Monday, September 15, 2014

KickBeat Special Edition (PS4)

Those of you have stuck with me from the beginning will more than likely recall my review of the PS3, and PS Vita versions of the original "KickBeat". I had accused the game of being too visually, and functionally complex. You had to mind too many things at once, and do so to mostly fast paced music. Features such as the rhythm based mechanics didn't really sync up with most of the songs being played out. Marilyn Manson's song, "Beautiful People", for example did not fit the rhythm based gameplay at all due to it's mostly vocal nature, and faster than normal drum play. Normally in a rhythm game developers will sync actions up to beats, or the thump of the bass to ensure that the gamer can follow the game without trouble. In the case of "KickBeat" though they chose to use everything from beats to vocals as focal points with the rhythm mechanics. Another issue I had with the original game was the fact that they started the first levels of the game off with some of the most difficult songs to follow. It was issues like these that ultimately kept me from completing a full playthrough, and recommending the game to my readers. Sadly, after returning as a next-gen rehash the game still carries with it the same issues that I found before. The only differences I noticed were the upgraded graphics, sound quality, and possibly some new unlockable content.

For those of you reading about Zen Studio's "KickBeat" for the first time you will definitely need to be educated about what you are getting into should you find the game interesting enough to try out. As such I will begin by explaining the mythology behind the game, and then follow up with all the juicy details relating to the game's features. Brace yourselves for a lengthy read! ...

In Kickbeat there is a secret society of monks known as "The Order of the Melodic Fist". Their duty as protectors is to guard a very special relic known as the "Sphere". The 'Sphere', as it were is basically the source of all music that is, and that is to be. It provides lullabies for children, modern music for the youth of the world, and classic songs for the more mature, and distinguished individuals in life. In fact it contains all genres of music including that of Justin Bieber (O_o), and Rob Zombie (My Favorite!). Unfortunately for the order there is an evil corporation known as 'Earth Entertainment' who also has their sights set on the Sphere. They aim to steal it's power, and use said power as a means of profit. It isn't until a cleaning boy named 'Lee' happens on the scene of the crime that Master Fu, the leader of the 'Melodic Fist' realizes he is the "Chosen One", and that he is their only hope in stopping the bad guys from taking total control of all things music related. As Lee, Master Fu, and Mei it is up to you to use what's left of the Sphere's music to thwart the plans of the corporation, and gain back control of it through martial arts action timed to the sound of music.

Gameplay, as complicated as it may seem in the three tier tutorial is not all that difficult once you understand the basic nature of it ... In each level you'll find multiple stages that are circle oriented. At the center you will find your character (Lee, Mei, ...) standing on top of a yin yang symbol. The yin yang symbol represents the character's life, and is depleted with each successfully landed enemy attack. Encircling the main character is a group of color coordinated enemies that will approach the main character in time with the song that is being played out. As they approach the center area you will be tasked with tapping, holding, or double tapping the correct button/s (SQUARE, TRAINGLE, X, CIRCLE) as the enemy/s cross the button symbol/s, and try to land an attack on your character. The enemies will approach in different attack patterns in each of the cardinal directions, and must be taken care of in a specific manner. Sometimes you'll have to dish out attacks in sequential order as the enemies approach, and other times you'll have to repeat a button press multiple times, or even hold, and release a specific button to attack a secondary enemy that is linked to another enemy of the same type.

Each time you land an attack your attack accuracy will be graded accordingly. A perfectly timed attack will result in "Perfect" showing up in a display around the main character, and if your off by a little you can score a "Good" with either positive, or negative marks beside it. The positive mark/s means that you pressed the button correctly, but too quickly, and the negative mark/s means you pressed the button correctly, but too late. It goes without saying that if you should miss you'll see a red "Miss" show up around your character. Should you miss too many times in a row your character will become stunned, and open to enemy attacks for a short while. It should also be noted that if you land all attacks within a given wave of enemies without missing, and do so with all "Perfects" you will score a perfect chain which will improve upon your score greatly. Of course this game, whether it be in "Solo", "Split Screen", "Survival", or "Free Play" is a score based ordeal, and as so it will take in account several things should you successfully clear out all the enemies of a stage. Aside from the five star rating system you will find that the game awards you points based on the types of enemies you kill (Red, Yellow, Blue), the 'Perfects' you score, and the power-ups you utilize during your playthrough/s.

When it comes to the power-up system you will find that the enemies you defeat with well timed button presses will sometimes carry with them point bonuses, health refills, shields, multipliers, and screen clearing blasts. As far as gaining this perks go you will need to double tap the appropriate button that ties in with  enemy who has a visible power-up over their head. Each of the power-up types are shown, and explained in the tutorial, and it is probably best that you go through all three levels of the tutorial even though it will more than likely complicate things for you later on. In regards to the different power-ups you'll find that some have automatic effects, and will activate as soon as you connect with that second button press. The bonus points, score multiplier, and health refills all apply to this feature. When it comes to power-ups such as the shield, and area blast however you will need to press either "R1", or "R2" when the power-up icon in the lower right-hand corner of the screen displays that you have obtained one. Another feature of interests that also boosts scoring is the main characters' "Chi" power. Like the power-up icon you will find the main character's Chi at the bottom left-hand side of the screen. As you successfully defeat the onscreen enemies your Chi will light up, and change color to show that it is ready for use. When your Chi icon turns white, or green you can activate it by pressing the "L1", or "L2" button, and enhance your scoring efforts for a limited time. It goes without saying that when the Chi icon is green it will afford you longer, and higher scoring opportunities.

As far as the simplified version of all this goes you will find that you really only need to focus on a few important details during gameplay. The most important thing of all to pay attention to is the illuminated button icons that appear around your character. These will light up in order, and will keep you on track as to which button/s you should press next. Paying attention to the character, or enemies can often times complicate things, but keeping a watch on when button icons appear, and light up will simplify things greatly. Another good tip is to also pay attention to the outline of your enemies. The enemy that is about to attack will always have a white outline. You also need to mind the different types of characters that are about to attack, and which ones have power-up icons over their heads.

Aside from standard wave based stages you will eventually happen upon a boss fight which will use the basic mechanics of the button icon interface, but that will require a different approach entirely. There are only a handful of different levels in the game including 'Chicago', Tokyo', 'Istanbul', and the 'Sphere' itself. Each of the given levels are divided into stages that must be completed before you can advance, and unlock the other modes of play, and additional in-game content.

At the beginning you will find that only Lee's 'Solo' story is available in a variety of different difficulties, and that Mei, and her story can only be accessed in a similar manner after you've completed Lee's playthrough. Each character in 'Solo' has their own story, and difficulty settings making each playthrough unique. It should also be noted that each stage in 'Solo' is tied to a particular song that will play out as you try to defeat the enemy/s laid out before you. The songs range from slow vocal-free techno to more hard hitting songs like Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People', and Rob Zombie's 'Scum of the Earth'. Blue Stahli also has some of their more noteworthy songs on there as well. In the way of extra modes you'll find in place a "Split Screen" mode for local play with a friend, or family member. You'll also find a "Free Play" mode where you can tweak the settings (Character, Outfit, Song, Stage ...) to your liking. There's even a 'Survival Mode' which basically scraps all that you learned in 'Solo' and expects you to fight off fast moving waves of enemies without a button pressing guide to help you along. It's a fool's errand if you ask me.

Other extras of interest include unlockable red, blue, and yellow characters along with multiple outfits for each, a 'Visualizer" mode which will gift you a glimpse at a perfect playthrough, and additional outfits for the main characters. I believe there's also some unlockable songs as well. It should also be noted that some of the modes will allow you to select songs from your own uploaded playlists for use within the game. I've personally never tried this feature, but I assume that the developer has developed the game well enough to sync the onscreen action with the song, and the required button presses. You guys will have to let me know about that if you decide to give the game a try.

The Verdict ...

As I mentioned in the intro paragraph this game actually seemed like the same experience to me. It had the same issues that I pointed out before, but in a more visually impressive display. At the core it seemed more about pattern memorization than actual rhythm based gaming. If I had not have learned of those tricks that I mentioned to you earlier in regards to what to focus on I would have never made it to the last boss fight this time around. I found myself often times barely surviving at the end of a stage with only one hit left despite having memorized the pattern of enemy attacks. It's truly difficult to pay attention to all that the game demands of you amidst the seizure inducing lighting effects, and the chaotic onscreen action. As before I also felt that some songs just did not sync up properly with the gameplay mechanics. Marilyn Manson's "Beautiful People" amongst other songs were too fast paced for the demanded control usage. It isn't until later on in the game that you'll stumble across much slower tracks that are easier than the ones that you began with. The fact that Zen Studios opted to present you with some difficult songs from the start really makes the task at hand a trying one, and the added fact that songs didn't follow a progressively harder pattern made the game seem half thought out.

Even though I managed to make it further than I did before this game just doesn't cut it for me. It's like an HD upgrade with nothing significantly special about it. I guess the only positive thing about getting this game would be the streaming possibilities. With PS4's twitch streaming, and soon to be realized Youtube uploading I could see someone using the game to show of their reflexive skills, especially in the 'Free Play' mode. Of course you'd have to watch out for that copyright monster if you do so due the songs that were used, and the ability to play using your own playlist. Other than those things I'm going to have to stick with what I said before. This is not one of Zen Studio's best creations. I think they should stick to pinball games, because that's where they truly shine. Maybe a new type of Pinball experience outside of 'Zen Pinball 2', and 'Pinball FX2' would bring an even larger fanbase to them? Something with Youtube upload capabilities, different themes, and an entirely new look. A new pinball experience for "Mature" gamers. A 'Playboy' table (*Drools At The Thought*), or possibly some horror themed tables with blood effects would be Awesome!

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