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Review: KickBeatZen Studios rhythm Vita PS3 PSN
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Platform: PS3, Vita
Release Date: September 3, 2013
ESRB: T for Teen
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review, which is based on the PS Vita version of the game
For a while, it seemed that “traditional” rhythm games were gone. Peripheral-based games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band were king for a few years before things shifted again. In the present, we see some traditional games eke out, but more often than not there are more creative uses of music in the modern rhythm game. Zen Studios have created a title that requires definite rhythm to play but have meshed it with a fighting game. The idea is certainly creative but does it succeed?
First, we must discuss the basic control scheme of KickBeat. You play the game as a young martial artist. As this character, you work through nearly twenty stages which are filled with enemies. These baddies gather around and eventually circle you before going in for the kill. Your goal is to retaliate just at the moment they’re primed to attack you. As long as you can hit enough of them without getting demolished yourself then the stage will end successfully.
Of course, hitting them properly depends on the music playing during the stage. Sure, it could be possible to time the hit by staring at them carefully, but it’s much easier to just go with the beats. Each enemy is color-coded as well as a hint to how they’ll approach. Some enemies only come on the main beats, while others jump in between them. It’s important to be able to read their style or else you’ll be making a lot of missteps.
Enemies swarm around you but can only attack from one of four directions. These are mapped out by the four face buttons of the Vita or PS3 controller. On Vita, you can actually use the touch screen to initiate attacks but it’s not very useful. This is because having your hands on the screen is less precise, harder to reach for some, and also obscures the view of incoming enemies! In any case, hitting the buttons should be done with proper timing, but you can still get a kick in even if you’re a little off beat.
There are some other aspects to fighting as well which task you with double tapping on specific enemies. Guys with items floating above their head should be hit twice in order to collect said item. Such goodies involve shields, score multipliers, and health. It’s kind of hard to get them at times, though, as enemies easily crowd up in bunches near you. At that point, it can be hard to discern which one has the bonus. Double tapping on a bonus-less enemy grants no rewards and can instead reset your multiplier.
What about the music? After all, that’s kind of a big point in regards to a music/rhythm game. There are eighteen songs that include artists Marilyn Manson, Pendulum, and Rob Zombie. The song selection is definitely unique to a rhythm game of this type. Some may dislike the soundtrack, but then there will be a whole other group who enjoys it. My biggest issue with it was simply not being accustomed to the songs which made it harder to predict beats initially. In any case, it’s definitely not fair to diss the game via the soundtrack since it definitely has an audience.
Things that I cannot accept are various gameplay decisions. There seems to have been a definite attempt by Zen Studios to create a more “cinematic” or active rhythm game. As such, the camera sometimes slides or shifts which slightly alters the player’s view of the screen. This is an issue because rhythm games tend to rely on having the hit zone be static. Seeing it slightly turned from what you are accustomed to makes it harder to immediately judge where to hit.
The issue is compounded with later difficulty stages. On normal, the hit zone will light up with the corresponding PS face button when an enemy approaches. Other difficulties remove this notifier. If the screen were in a static position all the time then this wouldn’t be a huge deal. Since it does have some change, though, it means you have to be incredibly aware of each enemy. In most music games, there is an ability to get into a ‘zen’ state with them. It doesn’t seem this will ever be the case with KickBeat.
It’s not that the game is just difficult, because that is entirely admirable to pursue. The problem is that some of the difficulty is artificial, such as what was just described. It also doesn’t help that sometimes enemies fly directly at the screen, obscuring the view for a bit. The way enemies animate and wander around is also a bit confusing to deal with when innumerable ones pour in. Players have to keep track of a lot of goings on. Perhaps part of the problem was playing it on the small Vita screen instead of a TV set.
Those who play the demo and enjoy the gameplay (but not necessarily the music) might still be interested thanks to a mode called "Beat Your Music." Here, players can input their own songs for playing. After inputting the BPM on your own, the track can be saved and played through. They rarely turn out as good as official songs but it’s great to see the option available.
A lot was done to extend player time commitments to KickBeat. For one, there are two story modes to play through. Then there is the fact that most features are locked until beating the game once. Survival mode in particular is off limits until you completely master the game at its hardest difficulty. This is definitely easier said than done since proceeding to any new difficulty requires beating the preceding one first. If you can manage that then you’re well on your way to climbing the Leaderboard.
It seems that KickBeat succeeds at being different from most other games but is perhaps too different for genre fans to accept. Then there are players who are new to rhythm games but then wouldn't they just find this game even more difficult due to having no prior experience? Although it is not impossibly hard, it is harder than it needs to be due to unfortunate design choices. What makes rhythm games fun is the mix of music with addictive gameplay that you know you can master. In the case of this title, we’ve got a game better suited toward annoying the majority of players.
+ Interesting take on rhythm games
+ A tracklist of well known artists
- Design decisions that negatively impact gameplay
- May be hard to find a large market with songlist
- Why implement touch controls at all when they're a poor choice?
Overall Score: 4.0 (out of 10)
KickBeat is a game with a definite audience but manages to chip away at it via a host of gameplay grievances.
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