When it comes to music games, I can be overly forgiving. I am the first to admit that I spent more time than would be considered healthy playing the Guitar Hero and Rock Band franchises, long after their relevance has subsided. Of course, considering that they are both making a comeback this year, I may have been a hipster douche in claiming that I liked something after it was cool and before it was cool again. If I am handed a game where the music is the level, I will certainly give it a fair shot. But what about the games that take the expensive, fake plastic instruments out of the equation? Well, I haven’t always been favorable to those. Probably because the removal of the actual instrument analog takes away from the immersion. Well, Kickbeat proves that an expensive, Fisher-Price style piece of house clutter needn’t be necessary to make a good music game. You just have to know how to integrate the rhythm into the play.
There is a story mode to be found here. A silly, silly story mode. The plot revolves around a dude-bro who recently became an apprentice at the Shaolin style temple that houses the Sphere of Music. This sphere contains all of the world’s songs across all genres. Of course this Macguffin gets stolen, leading our hero on a globe spanning trek to retrieve it. The hero does have a name, but I seriously cannot remember it and do not care to take the time to look it up. The plot simply doesn’t matter. I am almost embarrassed that I took the time to explain this much, but I will get into why I did so later. Moving on…
The gameplay itself consists of our hero or heroine standing in the middle of a circle as baddies attack from the four cardinal directions. Each direction is mapped directly onto one of the four buttons on the Xbox styled control pad that your are hopefully using. Just saying, when it comes to this one, if you don’t use a pad, you’re gonna have a bad time. (Why is the spell-check function okay with “gonna?” That is almost as shameful as the fact that I used it.) Anyhow, when the enemies approach, you press the corresponding button in time with the music, smacking the foes clear out of the ring. The different colors on the enemies represent how they will attack. Yellow means one at a time, blue means rapid succession from different directions, and red means that two will attack at once. Staying in perfect time with the music rewards the player with more points than sloppy play, making timing important.
The mechanics are quite simple, but they work. I can say that it became easy for me to fall into the groove, with my eyes losing focus and my fingers hitting the right button to score “perfect” modifiers. It was only when I stopped to pay attention did I start to have issues correctly timing which enemy corresponds with the next beat. While this is a testament to how natural the play can become, it also renders the “beat-em-up” motif pointless. This was not a negative for me, but I simply want to point out that the enemies and hero could have been easily replaced with random shapes with no detriment to the game itself. If the brawler aspect is what intrigues you, I would advise you to move along.
Song selection is also a mixed bag. I’m being generous by saying it’s half-and-half quality-wise. I personally appreciate the heavy presence of Celldweller on the set list, but there are major whiffs. So, Zen Studios, you’re throwing in a Marilyn Manson track? That’s cool. Retro, sure, but okay! So, which one? “The Beautiful People?” You know, a less obvious choice would have actually worked better.
The set list also undermines the plot. When you finally catch up to the big boss bad guy, he reveals his motivation for stealing the Sphere: to keep terrible music from reaching the public. He feels there is just too much pap making its way to popular culture and he wants to put a stop to it. The hero counters that people should have the choice of what they like. Now, I am not going to get into my criticisms of the RIAA and the stranglehold that the current system of corporate ownership of multiple stations, combined with an updated version of payola has basically made the villain into the true hero in my book. Instead, I want to point this out: after the big evil plan reveal, the villain traps the hero in a cyber world of the villain’s design. The first song up? “Last Resort” by Papa Roach. The irony hit me so hard that my ears are still ringing. “Last Resort” sounds like the singer is making fun of some poor Down syndrome kid trying to impress his jerk older brother with some lyrics he wrote. The older brother doesn’t care and is practicing an Iron Maiden riff, badly, while listening to Green Day’s “Brainstew.” (With all sincerity, there is no offense intended to those with Down syndrome. Except for the jerks in Papa Roach.)
Anyhow, now that I have gotten my knocks in and pulled at most of the low hanging fruit (P.O.D. escaped comment. I will make up for that at a later time…), I can say that Kickbeat is an easy recommendation. The music based gameplay is fun once the brain is turned off. The multiple levels of difficulty also allows for depth of challenge and the opportunity to top your score and listen to music in a different way. Since I have yet to find a music game that could even boast a track list of 75% “good,” I am willing to say that hitting 50% is alright.
One final note: this game also claims to have the ability to import tracks from your library. I have yet to get this to work on any song, including a track that I threw together in Reason for the express purpose of giving this feature every fair chance. Discard this feature in your head when deciding whether or not you want to purchase.