Kickbeat Review: Kung-Fu Knockdown

Platform: Windows PC
Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Release Date: 01/20/14


Lovers of rhythm games are undoubtedly enjoying its popularity among indie developers in the last few years, with gems like Crypt of the Necrodancer, and Audiosurf. It’s always interesting to see the new innovations that are made during the maturation of new genres.

Kickbeat attempts to build on the traditional DDR-style gameplay and set itself apart. You stand in the middle of an arena as henchmen circle around you like some dramatic face-off in a tap dancing musical. Instead of moving to the beat of ascending arrows, you rain down kung-fu in the direction of the incoming villains, matching the rhythm with your blows. A bit of depth is present in the form of various power-ups as well as a karma bar that gradually increases as you play and can be used to double your multiplier for a little while once it maxes out.


So how much do these elements actually improve gameplay from other similar titles? Unfortunately, most of them turn out to be more trouble than they’re worth. As you don’t have a constant stream of arrows scrolling past it can get confusing as to what’s coming next. The direction an enemy is approaching lights up for a couple of seconds before you need to press it, but especially at higher difficulties this can result in several lights activated at the same time putting you right back where you started. The power-ups work well on a basic level as you have to double-tap in the particular direction to gain them, allowing for faster-paced combos. However you have to hit shift and space bar to activate some of your powers which can be quite jarring when using keyboard controls (though not so much with a controller).

Atmosphere and style are what Kickbeat does best, however. The hand-drawn cutscenes are beautiful as well as interesting to watch, while the in-game arenas are extremely detailed. The story is basic but doesn’t feel unnecessary, and is packed with a few bonus laughs. Additionally one of the most unique aspects is perhaps the song selection, as it deviates significantly from the usual host of pop music in rhythm gaming. Instead, Kickbeat features a number of rock, metal and rap music, the implication of which depends entirely on your taste of music. Regardless, the powerful line-up of music definitely meshes well with the martial arts theme and really gets your adrenaline pumping, especially with the well-crafted level design and dynamic camera that add to the impact of each beat. For its Steam debut, 6 electronic tracks from the Electronic Super Joy soundtrack were added, but frankly make for tedious levels and don’t fit in with the feel of the game.

kickbeat2Despite its overall polish, Kickbeat’s replayability remains lackluster. While there is a feature to add your own custom songs, it rarely matches the beat well and fails to mimic the interesting combinations of enemies that are done so well in the story levels. As a result, the unconventional song selection has a more important role as you will likely spend the majority of your time playing the superior pre-made levels. If you plan to replay songs on higher difficulty levels or for better scores, the main campaign should be just long enough in terms of value to playing hours.

Rhythm games are popular because of their accessibility and ultimate replayability. However Kickbeat‘s particular innovations turn it into a much more niche game. If you can handle the music choices, aren’t interested in using your own music and are a perfectionist who will aim for top scores, it might just be the game for you.

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