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KickBeat Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . KickBeat is an addictive rhythm game with fun mechanic and good looking visuals. Too bad the whole thing is marred by a terrible by a truly awful soundtrack and a story mode that locks the best content away from eager fans. Rating: 64%
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  • Review Score:

  • B-
Zen Studios may be best known for their wildly popular Pinball FX series, but lately they've been branching out with a surprisingly diverse line-up of games that has nothing to do with flippers and ramps. Earlier this year, the Budapest-based company released CastleStorm, a fast-paced strategy game that combined Angry Birds and tower defense. Now they're placing their bets on another quirky mash-up, the unfortunately titled KickBeat.

Announced well over a year ago, KickBeat has finally made its way to the PS Vita and PlayStation 3. It takes elements from two of my favorite genres -- rhythm games and fighters -- and creates one of the most intriguing games of the year. Sadly, the game is marred by a truly awful soundtrack and a story mode that locks the best content away from eager fans.

KickBeat (Vita)

Don't worry; you won't be forced to use either of the PS Vita's two touchscreens like DJ Max Technika Tune. KickBeat uses the four face buttons, putting it more in line with Rock Band Unplugged on the PSP. You use the four face buttons to fight off an army of ninjas, wrestlers, clubbers and other assorted bad guys. As an enemy walks towards a marked direction, it's up to the player to hit the corresponding button. Hit the triangle for enemies at the top of the screen, square button for baddies attacking from the left and so on so forth.

As I'm sure you already know, none of this is as easy as it sounds. You'll quickly discover that there are many types of enemies, each with a different color scheme. For example, the yellow ninjas are slow, while their blue counterpart is quick. Red ninjas attack in teams, so the player will have to hit two or more buttons at once. Sometimes an enemy will require players to hold the button, waiting for their follower to show up.

None of these bad guys are particularly difficult when left to their own devices, especially when there's an on-screen button prompt and a predictable pattern to memorize. But things get tricky when all of these unfriendly faces strike one after another. Suddenly the screen becomes a chaotic mess and perfect timing becomes essential.

KickBeat (Vita)

The game makes everything a little more complicated by tossing in power-ups. Certain enemies will have bonus points and power-ups floating above their head, requiring the player to double tap the button in order to collect the prize. But beware, it's easy to get used to double tapping a bunch of prize-holding enemies in a row, only to lose your multiplier by not noticing a regular one-hit baddie.

There are also a number of gameplay mechanics that immediately bring other rhythm games to mind. Under our hero's feet is a ying/yang symbol, which displays a life and multiplier bonus bar. Get hit too many times and the life bar will deplete, eventually leading to defeat. The other bar works similar to Rock Band's "Overdrive" (or Guitar Hero's "Star Power," if that's how you roll); once the player meets the requirement, they can unleash a power that doubles the current multiplier.

KickBeat has more than just hand-to-hand battles with large groups of fighters; it also has a number of boss fights. I was surprised that the various boss encounters weren't just harder enemies, but instead involved large bad guys that will test all of your KickBeating abilities. In one stage you leap from statue-to-statue shooting lasers and shocking the boss. Another stage has our hero fending off missile strikes from a helicopter. None of these battles deviate from the standard four-button set-up, but they feel substantially different from the typical stages.

KickBeat (Vita)

Best of all, these boss fights seem to be paired with KickBeat's best songs. I say that somewhat begrudgingly, as I don't genuinely love any of the 18 songs featured on the soundtrack. The closest I got was Marilyn Manson's "The Beautiful People" and Rob Zombie's infectious "Scum of the Earth." Even if you count those two 1990s singles twice, I would still be hard-pressed to come up with a list of five songs I liked.

The problem isn't the talent; there is a solid mix of fresh faces and top 40 hits. Big names or not, I found KickBeat's song selection to be endlessly frustrating. It is, for the most part, made up of the same nu-metal hit makers I normally try so desperately to avoid. Nearly every song has these components: Whispered lyrics, a yelled chorus and a section in the middle where somebody raps. And when it's not a who's who of nu-metal's finest, the game pees in the pool with dubstep.
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