Rhythm games have come a long way since the inception of the genre, and ZEN Studios is taking a step in the right direction with its new experimental rhythm game, KickBeat. Unlike games like Rock Band, KickBeat uses 3D character models instead of just colored buttons to match the beat. It’s a great idea, and it makes for an awesome game.
KickBeat’s controls are very simple. You use your regular controller, no peripherals like guitars or any other crazy plastic instruments. Enemies attack from four points, one for each direction, up, down, left, and right. You can use your D-pad or the face buttons to control the game, and on the Vita you can use your touchscreen as well. The touchscreen felt a little gimmicky, but it’s totally not necessary to use it, as the buttons on both consoles work extremely well.
Although the game uses the 3D character figures, it works exactly like a Rock Band or Guitar Hero. You have regular notes, faster notes, double and triple button chord notes, and notes you have to hold down. The notes are all color coded, to tell you what’s coming next. The game throws everything at you pretty fast after the tutorial, and there is a pretty steep learning curve. It took me a few tries on the first song of the game, even on the second hardest difficulty. But after playing a bit more, you can figure it out pretty easily. Once you get the hang of it, the change from the mainstream rhythm games becomes a welcome one.
Speaking of welcome changes, KickBeat’s soundtrack is an interesting one. It doesn’t have a bunch of popular songs you would hear on the radio, but instead includes a bunch of indie rock artists. I was a bit skeptical looking at the song list, but after playing through the first song, I knew it would be great. The story mode guides you through every song in the game, and is the only thing you have unlocked from the start. You play in sections, with funny little cut-scenes breaking up the action. Long story short, it’s a great idea to get you acquainted with the game. Back to the music, it is all hard-hitting rock music, with heavy beats for every song. It fits in perfectly with the fighting mood of the game, and is awesome music for any rhythm game.
However, if rock music from artists like Blue Stahli or Voicians isn’t your kind of music, after you clear the story mode you can bring your own music into the game with the Beat Your Music mode. Beat Your Music allows you to import any song you want into the game, whether it be heavy metal or Justin Bieber, and make your own track to the music. This was one of my most anticipated features of the game, and it ended up kind of being a mixed bag for me. Some of the music I tried worked awesome, and it felt like the coolest thing ever, but then other music didn’t work well with it. It all really comes down to the music you listen to. The game designs your track off the beats per minute of the song, so music that has long sections without the beat, tempo changes, or goes too fast or too slow won’t work as well as a song with a steady beat. Still, it’s a great feature, and I loved rocking out to my own music while playing the game, but I’m still a bit disappointed some of my music didn’t work with it. It adds great replay value to the game, and makes it enjoyable even if you are not a fan of the base soundtrack.
There are a couple other modes unlocked with progression as well. First off are the visualizer and the free play modes, which are unlocked after the second boss battle. The visualizer shows you a perfect run of any song in the game, and the free play mode is self-explanatory, you can play any song you want. I didn’t use the visualizer much, and didn’t really feel it to be necessary, honestly. Upon beating the game on highest difficulty, you unlock the survival mode. Survival generates a playlist of infinite songs but the only difference here is that your health carries over from song to song. I had fun with survival, even though it is crazy difficult, and is only for the best of the best.
KickBeat on the technical side, is absolutely stunning. The game is beautiful on the Vita, and runs super smooth with no lag or frame-rate drops. When the game moves in for it’s dramatic camera close-ups during your fight, is when you can really see the full beauty of the stages and the character models that inhabit them. Along with that, the story cut-scenes are very pretty, and the Japanese painting style for them is super cool. However, on the PS3 version, which was only announced a short time ago, had some technical problems. While the story cut-scenes were still beautiful on the console version, I did experience some lag and frame-rate drops when the sheer amount of enemies on the screen became too much for the game to handle. It didn’t seem to have the same amount of polish as the Vita version.
All in all, KickBeat is one of the best rhythm games I have ever played. It takes a great idea and capitalizes on it by adding a great soundtrack, tons of content, and beautiful graphics. I did have a few disappointments however. The biggest being that I could not put in a few of my songs into the in-game track generator and that the PS3 version of the game was lacking a bit in the technical department. The good make up entirely for the minor problems I had with the game, and overall, I loved it.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. This review is for the Playstation Vita and Playstation 3 versions of the game. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Great experimental idea.
- Awesome soundtrack.
- Beautiful visuals.
- Liked that you could import music but...
What I Dislike:
- ...Didn't like that it didn't work all the time.
- Some technical difficulties on the PS3 version.