One of my favorite games of all time is Crypt of the Necrodancer. It combines everything I enjoy about games, across multiple genres, and does it in a truly excellent way. Maybe I am just a sucker for good music in a game about moving to the beat – who knows. This got me excited to try out BPM, or Bullets Per Minute. Like Crypt and Cadence before it, BPM looked to take rhythm-based gameplay and graft it onto a Roguelike shell – only this time, the game has guns, explosions, and a new perspective.
Bop Along To The Beat
You play as one of many unlockable Valkyrie (because Norse stuff is cool, no matter how saturated the market gets). Demons and mischief are afoot and it is up to you to grab the nearest pistol, go on a grand room romping adventure to save Asgard and whatnot. This isn’t a story – far from it. It’s merely fluff that, as far as I am aware, isn’t mentioned or fleshed out in-game. That’s fine though because this is a Roguelike. Unless you are Deathloop or Returnal, the story isn’t that important.
What is important is the gameplay, and golly gosh, does BPM try its darndest to deliver an exciting, compelling, and addictive gameplay experience. Being a rhythm game, everything you do, bar basic bipedal waddling, is tied to the beat. Do you want to shoot? You better make sure you’re pulling that trigger to the beat. What about reloading? Jumping? Using abilities? It’s all about that beat. If following a beat is an issue, then the game has a bunch of accessibility options that allow anyone to play the game – even turning the system off.
Each room is infested with whatever gribbly the game decided to spawn that day. You run around the mini-arena and start popping caps in time with some headbanging metal. If this sounds interesting, cool, or badass – then that’s because it is – at first. But there’s more. Every gun – of which there are a fair few – fires and reloads differently. One gun might be able to fire on every half beat and reload just as quickly, while another, like a shotgun, might only be able to fire on the beat, and will pump another shell on a half.
Clearing a room grants you a chest and, if you look around enough, usually some sort of shrine to upgrade your character or expand your available resources. Stat boosts and money are the two most important things you can find, however. Base stats just make the game easier, such as increasing your damage, while money can be spent in shops on swanky new guns, potions, and equipment.
Each floor ends with a boss fight which will test your abilities in ways regular floors and enemies don’t. This makes them rather difficult at first. You have to simultaneously learn what it is you need to do to kill them while staying alive long enough for patterns to sink in. It teeters on the edge of difficulty spike and fair challenge, but that balance is tipped rather significantly by the game’s flaws.
The core concept behind BPM is excellent, but the execution of that concept is where the game starts to falter. Progression, in all of its many forms, is hindered in BPM by bafflingly inconsistent RNG. You can go through entire floors and not find any shrines, gun shops, or keys. You could waltz into a whole new realm and be about as decked out as you were when you entered Asgard. On the flip side, you could be handed a weapon that kills practically every boss in the game in two shots within the first three minutes of play, butchering the difficulty. There was never a point where I felt like the game was balanced. I was either starved for resources and stats, or I was so powerful the game crumbled before me.
Punchy As A Wet Noodle
Then we have the guns. As unique they are, they all feel pathetically weak to use. I am not exaggerating when I say I have used pistols in other games that feel beefier than the rocket launchers in BPM. No matter the gun, the sound of lead escaping the barrel is shockingly underwhelming. Hit detection and feedback are also weak. It’s not always clear if you are doing damage or not, and some sort of visual or audio flare (this is a rhythm game after all) would have helped with this immensely.
The rhythm aspect also feels pretty underdeveloped. The music changes per stage, but it’s all very static. Your performance doesn’t change the music, your guns don’t become part of the music, and the combo system that lurks in the background doesn’t enhance the music in any way. After a couple of hours, BPM’s main draw started to feel like a barrier. Even the music’s beat changing based on how well you were doing, would have been something – anything – worth investing in.
The game also looks pretty damn ugly. It goes for this highly stylized comic book look that has had paint poured over it. Every realm has this color filter applied to it, and it’s just very unappealing. This is made worse by the enemy designs which look completely out of place. When someone mentions Valkyrie fighting demons, I don’t think of scorpions, spiders, and flies. It kind of feels like a bunch of stock assets, which is a bit of a bummer.
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The music is also a bit hit or miss. All the tracks are metal, which is right up my alley, but sometimes it misses the mark. On more than one occasion the music just felt like a basic plodding drumbeat with a droning guitar riff screeching in the background. Metal is a diverse genre, and there could have been some slapping beats to blast along too. Throw in some 10,000mph power metal or something.
Overall, BPM ends up being a passable FPS, with jank RNG and an underwhelming rhythm aspect tacked on. It’s not a bad game, just one with so much missed potential. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the concept here is staggeringly good. A bit more polish and a smidge more rhythmy goodness and we’d have a winner. Oh, and drop the art style, it gave me a headache every time I played.
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