KickBeat: Special Edition is the re-release of Zen Studios’ rhythm fighting game for the PlayStation 4. Now, you may be asking yourself what a rhythm fighting game actually is – or you may not be. Either way, picture a fusion of Mortal Kombat and DJ Hero, and you’ll more or less have the right idea. Sadly, this game sounds more entertaining in concept than it does in actual execution.
One of the things that really makes a rhythm game is its soundtrack. You’ll no doubt want a mix of as many genres as you can get your hands on, and if the title includes licensed artists, you’d hope that at least a few are recognisable. This game succeeds a little in that department, with Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People among the highlights. However, the lineup consists primarily of rock and electronic music.
This is fine, but it means that the whole game has a kind of “loudness” to it which makes many of the less recognisable tracks harder to distinguish from one another. And that leads to another issue, which is the size of the track listing itself. As a downloadable game, it’s not fair to expect a compilation CD’s worth of music, but with around just 14 songs, it’s still a little disappointing.
The game itself sees you controlling a fighter in the centre of the screen. You press the corresponding buttons in time to the music as enemies approach from four different directions. Each of the face buttons controls a different angle, while alternative attacks are mapped to the shoulder buttons. The simple system makes it an exceptional title to just pick up and play.
Unfortunately, unless you’re sitting down for a couple of songs, you’re going to feel the tedium of the experience extremely quickly. The similar sounding music and simple controls mean that you’ll swiftly fall into a trance; it’s a bit like watching a Michael Bay movie and losing sense of yourself. By the end of a prolonged session, you’ll be pondering who you are and what you’re doing – and that’s not a compliment.
To top it all off, the button prompts blend into the environment, making it tricky to be truly precise. It’s not a problem with the colouring of the icons, just the fact that the stages are too busy and bright, with too many small things going on to allow you to properly see the symbols on the screen.
And that’s a real shame, too, as the game has a lovely look to it. The art style’s not necessarily anything to shout about, but the characters are well rendered and the arenas themselves are beautifully detailed – even if that ultimately does result in the above issue.
Similarly strong is the campaign’s hilarious storyline, which would not be out of place in a classic 80s B-movie. It sees a gang stealing all of the music that has ever existed, and a ninja and his sensei attempting to defend all of those songs that weren’t stolen – which also happen to be the ones in the game. It’s a bonkers idea, but it has just the right amount of silliness to make it work.
KickBeat: Special Edition is a solid enough game, but it never does anything beyond its initial concept to make it feel unique. Decent presentation and a comical plot help to balance out boring gameplay and a disappointing soundtrack, culminating in a release that neither looks good nor bad on the dancefloor.