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.