Review – Double Kick Heroes

Overview

Developer Headbang Club
Publisher Headbang Club, Hound Picked Games, WhisperGames
Genre Rhythm
Platforms PC, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch
Release Date Aug 13, 2020

Though we published a preview of Double Kick Heroes on April 17, 2018, our policy here at Geeks Under Grace is that we do not review games until they have exited Early Access. It officially launched out of Steam Early Access on August 13, 2020, so I am behind the ball with my follow-up review. Fans of rhythm games may not mind, and might just be glad to know that developers like Headbang Club are still making these kinds of games. 

Content Guide

Hetfield and Trejo? What do they have in common?

Violence: Because the art direction in  Double Kick Heroes resembles the Sega Genesis era, gamers can expect to see plenty of blood and gore as zombies, aliens, and even death chickens fall by the throng to the cannons mounted on the back of the band’s Cadillac. That kind of stuff might be more of a concern to viewers rather than players; the latter will be too busy staying on beat to pay much attention to the gorefest taking place on the left side of the screen. 

Spiritual: In a heavy metal-themed game, it would be understandable for Christians to be concerned about messaging. As the band on their journey gradually descends into hell, their enemies become more monstrous, playing on expectations of the taboo. I consider the imagery of the “demonic” to be cartoonish and immature rather than threatening. On the other hand, I could not understand the lyrics to several of the songs. The spiritually vulnerable might want to skip this one, though I do believe that Double Kick Heroes does not take itself seriously enough to be a critique or satire the way that BoI fashions itself. 

Inspired by Mega Man X4 boss warnings, I see.

Language and Crude Humor: This is a game that literally flips a middle finger to those who are easily offended by anything that could be listed in this category. 

Ain’t nobody getting “Randie” for that facial expression.

Sexuality: I am surprised to say that Double Kick Heroes is rather chaste. Randie has a few lines that enter into the realm of innuendo, yet the messaging is subtle enough to not warrant further comment, especially after that giant boss warning, yeah?

Review

Double Kick Heroes is not the kind of game that aims to win awards in storytelling. The titular heroes just want to “ROCK ON!”, but a zombie apocalypse thwarts their dreams. The band then takes to the proverbial road, trying to outrun earth’s impending doom, while half-heartedly investigating why the world is coming to an end in the first place. It’s a picaresque quest that ends in a way that I would imagine a mom concerned about her child’s pop culture consumption would have predicted. 

At the time of this writing, Brian Hugh Warner got some #MeToo litigation to worry about, rather than some video game using his likeness.

The game tries to establish the individual band members as co-stars, but they are all clichés. The only character that I committed to memory is Lincoln, because she is Double Kick Hero’s manager and driver of the “Gundillac.” I’m a fan of the Lincoln Continental, myself.  

Thank goodness for press kits. Okay, so Snake is the emotional one, Randie is supposed to be the cute one, Derek is the eat-anything-guy, James is…generic, Lincoln is the boss lady.

One does not play a rhythm shooter for the cliché, tropes, and stereotypes, but for button-mashing on beat. Double Kick Heroes can be played on keyboard or gamepad, but I preferred the latter since I had recently upgraded to mechanical (yes, with RGB like everyone else), and I enjoy the tactile sensation it provides. This game comes with five difficulties, ranging from so easy, it is boring, to so difficult, it will embarrass actual musicians.

Got your old Guitar Hero or Rock Band gear somewhere? Bring ’em out!

 I am a lapsed musician, so I aimed for the mid-tier, “metal,” which is recommended for rhythm game players and musicians. On a good day, I can play the next difficulty, “violence,” but that is song-dependent. I have tried the hardest difficulty, “extreme,” several times, all colossal failures. Extreme is the only three-track difficulty, requiring players to keep up with the bass, drum, and cymbals. The trick is, the bass usually comes in on the 1-and-3, while the snare comes in on the 2-and-4. Sometimes, though rarely, they are simultaneous. Cymbals are often simultaneous with either the bass or the snare, and I simply lack the dexterity for a third line and instrument; do not even get me started on needing to move the Gundillac vertically to move out of the way of bosses or hit enemies on different sides of the street while staying on beat! Shout out to the less than 1% of players who have conquered the 30+ songs at extreme difficulty. 

Alternate spamming the left and right arrow keys with the occasional ctrl key. Sounds accessible enough, right? Well, a game like this is only as fun as the music is good. I would like to take the time to dive into a collection of songs!

“Run for Your Lives” is a good example of what players should expect within this OST, starting off with a mellow tempo and simple guitar riff up until the vocalist sounds off and the percussionist (does one say “the drummer” in heavy metal?) gives his 1-2-3-4 click of his sticks and then the rapid guitar strokes make me think I am in the middle of a level in DOOM Eternal. Thankfully, it does not last that long. 

Double Kick Heroes” is a great, smooth song that I wish was longer. Such a chill groove that proves metal’s roots are not in rock & roll, but country. Imagine replacing the electric instruments with acoustics, and it is undeniable. On the other hand, “Crush” totally sounds like a cross between Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Soundgarden. “Surprise! You’re Undead” also gives that RHCP effect, and I love it! Even when the shrieking begins, it does not last long enough to become a nuisance. 

The overworld map music, “The Road to Hell” is not only appropriately named for Double Kick Heroes, but it also features a similarly mellow groove, even when the basses kick in. Songs like this prove to me that metal does not always have to be indiscernible noise.

Yeah, I said it. A lot of “metal” is NOISE

Planet Error” is one of the easier, upbeat songs; paired with “Road Freak,” they both utilize a weird-sounding special effect from the NES era that reminds me of zapping aliens in Defender II. I thought this was a zombie apocalypse rather than an alien invasion? But wait! At 1:24 “Road Freak” goes in hard with the guitar riffing in a way that reminds me of listening to Staind during my high school days. I maintain fond memories of the band, not Aaron Lewis.

Other songs from “Sawing Your Head Off” to “We’re Gonna Rock Your Socks Off” range from decent to innocuous. But songs like the latter can still be hand-crampingly difficult to play on beat. “Destroy and Race and Groove” is not a technically difficult song, but one must find their…groove (“zone” for Soul fans)…to avoid making simple mistakes and losing rhythm and beat, lest the zombie horde catch up to the band’s convertible and cause damage. After accruing three strikes players must start the track over! 

The words “Die Untoten” together look like a Rammenstein correlation, and it sounds like one, too. Completely in German, I have no idea what the lyrics are saying. Ironically, it is also one of the few songs within the entire Double Kick Heroes OST that sounds appropriately zombie and apocalyptic!

“Condemned to Slaughter” is one of my favorite songs in the entire OST, as it is a key song when the difficulty ramps up that helped me find my groove, my zone, my focus. I actually do not like the first half of the song at all, but when the melody (if heavy metal can be described as featuring one) drops at 1:12, and picks back up at 1:35, well, I love that horror crescendo. Feels good blasting away unholy horrors to it, too. It’s a head-banger.

“I’m Marching Now” features an interesting beat that keeps my attention and is relatively easy, which is a relief for the point of Double Kick Heroes in which it appears. But “easy” songs mean that the developers at Headbang Club have left players with little room for error. It is one of those songs where even three errors is all a player gets before the Gundalliac blows up.

“Warriors of the Badlands” is not only one of the easiest songs in the game (because, in my opinion, it is more rock & roll than metal), but it is also one of the easiest to fail, because it is a boss song, which means players have to be near-perfect. I especially appreciate its occasional 80’s synth sound effects and its thematic acoustics that enhance the intensity of being chased. 

In contrast, “Thrasher’s Delight” is an example of a song where the percussion begins to completely kick my butt, which is why I am thankful for the break at 1:01 that sounds more like the kind of RHCP music that I am accustomed to listening to. Sorry metal fans.

“The Evil Zombies Do” is straight-up an Aerosmith-inspired song, lol!

I bust out laughing to “Don’t Bite My Butt.” If there was ever a question as to whether or not the Japanese were into heavy metal, this is the answer. 

I pause to disclose that there are instrumental versions of these songs to consider. I will not go over them, but players should expect many of those versions to be the songs that they will have to mimic. Pay close attention to that bass! It is the basic building block to every note in this game.

“Bloody Asphalt” is one of my favorite songs. It Totally, brazenly, shamelessly channels Ozzy Osborne, and I love it!

With a little more edginess, I could imagine “Demon Demon” on the Queen of the Damned OST. Though Double Kick Heroes is a rhythm game featuring heavy metal, I do not think that it goes hard enough. On the other hand, “Flesh and Bones” goes too hard and enters into the noise category of metal. Pass that lyricist a lozenge, please. 

“Personal Hell” is my #1 top song in Double Kick Heroes. Sab Elvenia blows the doors off this one, and I would add this track to my universal playlist of video game music next to just about anything whatsoever, and play it on repeat. I love this song so much that I purchased it on Bandcamp to spam it. 

“One of Us” isn’t necessarily noise, but it’s a song that allows me to spam the bass button and still “win.” I do not even necessarily have to be on beat—just spam bass as fast as I can.

“Mobula” is a song that confuses me because it is difficult to discern a melody. I would liken it to, metal jazz. I would mess my way up all the way through the song trying to detect a rhythm before getting blown up by the addition of instruments. This is especially true when the double-kick bass sounds off during the final third of the song.

“Pack of Wolves” sounds precisely like what I imagine when I hear other people describe their favorite genre as “heavy metal.” And then I respond that my tolerance for what is considered “heavy metal” is Iron Maiden (not to be confused with “Ion Maiden”). “Nothing but Dust” likewise sounds as I imagine metal to sound. Pass that man a lozenge, too. This is another song where I just spammed the bass with reckless abandon, not even caring if I was on beat, because that song is so crazy that pressing the bass at any time is correct.

Songs that allow players to spam the bass button undermines the skill that is supposed to be required to play this game.

I hope that this overview will provide enough information so that gamers can determine what is music, and what approaches the threshold of something else entirely. I just wish that I could have spent more time, as seen in a few of the videos above, appreciating the animations that Headbang Club has implemented. Watching other people’s videos, I am able to see that the pixel art is top-notch stuff. Unfortunately, there are not enough YouTube videos in circulation for me to enjoy what I am missing.

 

Overall, Double Kick Heroes is a good game. Not all tracks are bangers, but there is enough content here that made me want to fire up arcade mode to “perfect” my runs as best as I can. Those who really want to test their mettle can try Fury Road, a survival mode, though I am not sure who can get through over thirty tracks in one sitting!

Review copy generously provided by Evolve PR. 

The Bottom Line

 

Double Kick Heroes is a neat callback to rhythm games of the past, both in terms of gameplay, and also musical genre.

 

8

Maurice Pogue

Since picking up an NES controller in 1985 at the age of 2, Maurice and video games have been inseparable. While most children aspired to be lawyers, doctors, or engineers (at the behest of their parents), he aspired to write for publications such as EGM, PC Gamer, PC Accelerator, and Edge. After achieving ABD status in English at MSU, Maurice left academia and dedicated his writing to his lifelong passion. He is currently the Video Game Editor at Geeks Under Grace.

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