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KickBeat: Special Edition Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . No matter if you're playing on the PlayStation 4, PS Vita or PS3, KickBeat is a charming music game with a lot of character. The fights are fun to watch and the gameplay is both simple and addictive. Too bad the whole thing is brought down by a crummy soundtrack and the removal of the import mode. Rating: 64%
KickBeat: Special Edition
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  • Review Score:

  • B-
Any fan of Jackie Chan can tell you that the best fight sequences will often resemble dancing. With the music aggressively pushing the action and a well-choreographed routine in full display, there's a thin line between a ballet and a movie brawl. KickBeat takes this principle out of foreign martial arts films and turns it into an addictive new rhythm game for the PlayStation 4. And while it never quite reaches the heights of Drunken Master or Police Story, this fun little music game is still worth a look.

If this all sounds familiar, then it's because you probably played KickBeat the first time it was released on the PS Vita and PlayStation 3. This brand new version, dubbed the "Special Edition," features a few new songs and levels, but is largely the same as the 2013 release. The benefit here is that it's finally on a next-generation console, and also coming to consoles not developed by Sony.

KickBeat (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

KickBeat is not your typical rhythm game. Instead of watching a note highway like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, we are thrown right in the middle of a huge fight. 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.

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.

KickBeat (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

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.

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 24 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 a line-up of ear-splitting EDM tracks.

KickBeat (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

I hate KickBeat's soundtrack in the same way Superman hates the kryptonite. There's so much yelling and growling that it made me yearn for a future when my bodiless head is stuffed in a very quiet jar. It's as if the entire game soundtrack was ripped off from a low-rent nightclub. I feared every single death, because I knew it would mean playing my new least favorite song over again from the start.

Normally music games hope for the best by offering a large variety, from pop to rock to punk. Not KickBeat. This game puts all its musical eggs in one basket, and it ends up sinking the ship. No matter what I think of the gameplay, I will always think twice about playing KickBeat due entirely to the horrible song choices. Obviously, fans of nu-metal will likely disagree, perhaps even hailing this as one of the best rhythm games on the market. Those who don't see Fred Durst's genius need not apply.

For those who are into this type of music, Zen Studios has added six new songs to the mix. As far as I can tell, all of the additional songs come from Stratham-based electronica outfit enV. On a whole, these six new songs are better than what was in the 2013 release, though I wouldn't go back and listen to any of the six songs independent from the game.

On the PS Vita and PlayStation 3, KickBeat featured an import mode that allowed players to escape the single-minded soundtrack. While not especially satisfying, this mode showed promise and was a good idea in theory. Sadly, this entire feature has been stripped out of the PlayStation 4 version. I suspect this has something to do with system's lack of MP3 support, which is a shame. I would have liked to have seen this mode improved for next-generation consoles, not removed entirely.

KickBeat (PlayStation 4)Click For the Full Picture Archive

While one character and a few modes are locked away from the start, this Special Edition does a better job of giving players options. You no longer need to complete each difficulty in order to take on a harder challenge and survivor mode no longer requires players to beat the game four times. There are also new items to unlock, such as character costumes. I would have preferred to be able to choose Mei, KickBeat's female protagonist, from the get-go, but this PS4 version is a step in the right direction.

Despite my adverse reaction to the soundtrack, there's a lot I like about KickBeat. The gameplay is simple and addictive; I had a lot of fun beating up these poor, predictable fools. I also like how the online leaderboard is integrated into each menu page, giving players a sense on how they stack up against the world and their friends. The graphics are also sharp, though it took me awhile to warm to the character models.

With its song importer and fun gameplay, KickBeat proves to be an interesting idea. Unfortunately, the experience is nearly ruined thanks to a terrible soundtrack and core modes that are locked away for no good reason. If you can get past these problems, you'll discover a fun new take on the rhythm game genre. It's not perfect, but KickBeat is worth playing.
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