It’s not often that I can say I thoroughly enjoyed a game. It’s a strange statement for someone who reviews games to make but there will usually be some aspect of the game that really turns me off to the whole thing. Kickbeat is a refreshing and fun game from Zen studios. It’s a fresh take on two genres that have been flogged to death and then flogged some more.  When I first loaded Kickbeat up on my Xbox One I thought it was going to be another button mashing beat ‘em up, I was prepared for tedious and frustrating boss battles as well as the agonising “palming” blisters that seem inevitable anytime I pick up a fighting game. As you can guess I am not the biggest beat ‘em up fan you are likely to meet. In this case though… I couldn’t have been more wrong.

If you look at Kickbeat as a straight up fighting game you are not only doing it a massive injustice but are setting yourself up for huge a disappointment. Instead think of it as the new Just Dance or even the new Guitar Hero. This is a music game first and foremost and it is a brilliant one at that.

The basic gameplay is simple, you press the corresponding A, X, Y, B buttons when prompted to score points (and take down whatever enemy is trying to cave your face in). In its most basic terms, that’s the game. It doesn’t sound like much when it is laid this bare. You have a health bar that will decrease if you miss the timing on one of your button prompts as well as a “Chi” meter that can be activated with the left trigger to increase your score. It’s still not hooking you is it? What if I were to tell you that some enemies will have power-ups or special moves that you need to kill to get a higher score? Still nothing?

The story mode consists of two parts, you originally play as Lee, a young janitor for a sect of monks who protect the Sphere of Music, a mystical orb that, if the legends are to be believed, houses all of the world’s music, every song, tune or melody that has ever, or will ever be, are housed within its glowing body.  During Lee’s story the music from the sphere is stolen and you, as a janitor (I don’t know either) are tasked in hunting down the evil businessman who stole it to return music to the masses. The pretence of the story is pretty far out there but it’s executed through tasteful old school watercolour style cut scenes. The story is told in an excellently personal way and with the inclusion of, in my opinion, a rather obvious love story, it ticks all of the boxes for what we could expect in a story driven game. Once you have beaten Lee’s story you can play as Mei (the love interest), the story is slightly different however all you will do is play through the same songs and areas a second time, and that’s not a bad thing.

Graphically Kickbeat doesn’t break the bank. It doesn’t look overly polished but the environments that you will be “fighting” through are a throwback to the old school fighting games of the PlayStation era, from a warrior monastery to a European nightclub and even a Tokyo rooftop, They are all vibrant places and while they may be somewhat clichéd I really have no complaints, the environment, much like the combat and graphics, are not the star of the show but more on that later.

Each level will consist of three main enemy types that will attack in different ways. The Yellow enemies will attack one at a time, Blue enemies will attack in flurries and the Red enemies always attack as a pair. Once again this doesn’t sound like it will be engaging but the combinations and speed at which they attack makes it an incredibly fun experience. There are a few boss battles that help to keep the gameplay interesting and give the story a nudge along too.

If you tire of the story mode you can challenge a friend in a local multiplayer to see who can get the highest score or take on the survival mode. With a tonne of songs to choose from and more difficulties than you can shake a stick at, there’s no shortage of replay value in this £7.99 title.

So far you may have read this and thought “Tickles, there’s nothing to this game, why are you being so positive?” the answer is simple. Taking all of the elements I have spoken about in this review in terms of a fighting game, it would be a bitter disappointment but this isn’t a fighting game. It took me a while to get my head around but the combat is entirely inconsequential and is more of a visualizer for the music you will be tapping your controller to. When viewed this way the combat punctuates the music brilliantly, it builds to a crescendo and you will be treated to a well animated finishing move.

The most important factor in any music game is the song selection and Kickbeat knocks it out of the park. All of the tracks available have an amazing baseline to keep the pace of each level and with bands like Papa Roach, Pendulum, Styles of Beyond, enV and more, there is a great selection to choose from.  I really can’t praise Zen Studios enough for their choice in playlist here.

All and all Kickbeat can be broken down into two separate genres and as two separate games. The first is an incredibly poor button prompt/QTE fighting game that recycles enemies. This impression is wrong, plain and simple. The second is a fantastic and fun music game more in line with Guitar Hero than Tekken. The excellent and unique artwork in the cut scenes, well delivered voice acting and astounding song choices make this a brilliantly fun game that you can pick up and play alone or with a friend. My only real complaint is that the final boss battle changes the pattern of the game and some guesswork is required to figure out what you need to do to survive.