KickBeat (PS Vita) Review – Martial Arts and Music Together in a Game…Who Knew?

Music games are dead right? It’s all about Dance Central and the Just Dance franchises when it comes to music/rhythm games these days as the golden era of Rock Band and Guitar Hero is gone for the most part. So, why then would Zen Studios make a music/rhythm game for a handheld no less with a fad that has seemed to gone by the wayside?

To answer that question I need to tell you about Zen Studios’ new game called KickBeat, which takes the music/rhythm genre into a new direction by adding a martial arts element to the gameplay. You play as the “Chosen One” in a time when almost all the songs in the world have been stolen from the Sphere of Music by an evil music corporation called Entertainment Earth. As a member of a group of monks called ‘The Order of the Melodic Fist’, your task is to reclaim the songs by using your martial arts skills to the rhythm of music as you take down wave upon wave of the music corporation’s evil minions.

The controls are fairly simple. You can opt to use either the d-pad or the face buttons on the PS Vita. Having this option allows the game to be played with either hand and it is very handy if you are a lefty. Enemies surround you as they start to attack. Your goal is to time your button presses within correlation to where the minions are standing. So, if enemies attack from up top you simply hit the top button to attack, if enemies attack from the left you hit the left button, and so on. There are instances where multiple attackers will attack and you can either press the requisite number of buttons or the d-pad or if you’re coordinated enough you can use both the d-pad and the buttons simultaneously to pull off the attack.

Like most music games there are powerups and with KickBeat there are a fair number of them including health, shield, zen and bonus points to pick up. These powerups are found in the bubbles located over various minions’ heads. To grab the powerup you will have to double tap the button or d-pad when you attack. Health is necessary because if you miss an attack you will take damage from an enemy attack. Your shields will actually protect you briefly from attacks if a particularly challenging part is coming up, but make no doubt about it, you will lose health eventually. The zen bubbles are something you can collect to activate a score multiplier. This doubles your current score multiplier, which goes up as your streak counter increases.

The gameplay for KickBeat is best described with the cliché, “easy to learn, hard to master” term.  Sure, pushing buttons in the right direction, nailing combos or double tapping sounds really simple, but when you have to time this all to music and the tempo changes and dictates how fast you have to hit the buttons, in the right directions nonetheless, it can really challenge you. Add the fact that to really achieve the top scores you have to double tap often and this can result in losing your multiplier if you double tap on the wrong occasion or triple tap by mistake. Oh, and did I mention that you may just lose track of when you have multiple attackers are coming at you.

In terms of replayability, it is worth noting that like most of Zen Studios titles there is a leaderboard to compare yourself to friends on your PSN list, and the rest of the world, to see how you stack up against others.  That is of course if you are the competitive type.

Visually I have a hard time describing the visuals. They are pleasant to look at and are very well rendered using an anime/comic book crossover style; however, it’s not something that made me personally go, “Wow, these graphics are !@%#ing awesome!” Although the gameplay is good looking, but not stunning, I should highlight that the animated videos in the game were amazing and made me wish that Zen Studios would get into the cartoon making business as the story they told with the animation skills they used is a whole lot cooler than some of the stuff that they come out with on Teletoon (The Cartoon Network for our American friends).

As quoted from Zen Studios, “[The] KickBeat soundtrack is comprised of 18 hard-hitting tracks from a diverse lineup of artists from well-known bands such as Pendulum and Marilyn Manson, to indie pioneers Celldweller and Blue Stahli, to hidden talents like electronic music producer Voicians and Taiwanese rapper Shen Yi”. Music is a huge part of any music/rhythm game, and even though this title is handheld I find the soundtrack of 18 tracks to be a bit small.  It definitely could have been a little bit more in the number of songs, but regardless I do have to say the song selection is awesome for the fighting atmosphere that the game portrays. Personal favourites like The Beautiful People, Boom and Last Resort brought me back to when I was a kid for some of the great rock alternative music from my youth.  Should you agree that the soundtrack a bit small have no fear though as there is a track generator that allows you to use your own music in a nearly 100% automated process to add more variety to the title.  A pretty neat little feature indeed.

Although I did enjoy the experience of playing the KickBeat, and checking out what Zen Studios came up with when tackling this genre, I ended up a bit disappointed as the gameplay doesn’t offer much more timing your button presses to the rhythm of some cool music. It ultimately doesn’t have the mojo that other music franchises had when they launched into the world of music/rhythm gaming. That being said, if you’re really dying for a handheld music game KickBeat could fill that void for a bit of time, or in short bursts, but due to the small soundtrack you will most likely get weary pretty quickly unless you’re patient and create a bunch of your own tracks to play with.

The Good


The Bad

  • Brian

    Soundtrack is same size as Elite Beat Agents which was a $40 game and more than half the size of Project Diva F which is also a retail-priced game. Combined with Beat Your Music, that’s plenty for a $10 game. Not sure what other controller-based music games had more “mojo”. Especially $10 indie games. I thought that KickBeat was pretty revolutionary in how it combined rhythm with 3D animated characters fighting and brought the action into the foreground rather than using a note highway or other 2D interface pasted on top. And it’s amazing fun at higher difficulty levels. I’m scratching my head at these lower review scores.

    • Shawn Petraschuk

      Keep in mind Brian that every site has its own grading system and if you check the ‘About Me’ page near the bottom you’ll find that 65 is considered above average. I always find it funny that a 65 to 70 is considered a bad game in people’s eyes! There’s such a wide spectrum of scoring that we really have it spread out. Check it out and you’ll see that 65 isn’t a bad score, at least not to us!

      • Brian

        On average, this publication grades 0.5 points higher than other critics. (0-100 point scale)
        Average Game review score: 73

        • The Outcast

          So what if have higher reviews now and then. There are lots of occasions when we are lower.

          Reviewing is subjective and just cause our opinion didn’t line up with yours, doesn’t mean your right….or that we are right for that matter of fact. It is our opinion, and a reference point.

          Besides, we not the lowest score, so maybe you can go complain to those who are lower……sheesh.

          • Brian

            And my opinion is that it’s underrated. Don’t get all defensive now just because I pointed out that Shawn was wrong. Or can I not have opinions too?

          • The Outcast

            I am not defensive at all.

            Shawn isn’t wrong….what, just because a few games score much higher, and the AVERAGE of our total reviews are affected in such that it comes out that we score games a half point higher doesn’t show a thing.

            We score games higher, lower, and heck, there are some that come in at the metacritic score. Really, what is your point?

            Anyhow, if you enjoy the game, that is great, and you think it’s underrated, even better, but like I said, its our opinion, and there are lots of opinions out there.

          • The Outcast

            You know what’s funny, one of our staffer has alluded you’ve posted on a lot of Kickbeat reviews….on a lot of other sites….makes one wonder.

          • Brian

            That’s because one of the developers from zen posted in response to my suggestions for new features and music that the amount of new features/music/sequels the game gets depends on how the game does. Since I love the game, have played it all the way through master, think it’s great, and want to see it turned into a franchise, I’m doing my part to let people know that real rhythm gamers who’ve played the game a ton like it better than reviewers who either couldn’t get to the higher difficulties, didn’t put enough time into the game, were no good at using the music import mode, ignorantly criticize the set list for length or type of songs, just don’t like rhythm games, etc. shame that that’s most of them and that the reviews will probably kill off a very promising, original, and polished game.

            Still not defensive yet?

          • The Outcast

            You see Brian, you almost had me going “Hmmmm”, until the end of your rant. I think at the end of the day, if you look at the consensus, it’s not a bad game, just not a particularly good one. And with ALL games, it’s going to have those who enjoy it, or those who don’t, but you approach by criticizing those who review in contrast to how you see, or literally saying they should not have reviewed it cause they don’t suit the genre, is just stupid. Reviewers have an open mind, and enjoy experiences of all types, unfortunately, this was one that seems to be averaging out as average…..

            And no, I am not defensive, I just like to see how those who like a game more then those who reviewed it seem to think that they are the only right ones….

          • I am happy you’re providing feedback but let me ask you this: How does coming on to a website and for what some people could see as bashing a persons opinion help?

            I am all for constructive criticism, but all I read is that I didn’t play to higher difficulties, suck at rhythm games and was no good at the import mode. That’s not really constructive? If the game is as amazing as you say it is – please write a review and post here. Offer your counter opinion to my review instead of going on the offensive and putting down what ultimately was my opinion – not something that has been engraved in stone.

            It’s not just my opinion plenty of other critics reviewed it as well and some of those critics went higher which was their opinion and some went lower, their opinion as well. It’s all subjective. In the end I will take any constructive criticism people have, but I don’t see how this is helping in the grand scheme of things. I felt it was a 65 on the scale that we use here and I stick to it.

            Thanks for your passion though and please keep commenting.

          • Brian

            I was disagreeing with the opinion, not bashing it. See my original post. I’m not going to write a review in the comments because no one will bother to read it. I’m just saying that you and a lot of other places graded this game based on some kind of insane standards because it offers way more than an other indie music game in terms of features, content, presentation and eye candy, solid mechanics, replayability and challenge, originality, etc. It does take a little getting used to, but pretty much all good rhythm games (and most genuinely original games) do, too. If you haven’t built up the skill to play without the button prompts, there’s no chance you even understand what the game’s all about, which is just using the enemies themselves as your cues. Once you stop watching the ground and start watching the enemies, then it all clicks. Judging by the review, you never got that far, which is kinda disappointing because you can play it (Hard) from the beginning without unlocking anything.

          • MRBIGCAT

            You would almost think Brian is part of the development team. At the very least, he should be a KickBeat’s PR guy. Dude almost has me wanting to give it a spin.

        • Shawn Petraschuk

          I wasn’t even trying to start a debate! My only point was that according to this site’s rating scale that 65 wasn’t a particularly poor score. Nothing more nothing less. All’s cool brother!