With more than a few kung-fu and action flicks there’ll usually be at least one scene featuring the lone hero (sometimes with a partner), surrounded by countless henchmen and fodder, rhythmically dispatching enemy after enemy accompanied with the energetic beats of the high tempo soundtrack pumping in the background. Kickbeat is essentially that quintessential fight scene refined and made playable in the form of a action/rhythm video game from the pinball wizards at Zen Studios.
Playing as either Lee or Mei, students of a super secret sect of kung-fu monks, you travel around the globe, fighting all manner of thugs, guards and general bad guys to reclaim the mystical ‘sphere of music’ which was protected by the monks for many years. The main story is split into two campaigns, one following Lee’s story, then the second following Mei, with both containing the same levels and songs but with alternate cut scenes between the levels. The main story is presented through several comic/graphic novel style scenes featuring full voice acting along with the artwork. As for the tracks used in the story, 18 licenced songs from a variety of genres and artists are featured in KickBeat including Rob Zombie, Papa Roach, Pendulum and many more…
Each stage has your character surrounded by enemies in an enclosed area, which could be a wrestling ring, a monastery, a trendy nightclub or even the top of a skyscraper. As the bad guys approach, you can fend them off just as they’re about to attack with skillfully placed punches and kicks in time with the beat of the music by pressing the corresponding buttons or tapping the enemies on screen. When they are closing in and getting ready to attack, enemies are highlighted with a white outline to help you identify which ones you need to focus on next. With only 4 buttons / directions to worry about, it’s pretty easy to get started and learn the basics of KickBeat. The more complex gameplay comes in when additions like alternating enemy types, holds and double taps are introduced to the game.
The enemies you face come in 3 main varieties, yellow, blue and red. Yellows are the most common enemy you face and will usually arrive on beat with the music. Blues come in groups and will generally attack faster than yellows, on half beats or between beats. As for the final type, Reds, they will attack simultaneously in sets of 2 or 3, requiring you to press all of the appropriate buttons/directions to beat them. Sometimes throughout a level, enemies will appear with symbols over their heads or numbers like ‘500’ for example. Those ones in particular are carrying score pickups or items which you’d want to increase your score or help you survive longer. To get them from your adversary, you need to double tap the button when you’re attacking them. There are also certain enemies that will appear in pairs which are shown linked with a red wave/stream between them. To successfully defeat them you need to press and hold the corresponding button after attacking the first enemy until the second enemy is close enough to attack, at which point you release the button. When all of these different attack types are added together, the levels can become very challenging if you’re not paying attention and can’t react fast enough, especially on the harder difficulty modes.
The first few songs in the story mode steadily ease you into the game before more and more thugs are thrown at you to make each subsequent song more of a challenge. Learning to keep an eye on the enemies that require holds and double taps will pay off when you’re looking to build up your high score and get a better star rating on a song. Sometimes when you have multiple enemies highlighted and getting ready to pummel you into the ground, it can get a bit confusing determining which one you need to attack first. Even more so on the hard and latter difficulties since you don’t even have the luxury of the button prompts on the floor when an enemy is in the prime position to be attacked. Getting hit by an errant punch or mis-timing an attack can easily put you out of sync with the music and leave you open to further assault from the remaining henchmen, further making it harder to get back in time with the beat of the song to return to counter attacking. But, when everything is going right and you’re chaining dozens of attacks into one long combo while gleefully tapping along to the beat of the song, KickBeat feels like a great fusion of both Beat-em-up/fighting and Rhythm games.
Even after playing through the story mode songs, you can use the ‘Beat your Music’ mode to make your favourite songs playable by having the game analysing the song and using the BPM Calculator to determine the beat of the song and where to place enemies. I tried this out myself, with varying degrees of success. It seemed to work better on songs where the tempo is at a fairly consistent speed throughout, otherwise you may find some enemies attacking off-beat with the music, making it a bid more awkward to determine when to counter-attack.