Double Kick Heroes screenshot

Double Kick Heroes – only rock ‘n’ roll can save you (pic: Plug in Digital)

Rhythm action in a post-apocalyptic landscape is the pitch for this new indie game, which has one of the best soundtracks of the year.

It must seem hard for younger games to believe, that 15 years ago it was rhythm action games which were the hottest genre in gaming. Thanks to Guitar Hero, every publisher wanted their own music game, ideally with a highly expensive instrument controller, but there was also a wave of grass roots indie style games such as the marvellous Gitaroo Man and Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan. That’s clearly the sort of niche that Double Kick Heroes is aiming for and while it doesn’t hit quite so many high notes it’s still a refreshing reminder that you don’t need a plastic guitar to make a music game fun.

Rhythm action games may not be mainstream anymore but indie releases such as Thumper and Beat Saber are still amongst our favourite games of this generation. The problem by the early 2010s was oversaturation but also the fact that music games all tend to have the same gameplay, just dressed up in different ways.

It’s not quite the same problem as something like fighting games, but mention rhythm action to any random gamer and they’ll assume you’re talking about a game where little icons scroll towards you and you have to hit a button when they hit a certain point on-screen. That is exactly how Double Kick Heroes works, except with more mutant dinosaurs and killer chickens.

Double Kick Heroes takes place in a post-apocalyptic US that’s been overrun by zombies and all sorts of mutant monsters. The story isn’t meant to be taken seriously but while the wacky situations you find yourself in suggests a knowing comedy tone all the characters are portrayed as obnoxious, smartasses who are impossible to like.

You control a rock band whose gig is overrun by zombies and who then pile into an unusually roomy Cadillac and make a dash across the country. But it never seems like any of them actually like each other and while the game’s script is clearly aiming for irreverent sassiness it just makes everyone seem like an unlikeable git.

It’s a shame, because the pixel artwork is wonderful and reminded us of old LucasArts adventures during the game’s quieter moments, when the band isn’t on the road. We’re sure that can’t be by accident but tonally it’s all wrong and to be honest we preferred just playing the game in arcade mode.

Regardless of why it’s happening, each level plays out with you and the band in your car on the far right of the screen and a pursuing horde of zombies, mutants, and assorted weirdoes on the left. The car has a gun in each taillight and the idea is that you fire one of them whenever a beat icon scrolls from right to left across the screen and hits the marker on the far side.

On easy difficulty it really is as simple as that, although you are advised to alternate the guns so you’re not accused of button-bashing – which will mean you can’t use either for a few seconds. Although often you’ll want to prioritise one over the other, as they each aim at different parts of the screen and it depends where the most enemies are coming from. If you keep up a combo then the gun will also upgrade itself from pistol to shotgun to grenade launcher as you fight.

Sometimes, especially in boss fights, you’ll also have to move the car, although this can be done automatically if you want, on the easier difficulties, while grenades and sniping also only come into it later. Oddly though there’s only a maximum of three lanes the notes can travel down, so rather than them appearing in complex formations they simply come at you incredibly quickly.

Double Kick Heroes screenshot

Double Kick Heroes – zombies are the least of your worries (pic: Plug in Digital)

Double Kick Heroes’ difficulty depends to a large degree on how musically minded you are and if the answer to that is ‘not much’ then you may not be able to appreciate one of the game’s main draws. All the pixel art carnage going on at the top of the screen, with its shark monsters and Mad Max pastiches, looks great but if you’re not confident with your skills you largely miss it all because you’re concentrating so hard on the little square icons moving at the bottom of the screen.

That doesn’t interfere with the music though, which is fantastic. It ranges from simple rock tunes to death metal and everything in between. Some songs have lyrics, some sneak in a bit of synthwave, but the whole soundtrack is of a remarkably high quality given the number and diversity of tracks.

The problem with Double Kick Heroes, apart from it being a bit expensive, is that despite the weirdness of the premise, and the bizarre monster designs, there’s no real twist to the gameplay, beyond some collectable cards that confer various perks. To use a musical metaphor, it feels a bit one-note, especially on the lower difficulties.

Double Kick Heroes really needed some kind of extra gameplay gimmick to push it into classic status but it’s just not there. A decent story and characters could’ve filled the gap, but it comes up empty on that front. So while Double Kick Heroes definitely rocks it’s not quite good enough to roll with rhythm action’s very best.

Double Kick Heroes review summary

In Short: It looks and sounds great but this post-apocalyptic rhythm action game lacks that little extra kick to make it a genuine classic.

Pros: Fantastic pixel art and monster designs with a great rock soundtrack that features an impressive range of musical styles. Wide range of difficulty levels for all types of players.

Cons: The gameplay lacks nuance and originality; while the limited number of channels, for the notes to move down, is unnecessarily limiting. Horrible script and characters.

Score: 7/10

Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £19.79
Publisher: Plug in Digital
Developer: Headbang Club
Release Date: 13th August 2020
Age Rating: 12

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