I have often pined for more rhythm games on the Vita. There haven’t been many but what has been released I have thoroughly enjoyed. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a Vita version of Dance Central but in the meantime, we have a new rhythm game called KickBeat.KickBeat is an interesting idea for a rhythm game, and of the like I’ve never seen. At this point, developers really need a hook to keep a music game appealing, whether its Kinect or mashing up genres. KickBeat naturally combines music with martial arts, which is something pretty unique and could possibly be an interesting idea. There are multiple worlds that are broken up into stages, or fights, that each have their own individual songs. The variety of available music is curious making it stand out from other rhythm games while at the same time not opening itself up to fans of all genres. If you are a believer that music games live or die by their soundtrack, then the track listing here could lead to some disappointment.
KickBeat doesn’t exactly have anything interesting going on in the story department but I give them credit for trying, only to take it right back for the quality of the writing. Honestly, having no story in favor of deeper gameplay mechanics would have been a better option. The game even goes out of its way to take a shot at Justin Bieber which just felt desperate. The story involves the stealing of the “Sphere of Music” that contains all of the world’s music. It is stolen by the evil bad guy who wants to run a music monopoly, so the hero needs to kick their butt to the tune of the beat! It may sound all right from a goofiness standpoint but the writing really holds it back from being any kind of clever.
The gameplay is fairly simple in idea but frustrating in practice. Your character stands in a room surrounded by fighters that attack you from the four sides represented by the X, square, circle and triangle buttons. You simply have to hit those buttons as the icons flash with the beat and the character will kung fu kick his opponents. The fighters attack in waves and the more in time with the music you are the better the score. Sounds pretty simple right? The problem is with so many characters on the screen it becomes rather difficult to see the icons sometimes which can really screw up your timing and cause a missing streak before regaining your control. While playing the game I mostly became frustrated rather than entertained. There is more to the game than just tapping four buttons, however. When some characters attack you they have bonuses hovering over their heads and if you are able to double tap the button when that character attacks then you receive extra points or a health bonus. There is also a chi ability that allows you to form a shield, blast away incoming bad guys, or activate a score multiplier that lasts for a limited time.
The best part of KickBeat is the visuals and music. The soundtrack could definitely use a little more variety and a selection that didn't feel so outdated for a mainstream audience. I was pretty shocked to see Marilyn Manson’s "Beautiful People" included on the list but I can’t imagine many people being pumped to listen to songs that old. The environments are all extremely vibrant and full of style relating to their theme. The character models are all represented with a nice art style that gives them a flashy cartoony appearance and the martial arts of the game are well animated with some flashy finishing sequences after each wave. If there is one thing that will stick with you from KickBeat I would be hard pressed to find anything other than the art.
KickBeat is fairly difficult for the most part, and while you can argue "challenge is a good thing" and I would agree that the game doesn't feel hard because it's challenging; it feels hard because it isn't well made. Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing completely broken here and some people can certainly find enjoyment, but I would say to take the leap at their own risk. I felt like the button presses were pretty inconsistent on whether the game was following the music or the lyrics and the cluttering of the screen can be a real issue. Not to mention the game allows touch controls but those only make sense for a crazy person and just increase the difficulty of getting a good score. Avoid the touch controls at all costs. One thing worth noting is that there are two campaigns with two separate characters; however they play exactly the same from a gameplay perspective, which make you wonder why it has two campaigns at all.
KickBeat was a really interesting idea that with a little better direction could have made for a great rhythm game on the Vita which, I feel, is a platform that can handle rhythm games very well. While I walked away disappointed, I wasn't offended or upset. If you can look past its faults, there are some interesting things here but a better game lies elsewhere that might be more worth your time. In the meantime, I will keep my fingers crossed for a better Vita music game and hope the next attempt will have something more to offer.