Double Kick Heroes by French based developer Headbang Club who reside in a “dark garage filled with guitars, drums and beer corpses” located in “Hell’s 6th circle” is a side scrolling zombie splattering game where Rock music is your key to your escape. Inspired by the dramatic worlds of Tarantino, King and Rodriguez, it is up to you to lead your dysfunctional band of rock musicians on a nightmarish roadtrip across the map while dismembering hordes of zombies that chase after your exclusively modded car, the Gundillac.
My initial thoughts when I first saw Double Kick Heroes was “Noooooo, not another pixel based game!” Having seen the strange popularity of the low-res graphic genre rise and rise since the introduction of Minecraft, many devs have adopted the blocky imagery when producing their attempts at masterpieces. Being a child of the ’80s when graphics were short on detail due to the technology at the time, for me this strange regression into the land of pixels having come forward so far when compared to the games of today just doesn’t always hit the mark with the nostalgia that they are seemingly trying to relight within me.
My scepticism aside, what I actually found with Double Kick Heroes was not what I was quite expecting.
Leading into the story prologue with a “day of the tentacle” style cartoon video, a heavy rock band made up of teenagers; Randie, Derek, James, Lincoln and Snake are playing a gig when the crowd reveal themselves to all be zombies, what ensues is a mad dash to the Gundillac band wagon to escape the brain eaters and hurtle down the road across the wastelands. Your weapon of choice begins as a pistol that is fired by the kick pedal of the drumkit. Here is where the fun begins, and being an ex-drummer I was hoping for some sort of advantage! In order to fire your weapon and put to rest the pursuing undead mob, you must correctly hit your kick pedal trigger in time with the music track that is playing in the level. To guide you, almost guitar hero style, is a fret board at the bottom of the screen with moving squares to indicate when the kick pedal is to be pressed. All is spelt out to you during the tutorial however during the first few levels there is an upper weapon and a lower weapon mounted on the Gundillac that you must alternate between using the double kick pedals to successfully stop the zombies from reaching you as you make your getaway. Should the zombies get to your vehicle, BOOM! and it is a life lost! During the rock track it doesn’t matter which kick pedal you press however you must keep one eye on the zombies to make sure that you cut down the correct line. Score, lives and level progress is shown at the top of the screen, however if you have the time to look at these then you are clearly not watching the fretboard at the bottom!
As levels progress, new weapons are introduced such as the shotgun which as you can imagine has a better spread and damage compared to the pistol. To upgrade to the shotgun you must land so many successful bass drum kicks in a row during the level and the weapon is automatically swapped. The bass kicks vary during each rocky concerto with some double, triple and long mental double drumming thrown in for good measure. If you miss time too many shots your weapon is downgraded back to the pistol therefore you need to have your ears open for the beat, eyes on both the kick pedal timing and the zombie hordes as well as your fingers on the buttons. It may sound like a lot going on however I did complete the first few levels while holding a beer in my left hand. There isn’t many games I can boast about doing that in!
Levels get significantly harder the further you get into Double Kick Heroes. Other drum kit elements such as the snare drum and cymbals appear as separate tracks alongside the kick pedal, each bound to their own button and requiring to be hit at exactly the correct time in the metal song. The Gundillac can be controlled up and down the screen to aid the spreading of the weaponry, great for when dealing with end of level bosses that tend to give you a few beats of a track before hurtling towards you and requiring you to quickly duck out of the way!
It is manic, fast and fun! As well as the main story mode there is an Arcade and Hellgate mode that lets you build and play customised levels!
Pixely and cartoony, however it works. It works very well infact. The gameplay is fast and frantic and the type of thing I would have been playing in the coin-op arcades all those years ago. There is lots of red blood splattering around the screen, explosions, gun fire and enemies rapidly flashing when hit…all of which help distract you from watching the fretboard running along the bottom of the screen. Cut scenes are comic book like with characters appearing on the screen with text written below them while animations are full of small details happening in the background.
The music is one of the biggest elements of Double Kick Heroes and works very well alongside the gameplay. Graunching metal rifts starting with basic drum kicks gently lead you into the game as you progress into the more Iron Maiden, slipknot style tracks further on. 18 “tremendously fucking awesome quality” metal tracks accompany your journey down Fury Road. Are you man/woman enough to keep up with the insane drum solos and beat patterns?
As you successfully pull off the drum rhythms flying along the fretboard you fire your weapons and hit the zombie hordes chasing behind you. Each zombie hit produces a splat with a moan when they blow into pieces. My only struggle was that the sounds of the zombies put me off from the rhythm of the song when the going got manic causing me to miss beats and have my weapon rapidly downgraded!
With arcade, story and hellgate modes to play through there are many highscores to be set and beaten. Hellgate mode allows you to play and create your own custom levels. Here you set your track (even upload your own!), scenery, monster set and place the beats onto the fretboard to make it as complicated or easy as possible. The level is fully customiseable even down to when the monster waves appear and how many there are of the little bastards.
The gameplay itself is addictive with 5 levels of difficulty and will appeal greatly to people who love to tap along to rock tracks pretending to be playing drums. Hey now you can play the drums and splatter zombies at the same time while chugging a beer in the other hand! What more do you want??!!
I won’t beat about the bush, I was really happy with what I found playing Double Kick Heroes and I award it the Thumb Culture Gold trophy!
Double Kick Heroes hits Steam on early access on April 11th!