Every once in a while a game comes out that so perfectly matches your interests it seems like a dream come true. I’m a massive fan of rhythm games, grew up playing the drums, and I’m currently rocking a mohawk. So, why does Double Kick Heroes, a drumming based rhythm game with a kick-ass metal soundtrack, seem too good to be true?

Double Kick Heroes Screenshot of an early level, with the Gundillac shooting at zombies

Hailing from France, a country generally known better internationally for its dance music than its metal, this is the first game from dev team Headbang Club. They clearly have a love for the whole of the metal genre with plenty of homage paid to the real life legends of rock the game is inspired by. It makes sure to reference figures from grindhouse films too, which inspire the post-apocalyptic setting.

You Can’t Kill The Metal

The band has been hidden away, practising until their fingers bleed, to put on the best show they can. They emerge on stage to discover the audience have all turned into zombies, and so they blast out of there on their newly modified “Gundillac”. Keep the encroaching hoards at bay using the modded muscle car,  each hit unleashing a barrage at the colourful and vulgar enemies chasing you. Tracks for bass, snare, and cymbals run across the bottom of the screen. Each hitting unleashing a barrage at the colourful and vulgar enemies chasing you.

Double Kick Heroes screenshot of the map/level selection screen

The long open road…hopefully not the road to ruin though

Without a doubt, Double Kick Heroes is a fantastic premise, but falls flat in the delivery. The game is now being launched into Early-Access so there’s time for a lot of the issues to be addressed. Admittedly, I’m unsure why a game without procedural generation or multiplayer balancing is being released this way in the first place. Small things like menu bugs and the game glitching so you miss a beat are annoying but not world ending. Finishing a level to then die because the zombies catch me after the notes end made me rage quit (an actual tongue-in-cheek menu option). Complete the story and you will find the arcade mode still locked at the first song on every difficulty. The hit-box is visually unclear at a glance; but these are issues that can and hopefully will be fixed over time.

The Metal Will Strike You Down With A Vicious Blow

However, I worry that the game has bigger problems that are core to its design. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find a comfortable control scheme on a keyboard or gamepad. If I still had my Rock Band drum kit I could absolutely see it being a lot of fun. The core problem is this: you play the drums with four limbs, but using your hands you can only hit two things at once reliably. This is made worse in the default controls by expecting you to do it with one thumb. The two songs that require you to move the car while simultaneously playing are a logistical nightmare. Alternate the same note on the bass drum hits between upper and lower shots doesn’t feel natural at all; you only alternate in drumming in a quicker section, otherwise leading with one foot.

Double Kick Heroes screenshot of a miniboss in a level

The car probably isn’t road legal, but at least they’re overtaking on the right side

All of this leads to the game being one that I couldn’t get in the zone with. In Rock Band or BIT.TRIP RUNNER, it’s very easy to find your groove and tune out the visual noise. The former has faded background visuals to make the track your focus, the latter builds the rhythm into the visuals. Double Kick Heroes expects me to text and drive, looking at the note track and the road simultaneously. It’s a massive shame as the visuals are great. The boss fights in particular have awesome character design, but they distract from the notes I’m supposed to be playing.

Double Kick Heroes screenshot of a mutated T-Rex

Life…uh…finds a way

We Are The Vanquished Foes Of The Metal

This is absolutely a game I can see finding a niche and developing a cult following. Especially so with a comprehensive, albeit clunky, editing mode built in. An interesting side note is how the issue of copyright infringement and licensing has been skirted. Any community based track available through the game requires you to provide your own mp3 file. In a world of streamed media, I thankfully had a copy of Linkin Park’s Meteora on CD so that I could try out Numb.

In my playthrough I reached the “end” of the story mode. Instead of a final boss there’s currently a “Thanks for Playing! To be continued” screen. The Headbang Club have just come on stage to rapturous applause but will now tune and soundcheck for two hours while the hardcore fans wait patiently and the more casual fans duck out the back. Let’s hope it’s worth the wait when they’re ready to play.

The game is now in Early Access on Steam