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The exterior of Kick Beat might well look like a game that you want to keep at arms length, but once you get to grips with the game’s mechanics it's a title that really starts to open up.

Upon initially booting the game up, the slow-paced training session with Master Fu puts you in a bad place, taking you through the game mechanics inch by inch. While it’s only going to swallow up ten minutes of your life you’re going to be itching to take the shackles off and see what the game’s really capable of...

A number of modes are locked to you at the beginning, leaving you with just the Training, Career and Survival modes. A word of advice on Survival mode; don’t even attempt that until you’re up to your eyeballs in Red Bull and Day Nurse. Or you’ve become competent at the game of course.

The Story mode is a somewhat atrocious attempt at storytelling that feels like you’ve stumbled onto the Cartoon Network, albeit with a shade more hokum. Once you’ve had your fill of Spheres of Music and Kung Fu Music Masters you’re going to be rather keen to skip the cut-scenes and get straight to the action.

There’s four modes of difficulty available to you from the off; Medium, Hard, Expert and Master. I had a brief go on Medium and nonchalantly dismissed it as too easy, kicking off my training wheels with gleeful abandon. Somewhat big-headedly I went straight for Master mode on the first level, ending up getting smacked around like a pinata at a baseball game.

When playing on Normal difficulty there are some blindingly obvious button prompts for who and when to attack, probably making it a shade too easy for most gamers. Notching it up to Hard difficulty certainly makes it a more enjoyable experience, removing the button prompts and relying enemy movements and tells entirely.

KickBeat essentially borrows all of the essential rhythm game mechanics and combines them with a fighting game dressing, giving you a reason to have a health bar as you take on the endless hordes. Colour coded enemies step up to take you on one by one or in pairs. A simple timed button press towards them dispatches them, while double-taps allow you to steal their power-ups. It’s all really simple once you get the mechanics down, relying instead on lightspeed reactions and complex maneuvers, forcing you to kick your brain up a gear higher than you ever thought you’d have to. Even on the basic levels it can be a pretty intense experience keeping up with the pace of what’s happening on-screen. Master difficulty is pretty much sealed off except for the elite few who’ve spent decades honing their rhythm skills on a Dance Dance Revolution arcade in Akihabara.

The people are essentially notes in what can be boiled down to Guitar Hero on a keyboard, but the appeal is in the visual spectacle when things go right. Not only does it feel like you’re cracking out a song but you’re cracking skulls at the same time.

Pulling off moves successfully can you earn you Chi power, which works pretty much identically to Rock Band’s star power, boosting your multiplier and pushing you up to those elusive five star scores.

The fighting all takes place along to the beat of a particular song, with the easier difficulties focusing on just the distinct bass beats and the higher difficulties even forcing you in time with the vocals. The soundtrack for Kick Beat features a variety of different artists including Pendulum, Marilyn Manson, Papa Roach, and more. This might sound horrific but they prove themselves worthwhile when combined with the game’s mechanics.

There’s 25 tracks available to you in the story mode, with a choice of two characters to play through with, each with an individual story. Lee is the default character while Mei is locked until you’ve played through the game once as Lee.

For those who want to get a bit more bang for their buck though (or can feel their ears physically bleed at the thought of Papa Roach), there is the ability to add your own music files in the Beat Your Music mode, with the game creating new enemy routines based upon the track you put in. We haven’t tried any DragonForce yet to see how truly mental it can get but it’s a promising feature that should really help eke some more life out of the game.

Sadly though it’s not unlocked straight away, forcing you to play through a good chunk of the story mode before either Beat The Music and Freeplay modes are available. Still though, it’s more than worth your time to unlock these modes. It’s great loading one of your own tunes up and the KickBeat software automatically lining up with the rhythm. I'll never be able to listen to Jimmy Cliff the same way again. 

Overall KickBeat is an entertaining and smartly priced addition to the burgeoning rhythm game catalogue. The gameplay has an assuredness to it that rewards repeated play and feels like a learning experience. Once you factor in the Beat Your Music mode this one goes down as a bargain for fans of the genre, particularly those with a hefty catalog of MP3s.