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Zen Studios has announced KickBeat Steam Edition, an expanded edition of the experimental rhythm game featuring fully 3D characters, combat and high-energy music, set to release January 20th, 2014 on Steam for $9.99 in North America and €8.99 in Europe.

Learn more about the KickBeat Steam Edition here.

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Zen Studios has announced KickBeat Steam Edition, an expanded edition of the experimental rhythm game featuring fully 3D characters, combat and high-energy music, set to release January 20th, 2014 on Steam for $9.99 in North America and €8.99 in Europe.

The game combines beat-matching mechanics with an acrobatic style of martial arts, turning every song into a raucous battle. The game also features a music analyzer that allows players to create new tracks from their own music libraries.

The KickBeat Steam Edition soundtrack has been expanded for the special Steam release, and now includes 6 tracks from the awesome indie game Electronic Super Joy, from artist EnV as part of the game’s single player campaign. The game features tracks from a diverse lineup of artists ranging from well-known bands such as Pendulum and Marilyn Manson, to indie pioneers Celldweller and Blue Stahli, to hidden talents like electronic music producer Voicians and Taiwanese rapper Shen Yi.

Zen Studios listened to feedback from players and press from the PlayStation 3 release, and made several key changes and additions to the game for Steam.

We scored the PS3 and Vita version of KickBeat 10/13 last September, calling the game a “pleasant surprise” while lamenting that the excellent ‘Beat Your Music’ mode was locked out for too long. In fact, the whole layout of, and progression through, the gameplay modes was one of the only things holding KickBeat back – and they’ve sorted that out. Crucially, the Beat Your Music mode is available much earlier.

KickBeat Steam Edition also promises enhanced visual fidelity; customizable keyboard controls plus full X input controller support, Steam Achievements, Steam Trading Cards and Steam Cloud Support.

Check out the new screens here

This review was originally published in the September, 2013 issue of T1 Monthly

Now this was a pleasant surprise. Zen Studios, a respected indie development house best known for flagship pinball games, Zen Pinball and Pinball FX (as well as a string of licensed pinball games for big names like Marvel and LucasArts), has decided its high time we need a new twist on the all-but-dead rhythm game formula – and they’ve only gone and found one that works. With the rap/rock infused KickBeat, a PSN title that defies its budget price with plenty of content and cross-buy for Vita and PS3, Zen unexpectedly marries the worlds of martial arts and rhythm games to beautiful effect. The actual design of KickBeat as a game package has a few teething problems but it’s a heap of fun regardless, and I dare say this isn’t the last we’ll see of the franchise.

The gameplay mechanics of KickBeat are very familiar, especially for anybody who’s ever played a rhythm game like Parappa the Rapper or Guitar Hero/Rock Band. This musical martial arts fest challenges you to match button prompts to a beat, with points and multipliers accrued every time you’re successful. So it’s fundamentally more of a twist on the genre rather than a reinvention, but KickBeat comes with some clever innovations and interesting features thrown in to separate it from the pack. None more so than the satisfying treat of watching an on-screen character kick more ass than the winner of a donkey booting contest.* You certainly don’t get that with Rock Band – take that expensive peripherals!

Your introduction to KickBeat’s core mechanics is somewhat covered in a short tutorial, which you can, and should, opt to take before jumping into the story mode. Basically, you stand in the middle of a circle with a selection of colour coordinated goons circling and attacking you to a beat. Orange enemies strike on the beat; blue baddies come at you on half beats; red vested ninjas attack in two’s and require simultaneous button presses; and long notes can bring up a duo of enemies that require you to tap, hold, and then release a button to take them down one after another. Enemies only attack from four directions; up, down, left, right; matching up with the Triangle, X, Square and Circle buttons on your pad/Vita.

Directional buttons have no use here. Instead, movement of your character is handled by some brilliant automatic animation stitching. Watching your character hit, kick, slide, and flip his way from enemy to enemy as a result of your rhythm matching prowess is a real joy. It remedies a problem I didn’t realise existed until now: that rhythm games can make for some pretty boring viewing, especially for observers. KickBeat never feels boring, and the on-screen action is consistently both exhilarating and rewarding to play. Most of the time, anyway.

KickBeats graphical direction often overreaches when trying to really visually stimulate you. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t look bad, it’s just very busy, and this becomes a problem when there’s a whole lot happening at once on-screen. KickBeat’s occasional frustrating moments are not down to the level of skill it asks from you, but because it becomes too visually confusing to follow. Remembering the colours of the various enemy types and how to tackle them is one thing, but KickBeat doesn’t stop with its demands there. Many of the enemies that spawn also have power-ups or extra points floating above their head which you must attack with a double tap to collect the bonus. So you must keep track of that if you want a top score. You also need to make sure you don’t run out of health – else it’s game over. Then there’s your Chi, which doubles score multipliers and washes the screen with flashing neon colours, as well as shield and area-of-effect power ups. It’s a heady mix that serves up a pretty challenging juggling act, and as a set of components it’s a system that can be mastered with a great sense of reward after a couple of hours of play. But even becoming a master of these nuances doesn’t guarantee success in KickBeat, because sometimes, with all the neon flashing of your active Chi and multiple types of enemies circling your character in every direction, it’s impossible to predict where to strike next and how, resulting in a cheap knock (or several if you’re unlucky) that you feel was just impossible to prevent.

KickBeat’s campaign is decent if you take it for what it is, which is a flimsy premise (a Kung Fu trainee named Lee is trying to rescue some stolen music apparently) that serves a purpose by stringing one stage to the next. Cut scenes are bolstered by some chuckle worthy dialogue and there are inventive boss battles that flip your perspective and offer new challenges; but as a story it’s nothing memorable. With 18 thumping mastered tracks to play through (which works out at a bargain 40p per-track at the games current price of £7.29), including Rob Zombie, Papa Roach, Marilyn Manson and some underground rap vibes, and tougher difficulty levels to tackle later, it’s hard to argue with the sheer volume of content KickBeat offers for the price.

But even at such a good RRP, a choice of 18 tracks soon looks sparse. Something Zen clearly understands, as KickBeat also comes with an excellent Beat Your Music mode, letting you load your own tunes into the game. It works well, letting you match the BPM of your chosen song to throw up the best gameplay results. It can be a little flaky with songs that switch tempo but the selection of hip hop I tried matched pretty well and I got better results once I got used to how it all works. This makes it pretty perfect Vita-fodder for me – a way to play games and listen to my music simultaneously whilst I travel.

However, this excellent feature isn’t unlocked until you finish the main campaign. Why Zen choose to lock out the best, possibly game-selling feature until you complete a game mode that serves minimum purpose in a rhythm game is a puzzle. The way the game modes are set up is a little frustrating on the whole actually. The package feels full, but it’s ill-arranged. The two most interesting modes, Beat Your Music and Survival, require completion of the campaign to unlock, the latter on a harder difficultly, which if you know music games means mastering a rather large step up first. This probably won’t be a problem for everyone and it’s not an uncommon model, but personally I was itching to get testing the Beat Your Music mode as soon as I knew it existed and lamented having to put hours into the campaign mode first. Holding it back with barriers to entry might have worked for a free-to-play game though; just a thought for a mobile version, Zen.

Despite earlier gripes about the screen getting too crowded, the visual direction of KickBeat is pleasing on the eye. The colour coordination works, the stages feel varied, and the comic frame cut-scenes of the campaign have some nice art. Kudos to the soundtrack, it’s positively pumping and I’d take 18 quality tracks over a quantity of shittier ones when it works out so cheap any day.

Like anybody trying to mix dancing with martial arts for the first time KickBeat makes some missteps, but this new rhythm game is worth a look, especially for Vita owners.

*note: T1 does not condone the kicking of donkeys, or any animal for that matter. Just saying.

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Simply Marvel-lous.

Zen Studio’s are known as the masters of the pinball gaming scene. Yeah, it’s a niche, but it’s also a fun one that they know like the back of their hand. Their latest offering is no exception. Four initial tables are included, Spiderman, Wolverine, Iron Man and Blade. Yeah. Blade. However, two additional tables, Fantastic Four and Captain America, are available as DLC.

Each table gives the player the chance to battle against the most notorious villains from each of the comics. These boss battles are unlocked in differing ways on each table, from hitting certain bumpers, shooting ramps in a certain order to many other more complex requirements.

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