I remember hearing about Zen Studios’ Kickbeat last year when it was released on the PS Vita and PlayStation 3, and while I never got to check it out, I thought it was interesting how they mixed a beat-em-up and music rhythm game together. Now they’re looking to expand on this mystical hybrid with a few new levels and some added features in Kickbeat: Special Edition.
There’s not much in the way of a story, as you get to choose between Lee and Mei, two kung-fu students who are charged with protecting the power of music that’s in the form of a sphere from evil bad guys who wish to use it for their own purposes. The controls are fairly easy to learn, but the game is anything but. You use the four face buttons (square, triangle, circle and X) to fight off enemies that come from marked directions on the screen that line up with the button layout. So for example if an enemy attacks from the top of the screen, you would hit hit the triangle, and square for to attack from the left, etc. Your job is to fight them off while avoiding getting hit, as once your health is depleted, it’s game over.
Sounds fairly simple right? It is until you realize that different enemies need to be attacked in different ways, all while keeping in sync with the rhythm of the stage’s music. At least the enemies are marked with different colors to help out somewhat, such as the yellow ones that are slow while the blue ones attack pretty fast. Red baddies will attack from two different directions in which you’ll have to press two buttons at the same time, and some enemies will leave a yellow streak when moving together in which you have to hold the attack button to hit the first one and then release it to hit the second one.
To make thing even more interesting, there are power-ups that float above some of the enemies that range from extra points and score multipliers, to health and chi you can use to increase your score. The only bad thing is that you can only get these power-ups by double-tapping the button they correspond to. This added with the different timing / attacks leads me to bring up the nearly insane difficulty here, as it’s easy to get confused and mixed up when normally attacking only to double-tap for these and lose your rhythm and concentration. There’s also some boss battles in some of the stages you’ll have to make your way through. These bosses will put all of your skills to the test as you’ll have to dodge lasers while moving between platforms, to avoiding incoming missiles from a helicopter.
The 24 tracks that make up the soundtrack (six new tracks are included in there) to the game keeps things flowing for the most part, but may not be for everyone. While I did enjoy some tracks such as P.O.D.’s “Boom”, “Last Resort” by Papa Roach and more, most of the soundtrack seems to be songs with a lot of yelling and loud sounds that serve to make finding the rhythm more difficult than it needs to be. Couple this with the fighting mechanics I mentioned earlier, and you have one frustrating game on your hands. I’ve read the PS Vita and PlayStation 3 versions had an import feature that allowed you to add your own music to the game, but this feature has been removed here which is a shame.
There’s also some other added bonuses in the Special Edition here, such as having most of the modes and difficulties unlocked from the start, being able to unlock costumes and having an online leaderboard to compare your scores and skills against. Of course being on a next-gen system, the graphics have been updated and look amazingly sharp while moving at a pretty smooth framerate.
While the punishing difficulty will keep most away, those who enjoy music rhythm games with a nice challenge will get their kung-fu kicks from Kickbeat: Special Edition. It is frustratingly hard, and the so-so soundtrack does little to help, but those who can look and work their way past these flaws will find a very fresh and interesting take on the music rhythmic genre.