A solid metal rhythm action game which occasionally bangs its head against the wall.
Bruce Dickinson leaps through smoke which clouds the Horncastle Arena stage as blue LEDs and flares light up the towering creature behind him. The Christchurch crowd roars as an Aztec-inspired Eddie – the band’s mummified mascot – stomps towards him. For the 32nd time in Iron Maiden’s 2016 Book Of Souls tour, Bruce pulls out a dagger as he goads the zombie around the stage. It climaxes as Bruce turns and cuts Eddie’s chest open, ripping out his heart and raising it to the New Zealand crowd, spraying them in fake blood before launching it into the pit of people. There’s nothing nuanced about Dickinson’s performance but nor does it need to be. Heavy metal is in your face and obnoxious; Double Kick Heroes capitalises on this.
Headbang’s first try at a rhythm action game is a solid start, combining shoot ’em up elements with the familiar hit-button-in-time-with-the-music formula and solely focuses on metal – a genre the developers clearly show a love of. From the start you’re greeted with the absurdity, intensiveness and bombastic nature adored by heavy metal fans, and it’s glorious.
Playing as a band of five heavy metal enthusiasts and performances, you’ll traipse across a post-apocalyptic United States in the Gundillac, a suped-up car armed to the teeth with guns designed to kill every foe in your wake (usually zombified creatures/people or some sort of Lovecraftian-inspired monster.) Moving from level to level with “worlds” – think Super Mario Bros. except instead of a moustache and red cap there’s a goatee, tattoos and an I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude – you’ll shoot down hordes of these creatures as they approach in waves on a 2D, pixellated plane which scrolls past exceptionally fast. Like most rhythm action games you’ll need a sense of rhythm.
Using your keyboard as an incredibly basic instrument you’ll bash two to four keys in time with the drum beat, marked on your screen by a fretboard with yellow, red and purple shapes (acting as notes) which speed from one end of the screen to the other. Your fingers will start to press the keys in sync with the music as you evolve from a chimp prodding your keyboard once a second to a dexterous human musician, your fingers blurring in a frantic attempt to perfect the timing of the song. For each note you nail your counter multiplies, and so does your weapon as it develops from a lowly pistol to a rocket launcher. Both help keep the enemies at bay and increase your overall score at the end of the level.
The combination of weapons and rhythm is what makes Double Kick Heroes unique in this genre and it’s a nice addition. As you press your keys in time with the notes you’ll be deciding where to shoot. You’ll either fire at the top half or bottom half of the screen and this can add another sense of tension to the already stressful proceedings, as you have to keep an eye out on the enemies as they approach the Gundillac. If you take three hits you’re dead. Sometimes, however, it feels as though you’re never looking at the right screen as you stare at the fretboard and see waves of enemies out the corner of your eye. It can be frustrating, and this is amplified when you have to face bosses which raises the difficulty. Here you have to move the car up and down on the screen, avoiding certain attacks.
It’s completely understandable why the developers have done this, as it creates a unique experience for the rhythm action genre as well as drawing your attention away from staring at one part of the screen and onto the rest of the game, which looks great. Double Kick Heroes is a testament to the fact that post-apocalyptic games don’t have to look dull. Its pixelated aesthetic is brightened up with pops of colour and some lovely, neon hues thrown in for good measure. Combined with the slight bobs of movement the characters make in the ‘story’ sections, it adds a nice bit of flow to what could be a boring part of the game.
These story moments – where character development takes place – are fun. Band members Lincoln, Snake, Derek, Randie and James are unique enough to get you through the Early Access part of the game. They quip, complain and curse at each other more than a 90s punk band and while the writing is hardly Shakespeare and the jokes land about as often as you hear death metal on BBC Radio 1, it keeps you entertained. Even if it is to see when the next swear word will be shoved into the conversation. It’s a divisive part of the game; you’ll either love the characters or find them too obnoxious.
What you came for, though, is the music and you won’t be disappointed. Frédéric “ElMobo” Motte has created tunes you’ll enthusiastically nod your head to and the feet tapping will soon follow. He understands metal and knows exactly how to get your long, greasy locks tingling – it sounds great.
Along with the tracks ElMobo has created, Double Kick Heroes has a level editor option which allows the community to create their own levels. For example, you can create a level using Metallica’s Master Of Puppets to Judas Priest’s Nightcrawler – it adds another dimension to this well-made game. Although only an Early Access alpha build, there is a good pool of songs to pick from.
Double Kick Heroes is a great start for Headbang. It’s unique and embraces the elements which make metal great. If they can keep adding well-tuned instruments to this orchestra, they’ll end up with a wonderful experience.