By: Jeff Cater
KickBeat Special Edition is a unique venture into the realm of rhythm games, developed and published by Zen Studios. The music in the world has begun to disappear, while at the same time a global entertainment corporation suddenly becomes the go-to venue for music. It is up to you to ensure that the music is free and will live on.
As with most rhythm games on consoles, the sticks and directional pad are merely used for menu selection. The face buttons, when prompted, need to be pushed in order to defend yourself in the center of the ring. With the pressure-sensitive buttons of today’s consoles, registry of a button press can be pretty iffy at times and lead to some frustrating ass kickings.
Once you learn to really romp down on the buttons you won’t have as much trouble, but there are different types of “notes” to hit that further magnify the spotty button recognition. One such note is you must press the button down at the right time and hold it until the next opponent walks up, then you release. Correctly timing those notes is probably the single most difficult aspect of the game.
KickBeat definitely has an attractive presentation, with every stage you battle upon full of fancy lights and crowds of baddies to dispatch. The stage is always alive with the beat of the music as well, so seeing how each song pulses your environment is pretty cool. The fight animations are generally well done, but at certain points of a song you will enter a mid-riff cut scene where your character will throw, chop, or kick to the face. While those scenes are perfectly synced to the music, the animation of the moves is laughably stiff.
The game really does bring a new meaning to “whooping someone’s ass to a soundtrack.” Artists such as Rob Zombie, Marilyn Manson, enV and Celldweller have all provided some very kickass and familiar tunes to get you pumped while bringing the pain. Aside from the soundtrack, the sound is actually pretty barren — there is little-to-no voice acting, and the sounds of combat go largely unnoticed due to the soundtrack.
As you stand in the center of the arena, you are slowly encircled by several henchmen. As the music starts, button prompts will appear in positions corresponding to their placement on the controller, so any opponent approaching the right side of the screen will usually be assigned the circle button, an opponent moving to the left will likely be square and so on.
I use the words “usually” and “likely” because during any given song, enemies will appear on one side of the screen and slowly meander to the other. The next button in the song’s sequence will pop up a second or two before it actually hits, which is indicated by a ring of light that appears around the prompt. Thankfully, this movement all syncs up to the music very well, so once you’ve found the rhythm to a song it will be much easier to defend yourself.
Power-ups will also appear over enemies’ heads at certain times, which will grant you bonuses like extra health or a score multiplier, but you have to press their assigned button twice rather than once, thus delivering a quick two-hit combo.
The most troubling aspect of the gameplay is the fact that, due to the liveliness of the arenas, button prompts tend to blend together with enemies or the stage itself, and sometimes they’re even blocked by your character.
As with most rhythm games, if you miss one press you can expect that the next five to seven are going to hurt like hell. This, coupled with the button sensitivity issue mentioned, above make KickBeat more difficult than I believe it was supposed to be. And speaking of the difficulty, it ramps up very quickly — by the second song I had to retry three times.
The concept of having a rhythm-based fighting game is really cool, but a bit too much attitude bled through from the concept to the actual design of the game. Maybe if we are treated to a true sequel in the future the few issues it has will be cleared up, because there is definitely a lot of fun to be had in KickBeat Special Edition — even in the game’s current state.