The last decade saw the rise of popular rhythm games such as Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. With that craze now long dead the rhythm game genre is attaching itself to other gaming genres. KickBeat – Special Edition is one of these games which strives to straddle the line between the beat\’em up and rhythm genre and strikes just the right chord in its execution. Zen Studios has put together a package that’s both visually appealing and absolutely fun to play.

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The game presents itself through 3D models and vibrant level designs which goes hand in hand with the high energetic music setting. The main story campaign is presented through beautifully hand-drawn animations which is perfect for communicating a simple yet engaging story while you regain your focus between tracks. The only downside to all this being the glitches that were present throughout most of the cut-scenes. Some were visual but nearly every cut-scene contained an audio glitch which would have a consistent tapping playing throughout it. Hopefully this will be patched out in the near future.

What really sets KickBeat apart is its unique and exciting gameplay. You\’ll find yourself in the center of any given stage with a mob surrounding you. One by one the mob will move in to attack you from either 4 directions where you have to then strike them once they step in to attack you. Each attacker will have 1 of 3 colors, yellow, blue or red. A yellow attacker will be your simple one sided attack or one beat button press. The blue attackers are quicker and will attack you on half-beats. Finally the red attacker will always attack in pairs so you have to combine key presses. On top of striking your foes down to the beat, some enemies will have an item above their head which indicates that you need to double-tap in order to acquire. The items will show up to complement keeping the rhythm and works well though it takes a bit of time to get used to. The items vary from extra points, point multipliers, health or chi regen and some shields or destructive waves which knocks out enemies around you. The concept and execution is brilliant, there’s so much happening all around you that your eyes are constantly gauging the mob much like you would in a real fight and your thumbs are constantly moving to the beat giving you a sense of mastery as you dispatch goons with relative ease.

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No rhythm game can be talked about without mentioning the music or in KickBeat‘s case, the track selection. The track list is one of the most crucial aspects of KickBeat and if you don\’t like the music style then it will be hard to enjoy the rest of the game. The song tracks tend to stay in the Nu Metal, Rock/Rap and Dubstep genres which tend to be the most appropriate for a fighting game. Aside from a few songs from well known artists such as Marilyn Manson, Papa Roach and P.O.D don\’t expect to find many well known songs in the track list. I was pleasantly surprised to find the soundtrack to one of my favorite indie games, Electronic Super Joy, which was composed by EnV and plays very well with the game mechanics. The game also lacks the ability to add new tracks either via purchase or upload so at the time of writing you\’re stuck with the 24 track set and if you only like 3-4 tracks from that set then you won\’t be getting much enjoyment from the game.

Finally there’s the game modes which is comprised of your story campaign, training, freeplay, multiplayer and survival. Most of the game however is locked at first requiring you to play through the story mode to unlock. This is strange considering you have to play 3/4 of the story to be able to unlock multiplayer so if you\’re hoping to fight off with a friend you better have dumped in at least an hour into single player mode. Training mode is a basic 3 part stage which introduces you to the game mechanics which is highly recommended for newcomers. Story mode starts off with the story of Lee and once you finish that campaign you unlock Mei’s story which is a completely different and engaging story even though it uses the same locals and songs. For a rhythm game Zen Studios has really put a good amount of attention to its main campaign giving it a fun story with interesting characters. The premise has you chasing after an evil organization which stole the Sphere of Music from an ancient sect of monks called the Order of the Melodic Fist. The organization seeks to control all music for their own evil intentions and you need to fight them to reclaim the music. It’s a fun story and a good way to present the 6 environments you\’ll be fighting in. Additionally this sets up some levels to be boss fights. Every 4th level will change from fighting a mob to a unique boss style fight.   Some of these stages will have you defending your sensei using a laser while another stage will have you fighting incoming rockets from a helicopter. It’s a great way to change up the feel of the game. The other modes are exactly what you\’d expect, free play let’s you select which song you want to play as you aim for a high score which goes up on the online leaderboards while multiplayer is for those looking to play with their friends.   Multiplayer on the Wii U takes advantage of the GamePad and puts one player on the tv and the other on the GamePad avoiding the mess of split-screen. Each game mode has 4 difficulty levels ranging from Normal to Master. Anything above normal mode will remove the button indicators on the floor forcing you to pay more attention to the enemy’s proximity and animations than the floor. Also each difficulty mode awards different types of stars such as bronze, silver, gold or platinum which are required to unlock costumes and characters.

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Zen Studios have truly created something fresh with KickBeat – Special Edition. While the game could use a bit of polishing up to remove some bugs the overall game plays great. The mechanics and feel of beating up a mob to a kick-ass song is executed as wonderfully as one could expect. The visuals and character animations are beautiful and enjoyable to watch even as a spectator. The game’s main downside is its current inability to expand or customize the track list to meet a wider audience’s taste and if that can be overcome than KickBeat could be the standard for the next wave of rhythm games.

Jason Lepine
Operations manager at EG and video darling. The "class" of our Class vs. Crass podcast.

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