We’ve had games by rock bands, that have generally transpired as vanity projects for them. We’ve had metal-inspired videogames, such as Brütal Legend, that start off amazing and then rug-pull us with a completely different game.
Rarely do we get a game that is pure metal. They’re not unknown, as indie games like Valfaris last year proved the spirit of metal in gaming is still very much there.
But when it comes to rhythm games, outside of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, what else is there? Upcoming No Straight Roads looks to bridge that accessible gap between rock and roll and electro music, but what about the heaviest of metals…?
Enter “Double Kick Heroes”, Headbang Club’s monstrously metal, high octane rhythm action game that ticks all the metal stereotypes. Keytar player and all.
Is it what we need in this bleak, uncertain future of turgid pop music, or is it so damn heavy that it might scare people away? Grab your drumsticks, arm yourself to the teeth with grenades, whack those amps up to eleven and let’s find out…
Bass Drum Kick That Will Blow Out Your Mind
The premise isn’t too much to wrap your head around. Our titular band of metal-loving misfits takes to the stage to play what they think is a crowded house… only to discover it’s a different kind of braindead metal fan filling the room. That’s right, it’s a zombie apocalypse!
The Double Kick Heroes quickly take to their escape vehicle, a fire red Gundillac (a weaponised Cadillac) as they’re chased across country by all manner of horrible nasty. Not just zombies, but demons, dogs, demon dogs, bunnies, ghost… even the KKK in some stages.
It seems the whole world has gone to pot and armageddon’s a-comin’, as Hell seems to be spewing out everything to wipe out the living. But not this band. There’s no chance in Hell of stopping James, Randie, Snake, Lincoln and Derek, as they use the power of beats and firepower to hold back the hordes.
The gameplay itself is a simple concept: hit beats in time with Derek’s kick drum to fire the mounted guns on the back of the Gunny. Land enough snare and cymbal hits to build up a grenade lob from Randie, or a snipe from Snake’s keytar, or a combination of the two.
Your mission on each level, or track, is to keep your rock-mobile ahead of the hordes hot on your wheels. Hitting the relevant face button for the snare fires the corresponding low/high shot cannon, whilst the snare and cymbal on shoulder buttons charge up the bonus weapons. A horizontal scrolling fret bar lines these up from right to left, much like how PaRappa’s mad flows come to him, and your job is to keep the blast beats coming.
Or for those with the standard Switch, you can detach the Joycons for the realistic drumming experience. Which, I will admit, I’m a little bit jealous of. Not that I’m a Guitar Hero World Tour pro coming out of retirement, just that this game suits the frenetic drumming it throws you. This is the sort of game to be set up on TV and surround sound for the best experience.
Don’t let that put you off of playing in handheld mode, though. It’s just as fun hitting those licks and kicks on a Lite (like me) or undocked Switch. Of course, that’s because it has the soundtrack to motivate you.
Death To All With Metal
When I say the soundtrack to this is heavy and metal-y, it’s not an exaggeration. It’s not like Rock Band, with quotation marks around the “Rock”. None of the namby-pamby Killers or Kaiser Chief nonsense, no sir. Not even Aerosmith are worthy of a Double Kick hero status.
No I’m talking actual metal, in a variety of flavours. There’s your heavy, your death, your thrash, your stoner doom… all lovingly crafted to give your digits one hell of a drummer’s workout. Composer ELMOBO has faithfully recreated a whopping thirty songs that pay tribute to the best of them. Not covers, nor are they “this is the best we could do with session artists”, no.
If I had to call them anything, at a push, I would call them “remixed tributes”. Songs like “Surprise! You’re Undead!” sound almost like the Faith No More original “Surprise! You’re Dead!” you’d think Mike Patton had dropped in to add some new vocals to it. Destroy And Race The Groove is clearly Periphery’s “Parade of Ashes”, albeit no Spencer Sotello vocals. How do I know this? Well, I really like Periphery.
Those are only two of the myriad of examples that Double Kick Heroes offers. They’re not covers, instead cleverly word-played takes on classics across all the sub-genres of metal. Half the fun is playing them, the other is going, “Oh yeah, I get that one!” with the puns. Granted, I’m not up on my more obscure heavy bands, but there’s fun to be had in learning new tunes.
And for me, this would have been enough… until I discovered the Hellgate mode. Those of you that know I love my synthwave can only imagine my little face lighting up at seeing Dan Terminus and Carpenter freakin’ Brut in there. There’s even Volkor X a little bit further on!
That’s right, not content with ELMOBO’s composition, Hellbang Club added a further nineteen artists and songs in a “bonus” mode, away from Arcade and Story. It’s not just the songs on a generic background though, as Turbo Killer actually recreates shots and vehicles from the music video. I can’t vouch for the other eighteen, but Dan Terminus and Volkor X’s pay tribute to their videos too.
It’s not just the synthwave, as you can see Ultra Vomit and Sidilarsen up there too. There’s also The Algorithm, Ukranian juggernauts Jinjer and even Gojira in the mix too! Double Kick Heroes is truly the gift that keeps on giving…
We’re On A Road To Nowhere
The Story mode in Double Kick Heroes is a neat little feature. It’s not essential, as you can sequentially unlock the next playable song in Arcade mode. Although, you’d be missing out on some brilliant pastiche, tribute and piss-taking of some of the biggest names in metal, horror and pop culture.
It’s not a hard story to follow. You flee LA in the Gundillac, on a road to nowhere whilst battling the hordes that are after you. Along the way you stop in garages, bar, run-down old hotels and such taking refuge for the night. More often than not, you meet not quite Marilyn Manson, or not-Danny Trejo, or the man with the blue shirt and a chainsaw for a hand from a popular horror movie franchise.
An often hilarious conversation with these characters opens up a bonus song/level on the map, that upon completion will net you one of several collectibles. I haven’t reached the later stage ones yet, but I would hazard a guess that all of these unlocks some kind of uber-bonus round (I say this as the Arcade tracklist has two locked songs at the end of it). I could be wrong, but there’s only so much thumb bashing I can withstand in an evening.
The world map is a nice little touch. It reminds me heavily of Shovel Knight, which in turn reminds me of Super Mario Bros. 3’s overlay. The pixel vibe in this game is strong, and I absolutely love it.
So far, this game is looking like it goes all the way up to eleven (yes, that’s the second time I’ve made that Spinal Tap joke. Sue me), so what could possibly hold it back…?
I’ve Got Blisters On Me Fingers!
This would normally be the point where I criticise the game, or at least pick on something that taints an otherwise excellent experience. Honestly, I really struggled with Double Kick Heroes, as it’s just so damn good.
The best I could come up with is, “It’s a bit hard”. I know, what a cop-out.
To elaborate, the difficulty levels have such a massive disparity between them, that it goes from “this is too easy” to “Argh shitballs this is insane!” in one incremental step. To whit, Rock difficulty is just the kick drum. You just need to remember if it’s B or A (on Switch) for their respective low or high attack. Thankfully, your fret bar will highlight which angle they’re coming from, so as long as you’re paying a modicum of attention, you’ll breeze through it.
The next difficulty up, Hard Rock, adds snares and cymbals in. Not too taxing, you’ve just got to remember to implement the shoulder buttons in. It’s like stepping up to Medium on Guitar Hero band, when they added the use of the blue button and you suddenly learnt how little extension your pinky finger has.
And then… you go one higher to Metal and by Satan does it throw you for a loop. Extra beats (well, the normal beats for the song) are thrown in, enemies change up which level they’re going to attack from, making it more of a battle as well as nailing a high BPM metal anthem. I’m still not entirely sure if there’s a hammer on/off mechanic in there, in that the second quick beat is hit by rolling the button on or over it, because there are times I know I’ve missed and it’s registered or vice versa.
I’m not brave enough for the next two increments, Violence and Extreme. I mean, I’ve tried but… yeah, no. You have to contend with all three fret bars; kick, snare and cymbal, not to mention all of the beats to the song. That’s not all, though, as you have to manually move the car at certain points to avoid being attacked.
That’s right, not content with nailing all the beats to some thrash metal, you have to also Quick Time your car out of the way of attacks from time to time. To be fair, the game does warn you that these are brutal difficulties, so for you challenge-seekers, there’s your goal.
But then, is my inherent lack of digit mastery a fault of the game? That’d be akin to criticising the Olympics because I can’t pole vault.
That you can attack either Arcade or Story at any difficulty you wish and not be punished for it isn’t a negative in the slightest. You’re not locked behind unnecessary grind or “You must be this good to enter” restrictions. No, Double Kick Heroes accommodates for those that don’t have the lightning-fast reflexes of keyboard-wielding Dance Dance Revolution pro.
Like anything, it’s all in the practice. I didn’t find anything hampering the review or the timeframe I had in which to do so. It’s just bastard hard at times, it’s the elaborate point I’m making.
God Gave Rock And Roll To You
Double Kick Heroes, then, is getting an absolutely glowing recommendation from me. I would give it the thumbs up, but they hurt too much from rinsing all of the tasty jams the game has to offer.
From the visuals and the self-deprecating, pop culture humour is spot on. There’s no heinous loading times, or songs hidden behind paywalls to get riled up about. Better still, the PC version lets you Vib Ribbon the experience and play your own tracks, as well as a Chill Mode that lets you rock out at a sedate pace with no enemies.
The song selection is cracking too, to the extent that I’ve got it saved on my Spotify playlists already. Is the difficulty leaps a detraction? No, but I can see how the jump might put casual players off. But thankfully, DKH caters for those players too.
The only detrimental factor, if I had to pick one, is that handheld players are going to miss out on the full experience with the lack of motion controlled drumming. That’s on us, though, for getting Switch Lite’s.
To conclude, Double Kick Heroes is exactly what we need right now, especially in the absence of gigs. It’s unabashedly funny, has some of the finest rhythm gaming going… and that soundtrack is heavy metal heaven.
Prepare those thumbs and get some headphones, as before you know it you’ll be tapping your feet and banging your head to the beat in no time.
Double Kick Heroes is available now on PC, August 13th for Nintendo Switch (reviewed on Switch Lite). An Xbox One version will be available from August 28th.
Developer: Headbang Club
Publisher: Headbang Club
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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