Remember back in middle school when rhythm games were all the rage? Guitar Hero and Rock Band peripherals took up everyone’s living room space and weekends were incomplete without a night spent wailing Radiohead and Nirvana to our parents’ dismay. Even though the genre died hard after running out of rock n’ roll classics to exploit, Zen Studios is serving as a one-company conservation effort with their title KickBeat, a rhythm fighting game now being rereleased as KickBeat: Special Edition on the PS4 after debuting on the PS3 and the Vita.
While the original release was an interesting fusion of genres that didn’t offer much longevity, the new PS4 version offers an interesting fusion of genres that doesn’t offer much longevity…in 1080p and at 60 FPS! This makes it hard to recommend to fans of the rhythm genre, and absolutely impossible to recommend to those who have already played through it.
If you’ve never tried KickBeat out, the gameplay is pretty straightforward. In each level, you’ll stand in the middle of a circle and fight off attackers in rhythmic fashion. Rather than using a guitar or drum pad, though, you use the face buttons to lash out on each side of you, while the shoulder buttons activate your Chi or a special power-up. It’s an easy concept to figure out, making it perfect for pick-up-and-play, but the simplicity makes the concept become quickly repetitive.
Similar to other rhythm games, there’s a loose story connecting each track, and to be fair, the plot is easily the silliest and most interesting part of the game. You play as Lee, a janitor/kung-fu fighter who works for a secretive order that protects all of the music ever created. When it gets stolen by a cartoonishly fat villain, Lee sets off across the world to track it down and beat up a wide array of thugs in a small number of strange locales. A second story is unlocked after the first, featuring Mei, Lee’s love interest, as she sets out to rescue him from danger.
The story plays out like a B-movie from the 70s, mostly serving as an excuse to have Lee destroy a helicopter, fight his way through a Turkish bath and eventually enter a digital world for the final confrontation. Although some of the action is contrived, getting into the rhythm of a song and walloping some bad guys in time to the beat can be pretty engaging.
It also serves to string along the 24 songs that make up KickBeat‘s campaign, some of which have been included exclusively in the special edition. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the soundtrack, while full of energetic tracks, is too one-note to hold interest past the campaign. If you’re a fan of nu-metal or metal-infused techno, then you will absolutely love every single track available. Aside from a few great Celldweller tracks, an awesome level featuring The Beautiful People by Marilyn Manson and some impressive Pendulum titles, many of the lesser-known tracks blend together and honestly start to sound alike after a few stages.
It’s a shame that there’s no greater variety of tracks, especially considering this is the “special edition.” The soundtrack is pretty measly as well, with no DLC tracks being offered and no means of importing your own songs. Therefore, you’re stuck with the tracks you’re given, and none of the extra modes make them any more or less fun to play through. Survival mode is good for an endurance run or two, but there is really not much reason to dive back into KickBeat after the campaign has run its course.
Although the gameplay is par for the course as a rhythm game, the art on display is surprisingly pretty to look at, though it serves as a distraction more often than it should. Beats are often obscured by enemies and the actions taking place, and at times the effects are too showy to do anything more than conceal the button prompts. This is especially true in the final boss fight, which is atrocious in design and totally painful in execution, pitting you against tentacles that completely obscure the playing field.
Just like with the game’s first outing, KickBeat: Special Edition takes an interesting concept and makes it work for a few minutes, but the repetitive song choices and gameplay keep it from ever being elevated beyond anything but a creative idea. It’s a shame that Zen Studios barely added anything to the PS4 version, as the opportunity for a larger soundtrack, more variety or the ability to import your own playlist is just too good to pass up. If anything, the special edition is more of a letdown than the original simply because it had the chance to improve upon the first lackluster entry and instead fell flat on its face.
If you’ve never experienced it before and you’re truly, deeply and madly in love with the rhythm genre, then the $9.99 price tag might make KickBeat: Special Edition a title worth checking out. Admittedly, some of the action is spectacular to watch, and getting into the rhythm of a track and taking out a perfect string of baddies can be addictive. Sadly, it’s just a creative, goofy idea that can’t do enough with its premise to hold your attention past the campaign.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 copy of the game, which was given to us for review purposes.