Zen Studios, known for their pinball games, has released a new rhythm-fighter called KickBeat. Does this kung fu-flavored fighter game have what it takes to take on the heavy hitters on the PlayStation Network? Or does it miss a step and deserve to be knocked out?
Right off the bat, you should go into the game knowing that you won't be playing a fighting game. No, KickBeat is a rhythm-based game through and through, but with a fighting game veneer. There are no complicated combos to memorize, no movesets to study or frames to count -- or are there?
KickBeat provides you with training, story, free play, beat-your-music, and survival modes. Before you even step foot in the story, you'll have to go through the training in order to get acclimated to KickBeat's unique controls. You control either Lee or Mei as they stand in one spot and fend off a seemingly endless supply of bad guys each round. Hitting baddies is as simple as pressing the corresponding face button that shows up on the prompt. For example, if an enemy steps towards the triangle on the screen, you hit triangle to strike him. Sounds easy, right?
It's only easy until you start playing along to a song and streams of bad guys come attack you, set to the beat of the song. This means that you can have multiple enemies come at you, one after the other, in staccato rhythm. You'll have to be familiar with the song and be good at keeping beat in order to keep your health up. Failing at any point during a song/battle means you'll have to restart, so we hope that you've got an excellent sense of rhythm.
Sometimes, enemies will have symbols above their heads, indicating that they're carrying a power-up. You'll have to double-tap the corresponding button in order to collect these power-ups, which will either shield you, heal you, blast nearby foes or boost your zen levels. Once you've got enough zen, you can activate zen mode and get a nice score multiplier. A beefy score does nothing for you in-game, but it can help you with bragging rights on the global leader boards.
The concept is simple enough, but how is the execution? Well, unless you're a master of rhythm, you probably won't ace through the game. It doesn't help that the available tracks aren't very exciting and it can be easier to play with the music turned off. That's a huge mark against a rhythm game. To it's credit, Zen Studios landed a few hits that some fans might appreciate playing through, like Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People," and Papa Roach's "Last Resort."
It's just a shame that you'll grow tired of those songs when you end up dying halfway through a track and are forced to start again from the very begin. A few checkpoints would have been welcome.
After you've slogged through the story mode, you'll have access to the "beat your music" mode, which lets you play the game using your own music. This would be preferable to the game's included music, so I'd recommend playing with a custom soundtrack. After all, this means that you can fight to Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting," which would probably be the most fun you'll have, perhaps ever.
In the end, KickBeat feels more like a mobile title rather than an actual console-sized digital offering. The concept is cool and the presentation is serviceable, but it lacks heart, which ultimately makes the experience suffer. The option to play using your own personal tracklist is a cool addition, but you'll have to get through the story mode first. But when it causes you to pull your hair in the middle of a song on normal difficulty, it becomes an ordeal. The experience is fair, but it's not worth the price of admission.
This review was based on a digital copy of KickBeat for PlayStation Vita that was purchased for review.