Rhythm games are a niche genre that seems to be clawing for survival here in the West. After the meteoric rise, slow fall, and failed attempt at the resurrection of the band simulating Guitar Hero and Rock Band, rhythm games have not been able to come anywhere close to reclaiming that level of popularity. To do so, they have attempted to innovate on the genre in various ways. Whether it be dancing, racing, top-down RPGs, VR, and, now, rogue-like FPS through BPM: BULLETS PER MINUTE.
After choosing from a handful of different Valkyries that function as different starting loadouts, players fight through seven procedurally generated levels to reach a gauntlet of bosses and final boss at the end. Each level has multiple variations that can be randomly applied, as well as a boss at the end with a similar selection of variations that modify their behavior, move sets, damage, etc. Throughout a run players build an arsenal of guns, abilities, and equipment while leveling up stats via donations to statues scattered throughout the levels. It all is pretty standard for a rogue-like.
Where BPM is different is in its rhythm based mechanics. Each level has a metal track that accompanies and dictates the rhythm the player needs to obey. Through a HUD element that collapses towards the player’s reticle at all times marking the beats and off-beats of the music, players must time all of their actions with it. Most guns can only shoot on the beat or off-beat, while players can also only dash and use other abilities on the beats. Even reloading requires a number of well-timed button presses to complete the multiple stages of each reload.
This injection of rhythm mechanics proves to be a breath of fresh air. The added layer of keeping track of the beat on top of the DOOM-like arenas and the required tight dance of inputs adds a thick layer of difficulty and newly required skill that is very rewarding to learn and become familiar with. To help with this there are a few settings to balance the learning curve. Not only is there an easy and hard setting for each run, but players are also able to adjust how lenient or harsh the restrictions on matching the rhythm are, even going so far as to let the game automatically time their inputs with the rhythm, although this disables the score multiplier you build for consecutive well-timed inputs.
And the score is the main feature encouraging multiple playthroughs. While playing through to try and discover everything available to the player is rewarding enough on its own, BPM seeks to be a high score chasers happy place. With the score constantly shedding points as player’s navigate the levels, a prominent emphasis on building the multiplier, a high skill ceiling, and a variety of ways to race through the levels with different builds, BPM is built to be practiced towards the goal of mastery. High scores, fast completion times, runs with stringent limitations are on the field, and there is plenty of potential here for a dedicated community to flourish, especially if future updates are in store.
Where BPM is lacking is in the layers above the core gameplay experience. Admittedly able to be added in through updates post launch, BPM suffers most in the area of its absent story and lack of statistical information. Other than the brief description stating that the player is attempting to prevent monsters from escaping the underworld and invading Asgard there is nothing as far as any world or story. Even that basic description is absent in the game and only found in the marketing.
The lack of any meaningful stats tracking also leaves a noticeably large hole in BPM, especially when it seems so determined to appeal to those who want to play it repeatedly in pursuit of out performing their previous bests. A simple stat page in the main menu that displays various information about best runs, aggregate numbers of a player’s performance, and other tracked tidbits of information would go a long way to make the repeated runs through the game feel a bit more fruitful since there is nothing more to unlock after getting all of the Valkyries. It would be more than possible to add in a post launch update, but it is sorely missed here at launch.
BPM: BULLETS PER MINUTE accomplishes what it sets out to do remarkably well, especially with the limited resources that its small development team undoubtedly had. While it may not be for everybody, and there are some pieces missing that would go a long way to flesh out the experience, BPM will service a very specific audience exceptionally well. Offering a new way to play with a highly rewarding learning curve and a skill ceiling above the clouds, I only hope that it will find the audience that will appreciate it as much as it deserves.
This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.
One Helheim of a Good Time
+ Great new approach to a rouge-like with challenging but rewarding gameplay
+ Loads upon loads of replayability
+ Runs as smooth as butter
+ Killer soundtrack
– Could use a couple of QoL features to flesh out the experience