KickBeat SE Review | Everybody Loves Kung Fu Guitar Hero

Zen Studios’ latest title KickBeat has arrived on the PlayStation 4 and the Wii U this week in Special Edition form. How does it fare in a world of gaming that has largely moved away from the genre of rhythm games? Well, there’s kung fu.

I’ve always liked Guitar Hero and Rock Band and I may or may not be known to bust out my plastic peripherals to feel like a rock star on occasion still. With that being said, it suffice to say I’m a fan of the rhythm game genre and Zen Studios’ contribution to the scene is definitely a unique one.

KickBeat takes the same cues from its predecessing inspirations and follows the familiar control scheme of prompting you with an upcoming button symbol and having you sync your corresponding button presses with perfect timing. I emphasize perfect timing because I actually found it difficult, even on normal mode, to execute the necessary presses routinely.

I’m no expert at rhythm games but I’m definitely not new to them and even though KickBeat does offer some leeway and welcomed feedback on timing when you don’t sync actions on time, it’s difficult to register that information with so much happening on the screen at once, much less while focusing on your next attacker(s). It does become less of problem the more you play, of course, but it left me thinking there had to be a better way of prompting the player instead of an icon over every enemy’s head.

KickBeat

The HUD for KickBeat while fending off the circling assailants is actually pretty clutter free and even offers the ability to hide the score from view to create a more cinematic experience. Where the above issue becomes a problem is the fact there are always a ton of enemies on the screen simply standing in a circle around you, which makes it hard to follow what exactly is happening, especially if you fail a prompt and actually take a hit because Lee (or Ming) takes a second to recover and therefore throws you off for the next few prompts trying to get back into the rhythm. On top of this, there are different types of enemies that attack you, requiring responses like holding a prompt down and releasing on the next enemy, hitting two buttons at once or rapidly chaining combos when they attack “out of the beat” as the game phrases it.

This is all perfectly fine and actually a cool way of bending the rhythm style into a fighting game, except that each enemy is a different color, there’s often no real pattern to them like you would except from say, a song, and some of the enemies often appear with power-ups over their head, requiring you to double tap quickly to get them as you defeat the enemy. This can often lead to you missing the next maneuver because going for the power-up has thrown you out of sync. Individually, these mechanics are actually a good idea and somewhat clever but Zen Studios’ doesn’t do a great job of separating all of this information on the screen, often resulting in unnecessary chaos for the player when they make one mistake.

KickBeat

Let’s get down to content. The game offers a single-player Campaign complete with an actual story and cutscenes about all the world’s music being stolen and it’s up to the protagonist (Lee) to kung-fu his way through baddies and recover it. It’s no Last of Us but it’s still cool of Zen Studios to include something original instead of just offering a Free play mode. When the main campaign is completed (16 missions), the player can actually play from Ming’s point of view, a second character that becomes available.

KickBeat does offer a Free play mode that is also unlocked when the campaign is completed and also offers a Split-screen mode for two players to battle competitively but bafflingly, this too is unlocked after beating the single-player campaign. The final of the modes is the traditional Survival mode that we’re all familiar with. Battle waves of bad guys and eventually die. The game offers a slew of unlockables as well, such as cinematics, costumes and music for use in the Visualizer and Free play modes.

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The game looks visually pleasing and when you consider all the hand drawn animations that were created to create some of the kung fu combos and stylistic poses, it comes off as an impressive presentation. It’s definitely as satisfying as nailing a solo on Guitar Hero when Lee finishes a round with a well-timed button execution and the result is a slow motion take down of two overconfident thugs.

The one thing I felt was missing was sound effects. There is absolutely no indication that you have “connected” with an enemy audibly. I kicked him in the face and there is no kung fu crunching sound? I eventually realized that this probably would have made the actual “rhythm” part of the game more fun because it would have been easier to gauge how well I was doing based on an audible confirmation of contact and misses. Also, this is kung fu; there should be sound effects for everything.

KickBeat

Last but definitely not least, how does the soundtrack for KickBeat fare? There aren’t many tracks available (14 in total) but the majority of them do work well in the game. An option to import some of your own music would have been much welcomed but the initial offering of tunes is still decent. A few of the tracks included are:

  • Marilyn Manson – The Beautiful People
  • POD – Boom
  • Papa Roach – Last Resort
  • Rob Zombie – Scum of the Earth
  • Shen Yi – War Dance

Overall, KickBeat is a fun game. It’s satisfying to have a horde of enemies surround you and know that you’re about to lay waste to all of them while nodding your head to some catchy music. The down side is that the same satisfaction can turn into frustration when the area around Lee sometimes clutters with too much information, making it difficult to do your job of raining kung fu knowledge down on foes. I also feel it’s fair to re-emphasize that a story mode in this type of genre is a fun thing for Zen Studios to have added and while playing it I had some genuine laughs out of some great moments where it knows not to take itself too seriously.

KickBeat Special Edition is available for the PlayStation 4, Wii U and is coming soon to Xbox One for $9.99.

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