Developer: Headbang Club
Publisher: Headbang Club
Platforms: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC (Steam)
We have our difference, but we all have something in common: Music. Music makes the people come together. Music makes the bourgeois and the rebel. Those aren’t just lyrics from Madonna’s 2002 hit, Music. It’s true. Music breaks barriers, unites people, and brings about unstoppable feelings. Music, and music-focused games, are no stranger to the world of video games. Even the arcade rail-shooter Revolution X paired players with classic rock band Aerosmith to save the world from a fascist dictatorship. Chances are you are young enough to remember when Rock Band and Guitar Hero ruled the world. Between the rock and roll playlists and plastic instruments were simpler takes on music and rhythm games. A personal favorite was Rock Band Unplugged for the PSP, which took the familiar visual aesthetic and gameplay focus of the console versions and dialed it back to more of an on-rails shooter, where players moved between lanes and pressed buttons to the corresponding colors and symbols. Double Kick Heroes takes a similar concept and weaves it into a wild thrashing and banging heavy metal adventure. Combining the elements of a shoot-’em up and a music rhythm game, Double Kick Heroes is a hell of a good time.
The cataclysm has occurred. The world has ended, and between the mutant walking sharks and mutated vehicles, the world kind of sucks at the moment. For whoever has survived, most have gone insane, devolving into monsters and grotesque figures and rendering hunks of metal into weapons. For a ragtag heavy metal band, their only hope to survive is to explore the world around them. Infusing whatever weapons and ammunition they can find, the band has created the world’s first “Gundillac.” The Gundillac is attuned to the rhythms and beats of their instruments, turning music into a literal weapon. Despite the bleakness of the wasteland, there are bound to be survivors and perhaps hope for humanity out there. The band hops in their Gundillac to explore the wasteland, searching for answers, and along the way, thrash their heads and play loud for music will save them all, perhaps even humanity itself.
Double Kick Heroes is a music rhythm game. Players take to the road in the Gundillac, fighting off hordes of enemies to the tune of heavy metal. In the vein of titles, such as FreQuency, players match their music beats to the colored notes below the screen. By tapping the corresponding button, players build a multiplier that not only builds the score but also builds more lethal firepower. Other notes help build that multiplier and firepower, as endless enemies chase players throughout the duration of the level, which is timed to the music track. Higher difficulties offer more notes to handle for players but also more weapons to use. Higher difficulties unlock grenades and sniper rifles that can prove deadly to massive monsters and deadly bosses. Players are given the option of controlling the Gundillac directly, moving the vehicle up and down with the left stick, but there is an option to render the vehicle on autopilot, so players can focus on the music beats. This is likely the better option for most, as on higher difficulties, hitting those beats on cue is essential for survival.
The primary music genre for Double Kick Heroes is metal. Hard, gnarly, thrashing metal. This is not the time for poppy autotuned mixes or jazzy cool tunes. There is no Adele or John Baptiste in this apocalypse, only hardcore metal. Metal composer Elombo leads the charge with the soundtrack, but the campaign mode has players travel across the world on a map that has that subtle influence from Super Mario World 3. Across the player's journey, players fight an abundance of the gnarliest and most monstrous creatures of the apocalypse. Zombies, white supremacists, mutated blobs, even zombiedom Left Shark from Katy Perry's Super Bowl Halftime show. There are multiple boss fights in this journey, from demonic busses to battle tanks that have melded with flesh. It's a cartoonish and horrifying realization made enjoyable by the solid tunes and the eclectic cast of characters. The bandmates each have a personality, and their banter is incredibly humorous. The crew meets up with other survivors and fighters along their journey to find the source of the apocalypse. Many of these characters are small nods to musicians, pop culture, and horror, continuing the light-heartedness of this already entertaining journey.
The gameplay of Double Kick Heroes is a new take on the Guitar Hero design of music and rhythm games, only this time; there are no plastic instruments. Players follow the tracks below, smashing the button in sync with the instrument. Drums, guitars, and bass flow along a music flow at the bottom of the screen. Each string of music is color-coded, allowing players to identify which instrument is which. One instrument, the bass, has notes shaped like hand grenades. Hitting the notes correctly allows one of the band members to launch a grenade into a crowd of crazed mutants. Higher difficulties open a fourth row of music, which, if hit correctly, unleash a laser-infuse sniper rifle, but this requires an incredible amount of dexterity and skill to master. The goal is to rack up the highest score possible in a level. Each beat hit in succession unlocks deadlier weapons to use, upgrading from a handgun to a grenade launcher. The longer the multipliers are held, the higher the score and the more firepower that can be dished out on the mutants. Another factor to consider is shooting at the top and at the bottom. One button controls firepower on the left side of the Gundillac, and another button on the passenger side. Double Kick Heroes can become almost a frantic game of multitasking, between hitting the beats, shooting correctly, and maintaining those multipliers. However, between the fantastic visuals, gameplay, and amazing soundtrack, it's still a damn good time.
On a foundational level, the gameplay for Double Kick Heroes is exciting, jam-packed, and a roaring good time, but the team goes a step further by establishing several options to tailor the experience for players. Players can adjust the speed at which the notes arrive, allowing players to play Double Kick Heroes at their preferred speed. The game also features gameplay modifiers, such as non-overheating and a "chill mode" to rock out to the beats without the risk of death by mutant. There are also multiple difficulty settings, creating a welcoming experience for all players and skill levels. These kind of options are remarkable and should be lauded, as it opens new opportunities for more players, something that Rock Band and Guitar Hero, as good games as they were, did not include, even with their most recent release.
Outside of the campaign, there are several modes to choose from. Arcade Mode is self-explanatory , having players rack up the highest score, playing every level back to back. Hellgate Mode takes the gameplay of Double Kick Heroes and puts them in customized levels, featuring various guest artists, from Carpenter Brut to Dan Terminus to even Zander Noriego, who scored the rip-roaring spaceship shooter, Steredenn. These levels are incredibly fun, putting the Gundillac band into the world of the various tracks, but they will challenge even the most skilled of players. If that isn't enough, Double Kick Heroes has Fury Mode, a nod to the title of Mad Max: Fury Road. In Fury Mode, Double Kick Heroes becomes a roguelike, complete with modifiers, loops, and so on, essentially making the game multiple games in one.
It's difficult to point out anything that would sour the experience of Double Kick Heroes, only perhaps that I wish the game could have been longer and taken into other tracks and metal themes. I interned with 95.9 THE WRAT in Lake Como, NJ and I can see the crew of Double kick Heroes being the only radio station on Earth. Having grown up with the nu-metal scene of Linkin Park, Korn, and Slipknot, I could only imagine what Headbang Club would do, if they were granted such opportunities. I can easily imagine a Doom crossover, in particular. But what is here is absolutely spectacular. It's loud, hilarious, jam-packed, and enjoyable. In a way, Double Kick Heroes shows and lends appreciation for the scene of the genre and the important connections that draw fans to it. Double Kick Heroes isn't about being a die-hard metal fan or some kind of guitar prodigy that can slay the masses but in simply having a good time. Whatever the Headbang Club does next, be there with front-row tickets.