Pedal To The METAL!!!

HIGH Intense soundtrack.  Incredibly fast action.

LOW Difficult to follow the on-screen action.

WTF The entire plot, really.

Double Kick Heroes from Headbang Club is a study in contradictions. 

As a rhythm game that exclusively plays the heaviest of metal, it’s designed for a niche audience, but it’s also extremely welcoming to a wide variety of skill levels via customizable difficulty settings and forgiving failure conditions. 

It features fantastic (if graphic) pixel art, but makes that art difficult to experience during moment-to-moment play. 

It tells a fairly compelling story, but it’s absolutely littered with profanity that might put some players off and has a less-than-inspiring finale. 

Lincoln, Snake, Derek, Randie, and James are a metal band.  When the zombie apocalypse comes, they outfit their car with rear-mounted guns synced to the double bass pedals of their drum set and travel across the country trying to locate fellow survivors and fuel for the car. Along the way they run into expys of metal legends like Lemmy and Marilyn Manson who provide them sanctuary and advice. 

In terms of play, Double Kick Heroes is a surprisingly complex affair that will give even the most dextrous gamers pause — and potentially, blisters. 

As notes scroll from right to left across the bottom of the screen, players must press the appropriate buttons within a specific timeframe to match the beat and fire weapons as mobs advance above the scroll.  To add an extra wrinkle, one button controls the “top” cannon and another the “bottom” cannon. On harder difficulty settings, additional streams of notes (representing cymbals and snare drum beats) can also be added, and these fire additional weapons — grenades and a sniper rifle. 

Enemies can attack from either of two planes, and players must keep track of where enemies are coming from in order to prevent damage to the car, and an eventual game over.  

With so many notes scrolling past, it’s difficult to watch the action unfolding in the upper portion of the screen, meaning a lot of cool animations are going to be missed, and, depending on the difficulty level, some enemies will be able to sneak through due to the player’s divided attention. 

Fans of Guitar Hero or Rock Band thinking this is child’s play should think again as the music takes on strange time signatures and requires playing 16th and 32nd notes on a gamepad with a crazy amount of precision.  I’ve played drums in real life for years, and I found it impossible to keep up past the second level of difficulty. 

During boss battles, another mechanic is thrown at players in the form of steering to avoid targeted attacks on top of all the other controller manipulations needed.  Fortunately, Double Kick Heroes offers a number of difficulty-mitigating options, such as slowing the note speed, eliminating the need to steer, and turning off weapon overheat from too many button presses.  However, even on its easiest setting, runs of incredibly fast notes threaten to overwhelm players. 

Besides the blistering gameplay, Double Kick Heroes’ story is stupidly enjoyable and doesn’t take itself the least bit seriously.  How can it when gameplay features slaughtering zombies (including a zombified T-Rex) using the power of metal and huge-ass cannons?

The dialogue is amusing more times than it isn’t, but the F-word is featured so many times that it should be given an appearance credit.  The too-plentiful profanity is exhausting, and I think the script would have been funnier had it been toned down. 

The appearances of parody versions of metal’s luminaries are clever, but some of the characters aren’t treated with much reverence.  I’m not sure if that’s the joke (and I wasn’t even sure who some of the characters were supposed to represent) so those with more of a metal background may get more mileage from the script.

Beyond story and arcade offerings, DKH includes a roguelite mode where special upgrades can be purchased between songs and levels are randomized.  The PC version also allows players to create and upload their own music and levels if players have the Xbox Beta app on their PCs.

The difficulty of Double Kick Heroes can be offputting and the story, while amusing, was no great shakes. That said, there was just something about it that made me want to rock on.  Whether it’s worth a purchase is a matter of taste, but anyone with Game Pass should give it a try.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Headbang Club and published by Headbang Club and Hound Picked Games.  It is currently available on PC, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One.  This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the XBO and PC (via the Game Pass App).  Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.  There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Violence, Blood, Suggestive Themes, and Strong Language.  This is definitely not for kids.  It’s super bloody, there are terrifying images of demons, monsters, and Hell.  The “F” word is basically used like a comma.   Sex and drug references abound as well. 

Colorblind Modes:  There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game’s dialogue is presented as text.  As a rhythm game, it relies on its audio to provide context for the notes that must be pressed in order to progress.  However, it is fully playable without sound, as all note presses are represented graphically. Subtitles cannot be resized, nor are there color options for the fonts used.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

Jeff Ortloff
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