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PC Preview - 'Double Kick Heroes'


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Zombie-shooting games are old hat by now, having been used several times over in countless titles as default enemies when no other group can be used. Rhythm games have experienced a downturn compared to their lofty heights of a decade ago, but they're still being pumped out. Combining the two seems inevitable, and that's exactly what Double Kick Heroes does.

The basic gameplay loop plays out like any rhythm title. You get a horizontal scrolling bar at the bottom of the screen, where notes pass from right to left. The hit zone is fairly large, but the speed at which the notes pass by means that the actual window for hitting a note is small. At its most basic level, there are one-note lanes, but bumping up the difficulty adds in more lanes, so there are more keys to hit. While the game supports a keyboard, it also provides controller support. As a nice bonus, it also supports both drum controllers and guitar controllers, which also make the game a bit easier.


The twist is that all of your successful note hits are actually gunshots from the back of your car as you're shooting at an ever-growing horde of zombies trying to chase you down. On the one-note highways, different button presses correspond to whether you're firing on the upper level or lower level of the stage. For the most part, you'll be fine hitting one button for the lower lane, but occasionally hitting the upper lane button works for getting some breathing room, since the enemies don't migrate to the lower lane until they get much closer to your car.

The layout requires some focus juggling at higher difficulty levels. Standard rhythm games only require you to pay attention to the note lanes, leaving the rest of the visuals as eye candy for onlookers. Here, you'll have to do quick glances at the shooting screen to make sure you aren't ignoring zombies and other foes. That seems doable at first, but the boss battles make you dart between screens since they introduce vehicle movement. The challenge is very welcome, as it makes the game feel livelier than other rhythm titles.

Double Kick Heroes currently features three modes, though two of them are rather similar. As the tale goes in Story mode, you're a metal band that hasn't seen the sun for some time, leaving you blissfully unaware of the happenings of the outside world. Once you start your performance, you realize that the crowd consists of zombies, and they want your brains. You book it to your band leader's car, which is conveniently hooked up with guns, and go on an epic road trip to figure out how all of this started.


For a game in Early Access, there's a surprising amount of length to the mode. Though it isn't complete yet, there are about four hours of content here, and there are loads of cut scenes and jokes. The track count is excellent, with some really good challenges thrown into even the easiest difficulty levels. While you can finish this in an afternoon, the presence of five difficulty levels means that there's plenty of opportunity to replay stages while waiting for the rest of the story to come in.

Interestingly, the game encourages you to go for Arcade mode rather than Story, since it's the first mode you see in the main menu. Arcade mode presents the player with the same levels as the story mode, minus the cut scenes and conversations with band members. It takes your progress from story mode into account if you just wanted to jam to a particular song, but you can also unlock songs by playing them in order, so those who aren't interested in the zombie apocalypse tale can still enjoy the tunes.

Finally, the game has an editor mode that lets you create your own stages. You can do note charts, select which environment you want to play in, and choose the kinds of enemies you want to shoot. The mode also lets you do this to any song you wish, and you can then upload that creation to the Steam Workshop servers. For those wondering, the audio file isn't uploaded, so if you find something you'll like, you have to supply the mp3. In this short amount of time, a few layouts for popular songs are already available, so expect this to grow should the game get more popular.


As for presentation, you have that semi-modern pixel look that most indie games have. Characters are detailed but are also pretty lanky, but that makes their animations quite fluid. Backgrounds sport some nice colors, and there are plenty of gore effects due to the multitude of enemies on-screen. The musical score is the most important part of the game, and the guitar-heavy tracks go for a wide spectrum of rock influences, while the few tracks with vocals do so with throaty screams that fit with the musical tone.

The developers are calling for an Early Access period of six months before the game is officially released, but from what we've seen so far, Double Kick Heroes is already a solid product. The songs are great if you're a metalhead, but the option to import your own songs and make level patterns out of them will please those who love the game's idea but are into other musical genres. The variable difficulty levels make it great for players of all skill levels, and the support for instruments is simply awesome. More importantly, the mechanics just work, and the game never feels tired no matter how many songs you're going through. Unless something catastrophic happens, Double Kick Heroes is certainly a title worth checking out.

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