Also On: PSN for PS3
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
I really want to love KickBeat. I mean, I think the idea behind it is fantastic. As someone who's generally pretty bad at fighting games, there's something delightfully refreshing about a game where you can kick away wave after wave of enemies just by hitting buttons in time with a song's beat. What's more, when it works, the game is awesome; I challenge anyone to do a perfect section and not come away feeling like some insane combination of rock star and ninja.
Unfortunately, moments like those happen far too infrequently. More often, there's a sizeable gap between KickBeat's ideas and their execution. Like, just at a basic level: maybe I'm just far less rhythmic than I thought, but it seemed like there were often points where a song's button prompts didn't match its beat. Considering that's the whole point of a game, that's problematic. Similarly, there were several points at which it was hard to tell the order in which the buttons needed to be pressed — again, no small thing, since that's the whole point of the game.
Other issues are a little less problematic. Graphically, the game's not great, but it does the job; all you really need is animations of ninjas getting kicked, basically, and what story the game has is told (rather well, I might add) via comic-style cutscenes. As for the music…ah, the music.
Listen, I like to think that my ten-plus years as a music critic in a previous life gave me the ability to appreciate all kinds of music, regardless of genre. I like to approach everything with an open mind. But I have to say this about KickBeat: all the music here sounds the same, and it's almost all terrible. On one level, I appreciate this is a subjective thing, and that you might think differently if you're someone who looks back with fondness to late '90s/early 2000s nu-metal. But on another, more objective level…you're wrong. I mean, Papa Roach? P.O.D.? Innumerable interchangeable bands that sound like Linkin Park clones? I get that KickBeat's developers wanted music with big, obvious beats — and all the songs here have those — but it's still a shame that at no point did Zen Studios listen to their game and think that a little variety may have helped. There may have been a little sonic dissonance created by putting Top-40 pop alongside Rob Zombie and Marilyn Manson, but in the long run, it would've been a vast improvement.
There is an upside, however: KickBeat includes a music analyzer that allows you to import your music collection and share tracks with other players around the world. At the time of this writing, you need to beat the game in order to unlock the import mode, but the developer has said that they hope to change that in an update. Once that's done, it's not hard to see how promising that could be — and how it could add some much needed diversity to the game's sound.
That's not here yet, though, which means that as of right now, KickBeat is one long slog of churning guitars, thundering drums and shouty vocals. If that doesn't turn you off of the game, this will: the gameplay isn't all that great yet, either. With time and an active community this could change, but until then, you'll probably want to hold off on picking this up.