Double Kick Heroes Review — A Heavy Metal
Double Kick Heroes is a fast-paced rhythm game with an enticing story set in a zombie apocalypse that doesn't take itself seriously.
There was a time where I absolutely rocked out on Rock Band’s drum kit, and I cramped my fingers prodding Guitar Hero’s guitar buttons. I used to revel in the feeling of the rhythm, feeling the groove, and rocking out to some fantastic rock songs. Years have passed and there’s a new heavy metal rhythm game with some vulgar attitude on the scene. Double Kick Heroes brings not only the sound of shredding guitars and pounding drum beats, but also a plethora of zombies.
Set in the apocalypse, a band known as the titular Double Kick Heroes travel along a highway in their Cadillac that’s been kitted out to shoot as they perform music. The story mode finds them meeting numerous characters and battling against bosses as they progress across the zombie-infested roads while taking down weird post-apocalyptic creatures with the power of music.
The power of music activates your arsenal, with each successful note activating your weapons. Top and bottom guns are fired when the yellow notes are hit. Grenades are fired when the red notes fill your gauge and you hit the red grenade icon. Similarly, the sniper is fired when the purple notes are hit. Three notes may not sound like much, but sheez, they can become overwhelming when put into practice.
The above notes appear along a 2D fretboard and can be activated when they cross the beat section. For the drumbeat notes, these require two inputs as one input fires the top gun, and the other fires the bottom gun enabling you to attack the zombies on either side. With each successful note hit in a row, your gun will progressively upgrade from a flimsy pistol, to a shotgun, and then a cannon. Grenades and snipers are similar in that you need to hit a certain number of those notes before the weapon can be used.
I have honestly pulled a muscle in my hand playing this game because of the sheer speed at which some levels require you to hit the notes. Of course, if things are a bit rough, you can knock the difficulty down, or even slow the speed of the fretboard. Otherwise, miss too many notes and the zombies close in. If you hit your buttons aimlessly, you wind up overheated and unable to perform for a second or two, which in turn allows the zombies to close in. Sometimes it can feel unforgiving, but there are cards to unlock which grant you perks.
As you progress through the story mode, you’ll travel to each freshly unlocked area which is indicated by golden circles for songs, dark circles for boss levels, and a traffic cone for safehouses. The problem comes down to not knowing where to go because the objectives are not entirely clear.
While the top-right does tell you most of the time, it’s either very vague, or details something lacking in explanation. For example, one objective said “The Prophecy” and I had no idea what on earth I was meant to do. So with no clear glow or arrow to indicate your next port of call, I found myself wondering if I needed to do better in the already completed levels. It turns out I just needed to go talk to someone.
The story is enjoyable though, with a lot of naughty words and boss fights as you slowly try and climb the leaderboards for each level. You can even revisit previous levels which will tell you how long the track for that level is, the genre, and your previous score. Something else that’s handled nicely is detailing which character is talking. Characters are associated with colors and there’s a “speaker” label with the character avatar appearing bigger than the others when they’re speaking. If only the same level of visual representation went into objective goals.
But if you’re not after a story, then you can jump into Arcade mode which lets you jump right into the levels. You’re able to play through any unlocked levels and unlock the new ones. This mode just means you don’t get to experience the swearing and band antics that go hand-in-hand throughout the story.
There are two other modes, one of them being called Hellgate which allows you to play through a track from a selection of guest bands. One of these songs had a killer drum track and resulted in me pulling a muscle in one of my thumbs. Despite the hardcore note layout, the selection of songs is fantastic and was a nice break from the story mode and progression, letting me perform to tracks from bands I’ve never heard of.
Another mode is Fury Road which allows you to take part in daily runs allowing you to unlock gear for your car and rise up the daily leaderboard. And the Endless Rage mode finds you going on for as long as you can. One thing I particularly like about Double Kick Heroes is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. You’ll be in the barren slums of a post-apocalyptic world in one moment, then flying in space for another. It has a comedic charm that goes hand-in-hand with 2D pixel-art-themed games.
When you’re done rocking out with the soundtrack though, you can play community-created content providing you own an MP3 version of the track you wish to import. You get to use an audio wave screen to place notes where you want and choose when to have zombies appear. This mode does require you to take your time with creating a good run, but the editor also isn’t entirely enjoyable, coming across as rather boring, messy, and contains elements not contrasting well enough to stand out.
The fact it requires you to have the file is good, but for myself, I seem to have everything I personally own in M4A format, which isn’t supported by the game. This meant I wasn’t able to try any community levels, but I made one myself with a lonely MP3 I have. It was a tiresome experience in making sure every drum beat I wanted was noted, but the outcome was fantastic.
I do think that button inputs need to be clearly highlighted throughout, and part of me felt as if the fretboard took away the focus on the gameplay going on above. More often than not, I was focused on nothing but the fretboard, using my peripheral vision to glance at what was going on.
The other distracting thing about the zombies is if you’re doing real good, or you’re at a point where zombies aren’t present, you’re still hitting notes and firing… at nothing. Either have a continuous flow of zombies or scrap the notes for a moment and let the soundtrack carry you. But if you really hate zombies, or you don’t want the challenge that comes with them, there’s an option to remove them entirely. This allows you to play Double Kick Heroes as you would, but with no threat of being killed by zombies. If you want the rhythm experience of heavy metal without the threat of death, this is the mode for you.
I’d have also appreciated having a multiple save files system. I played through the story mode, got fairly far, then on another session accidentally selected a new game, thinking it was a difficulty mode for the arcade mode. My previous playthrough on the story was erased as a result.
Moreover, I will be honest. During my playthrough, I encountered numerous bugs that required the game to be restarted every time they randomly occurred. The developer has been made aware and hopefully, it was just an issue for me personally. Outside of those bugs, I didn’t encounter too many issues. There were some hit registration issues with certain more intense songs, meaning hit notes weren’t keeping up with the speed, despite being calibrated correctly.
Double Kick Heroes is a great little game for fans of bashing their buttons and keys along with fast-paced heavy metal, and the zombie aesthetic feels well handled. I like how you’re able to adjust the game a bit to make for a more enjoyable experience that you can handle, and I’d hope to see more guest bands joining to fold in Hellgate. It’s a game that does sometimes feel unforgiving and you should probably get your hand muscles worked up in preparation.