an occasional net hiccup which is on the hardware, not the game itself. So if you do a lot of remote play, you shouldn’t have any issues playing the game off your PS4 this way.

Short Attention Span Summary
Kickbeat is a quirky but fun attempt at giving the rhythm genre a swift kick in the head by taking out everything you expect and throwing in something different that works almost as well. If you ever wanted to beat the crap out of hordes of bad guys who’ve stolen something you need to retrieve all to the beat of the likes of Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Papa Roach, and a bunch of others. If you’re wishing you had more tracks to kick butt to, you can put your own music in as well. While the story is a bit on the border of being too over the top, you remember you’re playing a game where you’re fighting people to the beat of the music. It plays well over remote play on top of that, is a decent price and definitely worth picking up if only to play through when you have a few free minutes to lay the smack down.



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