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How KickBeat's Kung Fu story evolved from joke to reality

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The premise for Zen Studios' upcoming rhythm-based fighting game, KickBeat, is half based on a joke, vice president Mel Kirk told Polygon.

KickBeat's roots are buried in Kung Fu; players take on the role of a martial artist who fends off enemies with beat-timed kicks and punches. The game's purposefully cheesy story is built atop the triangle of all classic tales: a hero, a love interest and a villain. Speaking with us during a recent event in San Francisco, Kirk said that the theme started as an idea tossed playfully around the office.

"We were thinking about making it more modern day," Kirk said. "A kid coming up in the streets of New York or San Francisco and wanting to save the world. The whole idea behind the story is that an evil empire has stolen all the world's music, and that's the inspiration for everything."

But the game's artists were naturally leaning toward Asian-inspired art, and creative director Neil Sores is a "kung fu fanatic," Kirk said. Eventually, Sorens penned a story that was too good to pass up — one that doesn't take itself seriously.

"Kung Fu kind of fit because the whole story is pretty far-fetched," Kirk said. "We needed to make it match with the style of story."

"Kung Fu kind of fit because the whole story is pretty far-fetched."

KickBeat's gameplay is about timing. During our hands-on time with the Vita version of the game, we fought off encircling enemies by matching our attacks to the beat and their direction. Knocking out multiple foes at once required us to trigger more than one button with the same exceptional timing.

"It's an experimental music game," Kirk said. "It's the first game that uses 3D interactive characters as a music cue. Back in the days of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, you had buttons that would come down and cue you. In this game, you have fully 3D interactive characters."

KickBeat features 18 tracks of licensed music, but players are encouraged to create or import their own music.

"You can experiment from anything you want, from classical music to crazy techno to music that makes you want to fight," Kirk said.

KickBeat is currently slated to launch Sept. 3 for PlayStation 3 and Vita. The game is admittedly based off a "crazy" concept, but Sony made it easy to make the title a reality, Kirk said.

"Sony was really open to us in saying 'yes, yes, yes' every time we wanted to do something," Kirk said. " [Working with Sony] has been absolutely incredible. They have a culture of yes ... They're very supportive with everything."