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September 16, 2020
AWE Interactives fires at a wildly fast tempo with the release of BPM: Bullets Per Minute. It’s a mixture of the roguelike elements of Binding of Isaac, the rhythm-based combat of Crypt of the Necrodancer, and the aggression of classic first-person shooters like Doom. With an arsenal of weapons, a slew of enemies, a Norse culture setting, and a hard rock soundtrack: is this the Guitar Hero of shooters or merely a half-beat attempt?
For anyone who may be wondering how a shooter can be a rhythm game, let’s break it down. In BPM: Bullets Per Minute, a musical beat constantly ticks along with the soundtrack of each dungeon. Select from five Valkyries with their own strengths and fire their gun, use abilities, and dodge to the beat of the music to successfully perform the action and continue to build a combo meter. Entering each room, faced with various minions and bosses with rhythm-based attacks, the challenge is getting into the groove and avoiding enemy fire while reaching the end of each dungeon.
The gameplay is a juggling act which certainly takes time to understand. Players will likely struggle for the first hour or so before BPM: Bullets Per Minute starts to click. When it does, it flows and sounds great. The audio design mixed with the meaty cocking of shotguns and satisfying firing rhythm is astounding. For those who seriously can’t figure it out, there is an auto-rhythm option which removes the need to align firing with beats. Once you can get a grasp on half-beats and full beats, like nailing your first chord in music class, you’ll be hyped for more.
New firearms are found throughout the adventure which act almost like new instruments to learn. With different clip sizes, firing speeds, and reload steps, some weapons like the gatling gun or pump shotgun truly shake up gameplay. It can often be risky to pick up a stronger weapon only to relearn how to use it with the beat. A fun challenge that keeps this shooter interesting.
“While the gameplay is outstanding, it isn’t the easiest thing to look at.”
Annihilating enemies in a roguelike wouldn’t be enjoyable without upgrades. BPM: Bullets Per Minute has several bonuses found along each run including speed boosts, cool-down abilities, jumping modifiers, damage ups, and all the usual fanfare. While these upgrades aren’t anything too creative, they do allow players to reach new areas with rewards, speed-up gameplay, and overall they feel absolutely powerful.
Some pick-ups are certainly overpowered and others underpowered. For example, the Skeleton Key gives you infinite keys to open all chests and doors, meaning you can get the most rewarding loot for free. This is sort of balanced by limiting the player to four relic pick-ups, which are the biggest modifiers to the gameplay. Yet, there is still some imbalance in upgrades and it can make the game feel too easy at times.
While the gameplay is outstanding, the game itself isn’t the prettiest thing to look at. The art style is an oversaturated, posturised mess and not pleasing visually. With this style choice, the details between tones are reduced to create a smaller range of colours and abrupt changes between. Each area like Asgard and Vanaheim have an immense orange or yellow tinge, leading up to the final realm of Helheim. Because of the style, enemies and interactable objects easily blend into the environment and are hard to see. It comes off as a cheap and annoying way to be edgy and is taken to the extreme with the challenge levels. For instance, the first one unlocked pixelates everything undistinguishable and makes the game unplayable. I guess AWE Interactive wasn’t kidding around about the challenge of these levels, no matter how unfair it may be.
The game also suffers from some half-baked Norse mythology. Playing as Valkyries, eliminating the demons of several Viking realms, is about as far as this theme stretches. Enemies are as generic as they come, from bloated insects, glowing scorpions, and bats. One or two monsters resemble Draugrs or a Kraken, but not even the bosses are more creative than mix-and-matched demons with Viking helmets.
Some of the upgrades like shields, boots, and crowns reflect what a Valkyrie wears. Then there is a fedora, a robot dinosaur that serves as the weaponsmith, and obviously the guns that do not relate in any way. There’s no context as to why these alien items are involved in this Norse universe and it feels out of place.
This review wouldn’t be complete without discussing BPM: Bullets Per Minute’s soundtrack. It is composed by Joe Collinson and Sam Houghton, the mind behind the atmospheric score of The Turing Test. The playlist is mainly hard rock and light metal music at a somewhat average-high tempo, depending on the stage.
Each realm has a distinct tone visually but is heavily carried by the creativity in the music. Each beat is powerful and the varying tempos work perfectly to keep the game fresh. Collinson and Houghton’s tracks are the foundation for each stage, which is exactly why the gameplay works so well with the music.
Despite the success with the audio design, the mixing is flawed. The guitar, drums, and bass can sound overproduced for the grittiness of the game. Generally for heavier music with a lot of fast drumming and guitar, a little rawness builds an exciting atmosphere. The production of the music here is too clean, repetitive, and generic, especially when looped in each dungeon. Additionally, a jaunty track with different instruments plays in the health room which is very jarring. Overall, the soundtrack is an okay effort on its own but works perfectly well with the gameplay, especially for Collinson’s first official composer credit.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute launches players into the ride of the Valkyries and headfirst into an eyesore. Timing firing and reloading weapons with the movements and attacks of enemies alongside a heavy soundtrack is so much fun. The roguelike mechanics of the game are as expected with unique shooter changes making the game even more intense, increasing the excitement. However, the Norse mythology setting is tacked onto a horrendous art style. The posturised visuals are so extreme to a point of frustration that hinders the otherwise fantastic gameplay. If you can look past the bad art, BPM: Bullets Per Minute is an energizing rhythm-based shooter with addictive play that will have you coming back for more and more.