Kickbeat is a unique entry into the rhythm/music genre. Developed by Zen Studios, it fuses elements of Guitar Hero/Rock Band, Dance Dance Revolution, and every fighting game ever made. The result is a rhythm game where you press buttons in time with the music, and each successful button press lands an attack on a swarm of enemies. These enemies just love to get punched and kicked to the music, because they all get into position just in time to get whacked. I’ll try to explain how it works…
The gameplay area is a circle with your character standing in the middle, ready to kick people to the beat of the music. The music starts and the enemies start to circle you. As they circle towards one of the cardinal directions, they land on one of the face buttons. (in the case of the Xbox One version, XYBA) You press the associated button in time with the beat and the enemy on that button gets a vicious attack knocking him out of the fight.
Faster songs have more enemies to defeat and with higher frequencies. There are a couple variations to the formula, including; blue enemies who attack in off-beat patterns like up beats, red enemies who attack in pairs (meaning you’ll press two buttons like X and Y), and enemies who are tied together with a yellow streak whom you defeat by pressing and holding on the first enemy and releasing on the second.
Some enemies will have a floating icon over their head with a range of powerups. Double tapping their corresponding button will give you the knockout and the powerup. Powerups vary between score multipliers, extra points, health, chi and more. Then you have the option to fire off your collected chi or shield move to either double points or save yourself from a difficult section.
There is an old saying, “Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought.” The saying is in reference to being prideful and treating others as if they are less than ourselves. But I am going to use it in the context of, “just because you can beat every Guitar Hero game on Expert and love rhythm games, don’t think that you should start KickBeat on anything above Normal.”
I have a confession to make. When I first fired up KickBeat and completed the training, I figured I was prepared for the higher difficulties. I was sorely mistaken. KickBeat was, at this moment, “get your face Kicked in to the beat”. Normal is challenging enough, you should start there.
Graphics and Sounds
Graphics are hardly the focus of a rhythm game so I won’t spend much time on them, but I will say I had trouble at times identifying the colors of the enemies. Some times it was too late before I realized that the two enemies were red and would be attacking simultaneously. Another issue I had, though also mild and infrequent, was the enemies occasionally becoming obscured by the player character due to the odd camera angle.
Sound is a completely different story here. Sound is key to KickBeat’s gameplay. The sound effects are few and unimportant beyond the sound of fist meeting face. The music however, is the reason behind the (thin) story and what engages the player. As you get better at KickBeat, similar to Rock Band, it will begin to feel like you are playing these songs. But instead of playing the songs with instruments, you play with your punches and kicks. Each blow delivered to your enemies is in perfect sync with the beat, guitar riffs, vocal lines or other musical accents.
The soundtrack that you will beat enemies up to is energetic but varied. Rap songs, metal tracks, and electronic dance tunes are available. And the set list seems to get better as you work through the story mode.
Better late than never
KickBeat has been out on other platforms for a while, but I came late to the party. Xbox One owners who are fans of rhythm games should rejoice at this fun fusion of fighting and music. It’s got its quirks, but the soundtrack is hard-hitting and the game shows off it’s excellent design at the higher difficulties.