Early Access Review: Double Kick Heroes (PC)

The following is a hands-on account of the early access version of Double Kick Heroes on PC/Steam. Access to the early version of the game was provided to bemanistyle.otaquest.com by developer Headbang Club. This title is in an early state (Ver. 0.022.6686 as of this writing) and will have content additions and updates over the next handful of months, leading up to its full release.

Headbang Club has toiled with Double Kick Heroes for a couple of years now, and the work will yield fruit for gamers with an April 11 early access release. The full release will flesh out the game’s content, but the base mechanics of the game present a solid rhythm foundation with streamlined action elements stacked on top.

Double Kick Heroes started life as a Ludum Dare indie game entry in 2015 and got enough support to breathe life into a full-featured product. The early access version features a partial song roster, a healthy portion of the full story and just a taste of the community features, but there is already enough meat to sink your teeth into and enjoy heavy tunes and frantic action.

The premise of Double Kick Heroes is a trope-heavy mix of zombie apocalypse and metal culture, but the game wears this identity proudly to give such a grim concept a light-hearted presentation. This is bolstered by the game’s bouncy and animated pixel visuals to craft a presentation package that is hard to ignore.

Jumping into the story, Double Kick Heroes presents players with a metal band which somehow missed the memo that the world around them has rotted away to a zombie wasteland. The band’s gig doesn’t go as planned, and their escape has the members strapped into their “Gundallic” to fight off the pursuing horde of zombies with music as their weapon. In a standard stage, most of the work is done with the drummer’s bass pedal. Hammer out a successful bass beat and the band’s vehicle spits out hot lead to blast the pursuing zombies.

Players not only have to keep the rhythm in mind, but also have the zombie horde in their periphery. With zombies lining the width of the roadway, players need to balance between using two different buttons to clear away the top and bottom of the screen. The Gundallic can only withstand a couple of zombie attacks, so Double Kick Heroes’ gameplay has players teetering between getting high scores in a rhythm game while surviving action-based attacks played out at the top of the screen.

To keep the action tense, the game continually rolls out new ways to keep the survival aspects fresh in players’ minds. Multiple difficulty levels not only keep the game accessible to a variety of players, but they also add snare and cymbal commands into the mix. These commands don’t immediately take out your enemies, but instead build a meter that allows other band members to eventually lob crowd-clearing grenades and fire off precise sniper shots.

Through early access play, there is already a decent variety amongst the hordes, with the game throwing all manner of zombified humans and animals as well as vehicles. This further amplifies the action aspect of the title, as squishy, cannon fodder enemies are only a part of what players need to deal with. Some enemies approach the vehicle at a faster speed and swoop in from the side, while others are heavily armored or bob up and down in flight. There are also boss encounters where major enemies fight back. This tasks players with moving the vehicle up and down on the roadway to dodge the boss’ active attacks. Thankfully, the attacks in the current version are extremely telegraphed and give players plenty of opportunity to still focus on the rhythms.

As players progress through the stage, upgrades also make solid rhythm performance a priority. Successful combo strings eventually turn the Gundallic’s machine gun into a shotgun and then an explosive cannon. These weapons do more damage and cover more of the roadway, making great timing a matter of survival on top of just making a leaderboard.

The nature of the music in Double Kick Heroes lays the challenge on thick toward the end of what is available in the early access version. The uptempo metal in the harder segments has a steady stream of bass kicks to contend with, serving up a challenge for those diving in for a rhythm gaming experience. At this point, while it is unclear what is in store for the full release of the game, many of the game’s elements seem locked in place for the early access version.

The title features a lot of detailed pixel art by Guillaume “Gyhyom” Breton that sort of echos the bouncy vibe of animator Paul Robertson (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, Mercenary Kings). You’ll also get to see a bit of variety even in the standard enemies, with zombified chickens and giant vehicles and zombie sharks wanting a piece of the heroes. The sound also fits the bill, with Frederic “Elmobo” Motte serving up the metal. Despite sticking with a rock genre, the game, even in an earlier state, still has a nice spread gravitating between chill guitar licks and intensely thrashing speed metal. Double Kick Heroes advertises itself as pure metal, and it delivers as advertised.

The game encourages a wide use of controllers, including going for a guitar or drum controller, but also works with a keyboard. Game inputs are relegated to the four face buttons of the controller by default, and a fairly generous timing window is provided, which is handy in keeping a combo in the repeated bass kicks that come through similar to “jackhammer” patterns in other music games.

Double Kick Heroes keeps tabs on the percentage of notes successfully hit, and awards players score based on “perfect” and “good” timings that keep their combo going strong. The only drawback to scoring at this point is having the boss stage songs cut as soon as the boss is destroyed, which cuts out notes to score on and keeps players from being able to cruise through the full song outside of story mode.

Still, players can keep coming back to multiple songs on different difficulties to push their scoring. The game also enables players to load in their own music files and map out levels, so there are a few elements already in place to keep players dedicated to the game.Currently, the real sizzle in the game is offered in its story mode. The mode does a lot to highlight the game’s art, but only amounts to placing dialog cutscenes in between the game’s songs. Even in early access, there is a good amount of humor and pop culture nods weaved into the scenes, and the game pace keeps players moving forward to different environments before the intentionally-cheesy character tropes wear too thin.

The story mode could use a little variety at this point, as each stage reflects what the player does in the arcade mode. Some hidden paths and unlockable extra stage segments or scenes could give the map screen a little more meaning, but, overall, the quick pace of the game continually places something slightly new in front of the player.

The developer is putting more work into Double Kick Heroes, but for rhythm game fans on Steam looking for something new, the title already has a solid foundation in place, and the theme will be a bonus for those looking for a little more edge in a music game. Players will notice a few “Work in Progress” markers during early access, but there is already a handful of hours of content ready to experience, and this can only expand if the community features bloom.

Headbang Club is eyeing approximately double the content for the full release, which is slated to include 10-15 new songs, three story mode chapters and guest tracks for the level editor. Double Kick Heroes should see some fleshing out, and it aims to gather community input to add to the experience. Double Kick Heroes sounds like a rhythm game that will continue to see some TLC over the next six months, and we’ll have our eye on the progress made by Headbang Club. The title is slated to be slightly discounted for its early access release, so metal fans and rhythm/action gamers should consider joining the ride on the Gundallic.

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