Kickbeat: Special Edition (PlayStation 4) Review

By Gareth F 24.09.2014

Review for Kickbeat: Special Edition on PlayStation 4

Zen Studios facilitates the battle to win back ALL the worlds music from the clutches of the Earth Entertainment organisation via rhythm based brawler Kickbeat: Special Edition. Cubed3 cracks a few skulls in a bid to reclaim access to Susan Boyle's back catalogue…

Speaking as someone who has always considered themselves to have a fairly good sense of rhythmic timing, it's always an extreme disappointment when videogames consistently prove otherwise (there's a broken DJ Hero controller under the stairs that backs this up). Kickbeat: Special Edition takes a brawler, straps it into the chassis of a rhythm game and by doing so marries up two genres that would normally cross the street to avoid one another. It's such an inspired mash up that it's surprising that nobody came up with it before Zen Studios who originally unleashed Kickbeat on the PC and Vita and has since beefed it up to Special Edition status for the PlayStation 4 and Wii U eShop.

Over the years, rhythm games have consistently come up with new and innovative ways to ensure they get played. Early games such as Parappa the Rapper relied on just a bog standard joypad and a selection of catchy tunes, but it wasn't too long before the genre evolved into an exercise in selling expensive plastic peripherals designed to clutter up the living area. Necessary items such as maracas (Samba de Amigo), dance mats (Dance Dance Revolution), guitars (Guitar Hero), in addition to drums and keyboards (Rock Band) were required as part of the ever increasing admittance fee to join the party. More recently, games such as Dance Central and Child of Eden have eschewed the gimmicky peripherals choosing instead to utilise the Kinect sensor, which has helped reduce the plastic instrument levels in landfills all over the world. Zen Studios, better known as the purveyor of fine pinball games, has taken the rhythm genre full circle with Kickbeat: Special Edition by insisting that players go old school and actually go back to using joypad controllers again ... crazy huh?

Screenshot for Kickbeat: Special Edition on PlayStation 4

In terms of story, it's pretty standard stuff but delivered with its tongue placed very firmly in its cheek. All of the world's music is stored in an over-sized globe called the 'Sphere of Music' - a rather foolish move and a possible veiled premonition highlighting the dangers on the over reliance of cloud computing. The sphere is guarded by a secretive group of music loving monks known only as the 'Order of the Melodic Fist,' which is headed up by walking cliché, Master Fu. The villain of the piece, a chap known only as Mr Halisi, is the head of Earth Entertainment, the organisation that targets the Sphere of Music in a bid to gain the monopoly on music via its Radio Earth channel (just think of the ad revenue). Halisi's stealthy attack on the Sphere went unnoticed until the dying seconds of completion by which time it was too late, leaving the entire world with a mere 18 songs to choose from which coincidently, provide the soundtrack to Kickbeat: Special Edition. Whilst a world without Justin Bieber is something many of us have fantasised about ... often, it's up to the hero, Lei, under the expert guidance of the guilt-ridden Master Wu, to rectify the situation and win back the world's music. Lei's search for the abominable Mr Halisi takes him all over the world to a variety of locations, including a monastery, a Turkish baths, a wrestling club and a helipad … all of which look suspiciously like the dance floor of a nightclub.

Screenshot for Kickbeat: Special Edition on PlayStation 4

Kickbeat's premise is pretty simple. Like any classic martial arts movie, all the bad guys circle the antagonist, waiting patiently for a turn to punch his lights out, although in this instance they circle in a pattern matching the beat of the current song playing. Attacks will occur from one of four different directions - which mimics the layout of the joypad buttons - and hitting the relevant button precisely as the enemy is about to strike will counter the punch; conversely, missing it will result in lost health and the multiplier being reset. Of course, it doesn't take too long before multiple bad guys start to attack at the same time, in which case a deft combination of the required button presses should see them off. In an attempt to avoid confusion with regard to what direction the next fist is coming from, the henchman readying to strike will be highlighted momentarily, which sounds helpful in theory, yet in practice is pretty tough to spot in the heat of all the action. In terms of enemies, there are standard grunts that can be taken down with one hit, and linked enemies, signified by a glowing stripe between them, and are parried by holding down the attack button to tackle the first guy, then releasing it in time to give his partner in crime a dry slap.

Some enemies carry orbs that, when snatched with a double tap of the relevant button, aid the player with a variety of power-ups, ranging from additional health or Chi, extra score, a multiplier increase, a shockwave (handy for knocking back enemies when it gets too frantic) and a shield. Too many double taps when they are not required will result in Lei getting tired, which leaves him vulnerable to attack for a few seconds (at which point possessing a shield would come in VERY handy). The aforementioned Chi is charged up gradually via orb grabs and will, upon activation, result in the doubling of the current multiplier for a short period of time making it the Kickbeat equivalent to Star Power in the Guitar Hero series. At the centre of the playing field is a Yin / Yang emblem which handily doubles up as an indicator of Lei's health / Chi levels and provided that the player can make it to the end of the song with some health intact then the next level is open to attack. Sporadically during the course of the campaign, Lei will have to face up to boss battles that break up the flow a little but never prove too problematic … bar the final battle with Mr Halisi, which is far more confusing than it needs to be.

Screenshot for Kickbeat: Special Edition on PlayStation 4

In addition to the campaign, there are also 'Free Play' and 'Survival' modes that are fairly self explanatory but help extend the challenge somewhat. There is also a split-screen multiplayer component that comes in the form of a competitive head-to-head battle that is made all the more interesting by tossing a few more orbs with destructive properties into the mix (for example, orbs that cause damage if missed, orbs that send stronger enemies to opponents, exhaustion, Chi leach - to name but four).

Zen has also included a Visualiser mode that does nothing more than allow for sitting back and watching a perfect run through of each track, which, while proving to be slightly hypnotic, will unlikely get much use beyond its initial viewing. A noticeable absence from the PS4 version is the ability to add personal music to generate random attack patterns, although this could be purely down to the fact that the PlayStation 4 doesn't currently support MP3s.

Screenshot for Kickbeat: Special Edition on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

Rated 6 out of 10


Kickbeat: Special Edition is a fun little diversion in small bursts but it doesn't really stray too far from the path it sets out right at the very start. Despite some solid gameplay mechanics, it sadly lacks the variety of content to ensure repeated play and as such will likely only appeal to diehard fans of the genre.


Zen Studios


Zen Studios





C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   


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