Double Kick Heroes has been gestating in early access for a while. But as of Aug. 13, the game has hit the snare and kicked things up for its official Nintendo Switch release. Sparking up a torch, developer Headbang Club welds rhythm-based mechanics with fast-paced shooting gameplay.
The pacing of Double Kick Heroes hits hard and never lets up. It walks hand in hand with a blasting tracklist of heavy metal songs from french composer Elmobo, plus guest tracks.
Unlike many other rhythm games, where additional peripherals are needed, Double Kick Heroes is played entirely on a controller. While the no-hassle controller scheme the game offers is great on paper, delving into the game’s harder difficulties can at times be a frustrating experience. Despite a few shortcomings like this, the game’s visual aesthetic and gripping music continued to bring me back time and time again.
Highway to hell
Double Kick Heroes offers four play modes: story, arcade, Hellgate, and Road Fury. Through the story, you’ll meet a band of five stereotypical rockers: Randie, Derek, Lincoln, James, and Snake, on a cross-country road trip to hell. Along the way, the band is chased by an onslaught of zombies and other undead creatures. Thankfully, they are riding in their gundillac vehicle, strapped with guns, grenades and sniper rifles.
Throughout each level, the band plays along heavy metal tracks. As the drummer, hitting each note successfully will shoot a weapon depending on the input. Playing on Xbox One, the A and B buttons shoot the guns up and down. As you begin, the game does a good way of slowly easing you into the mechanics, but by the first boss, the difficulty immediately spikes. Soon, you’ll be tasked with using grenades and sniper rifles, which have their own inputs. Even as someone who has invested quite a bit of time into the harder difficulties, the controls require a lot of managing.
The campaign offers a fairly shallow story. The rockers are as crass as you’d expect. As you rock across the map, you’ll come across safe houses inhabited by satirical versions of legendary rockstars and musicians. There are also a wide variety of pop culture Easter Eggs thrown into the mix as well.
The campaign at the end of the day is more of a propulsion device used to push the players through the game’s many tracks. Throughout my playthrough, I experienced several instances where the dialogue text would not appear, forcing me to skip the portion. While I obviously missed some banter, the story is fairly straightforward and I didn’t feel as though I missed a beat.
More horsepower under the hood
Double Kick Heroes’ ancillary modes are a way for players to get straight into the songs without the fluff in between. It’s here that I was able to invest more time into adapting to the game’s demanding controls on its harder difficulties. This will likely be the barrier for some players, as you’ll be tapping along with the songs at an incredible rate.
Hellgate mode offers new levels paired with guest tracks from officially licensed songs. Road Fury is a special rogue-lite type mode in which you’ll play through the tracks, adding special effects and buffs as you progress. For me, Road Fury was a standout as it added a new level of variety to the core game.
Double Kick Heroes offers two control schemes. Besides the one I described above, there’s a scheme which places the standard gun controls on the Xbox One’s bumpers. Neither of them felt quite right to me during my playthrough. Thankfully, there is also a custom control scheme option available. Once I remapped most inputs to the trigger and bumpers, I found myself feeling more comfortable with the controls, especially during the harder songs which will have you tapping your fingers off.
The artwork and design choices of Double Kick Heroes really shine. The character models of the undead are varied level by level. They aren’t so much your Resident Evil zombies, but rather more comical. As you progress through the game’s six “worlds”, the environments change, as do the undead enemies unrelentingly chasing you.
Boss fights are a true challenge, and offer an ever more bombastic fight experience than the standard chases. As you hit more notes your combo builds, getting access to better guns. Fail to hit a note and your combo will break. This adds another texture to the challenge of defeating bosses by the end of the song.
The only drawback to having such stellar animations and enemies on screen is that your focus lies squarely on the bottom third of the screen. Your eyes are constantly tracking the scrolling notes, taking your attention from the action above.
Double Kick Heroes has a lot of great elements. Overcoming the hurdles associated with the controls and pacing of the tracks, this rhythm game managed to pull me in, determined to learn the complex mechanics. While featuring a lackluster story, the campaign does have a few moments worth a chuckle.
Eagle-eyed players will likely get a kick from looking around the safe houses. Finding Easter Eggs and seeing which music reference pops up next was always a delight. At any rate, Double Kick Heroes’ arcade mode and Road Fury are a blast to jump into and tap away.
Double Kick Heroes releases on Switch on Aug. 13, while the Xbox One release is slated for Aug. 27.
An Xbox One code for Double Kick Heroes was provided for review purposes.