Kind of Rushing, Kind of Dragging
When the rhythm game genre comes up in conversation you expect classic titles like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Beatmania providing sensory overload and copious plastic peripherals. But lately the rhythm genre has been spreading like a perfectly tuned earworm on a Top 40 station, with roguelite sensation Crypt of the Necrodancer and smaller indie delights like Old School Musical and Sayonara Wild Hearts using song and tempo to craft fun and interesting additions to the video game world. Awe Interactive, interested in adding their own spin into the rhythm world, asked a very simple question: but what about guns?
If the title BPM: Bullets Per Minute didn’t blatantly give away what we’re going to talk about, allow me to: BPM takes the beat-halfbeat style of combat from Crypt of the Necrodancer and combines it with a healthy dose of early 90s shooters like Doom and Quake. A cast of five angels, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, are cast down to traverse four different worlds full of beasts and mythical warriors and must survive to defeat each boss in their path on their way back to ascension.
Rhythm is name of the game, as everything in BPM surrounds itself on the ticks of each beat and half-beat of its hard rock opera inspired tunes. Shooting, reloading, dashing, and using abilities all center on these specific moments, even more so for the enemies that you will face. Learning the dichotomy of how everything relies on these is a daunting task at first, but thankfully BPM does have an easy difficulty that is recommended to start on.
Each world is procedurally generated, with a map layout that would find itself home to games like Legend of Zelda and The Binding of Isaac. Each room is populated with enemies and you must remove said enemies from existence before you can continue. Each successful move on beat will net you points, steadily increasing a overall multiplier to get the highest score you can on each run. When the bullets subside and the room is clear, a chest will appear and reward you with coins, keys, or potions to refill health.
Coins are used to purchase various items like health potions or shields, new weaponry to experiment with, and to indulge in concerning amounts of gambling at BPM‘s various test-your-luck style altars tantalizingly strewn about. Spending money at Huginn’s (who has items like potions, keys, and equipment for sale) and Muninn’s (who has nothing but the big guns) will increase their loyalty, allowing more items to be purchased on later runs.
Keys are used to beef up your character, where the real feel of the roguelite comes into play. Keys will unlock specific chests that hold equipment (helm, boots, gloves, and chest armor) that have differing qualities to power up your shooter. These can range from damage increased via multiplier, to explosive shots, to straight up auto-aim. The over 40 pieces of equipment can combine for some stupidly powerful combinations, which can monumentally skew the difficulty of the game, something the devs are fully aware of and okay with.
Keys can also open specific rooms and chests with abilities: a secondary ability to compliment the dash given to most characters, and an ultimate that provides ridiculous power. Secondary abilities can provide extra firepower or ways to block incoming damage, while ultimate abilities hold tremendous power like spawning massive explosions that can clean out an entire room, to spawning as many coins as you can hold, to summoning a floating angel that rains Hot Death over its foes until nothing else moves. When you combine a full build together, alongside tossing a coin to the various blessing altars to level up your character’s stats for that specific run, you can become a rolling death machine with the power to wipe the hardest enemies with a flick of the wrist as well as call the Damage Gods to relieve any who oppose you of the right to live. It’s awesome.
But you have to actually get to that point first, and BPM, even at it’s easy difficulty, has a rough difficulty curve for new players. Each enemy hurts a lot. The starting character, Göll, will go down in about four hits from the weakest enemy, and they only get angrier as the game progresses. Each boss, seven in total, all have a music related shtick that requires some fast learning, but will be even more frustrating to try to learn when a run has crippled you and said boss will immediately put you through a wall upon entering. Add on the increased difficulty of the unlockable characters, who almost all are stunted on health but come with increased stats and better weapons, and BPM has a solid chance of just pissing you off.
While BPM‘s obvious catch-point is the gameplay, the graphics and worlds leave much to be desired. There is a obnoxious coating of saturation that can make enemies visually mesh into the world and can leave yourself open for unnecessary hits, especially going at the fevered pace BPM demands. Worlds transition from a castle-like world with a shade of red, to a dingy castle-like world with a shade of green, to what Bowser’s Castle would look like if id Software got a hold of it, but nothing really strikes out as aesthetically pleasing. Which each completed run of the four worlds only lasting at most 45 minutes, the same-y textures and layouts can not be bailed out no matter how procedurally generated they become.
And BPM‘s lifecycle absolutely depends on your ability to flush out what you don’t like and keep running runs, because there really isn’t a lot of meat to chew on. Worlds and bosses do have chances to pull a random modifier that can add some interesting seasonings to the pot but they don’t pop up nearly as much as you would expect. The Challenge section puts up five new ways to start your run, with a retro mode that is a bit too pixelated to really see anything, to a boss rush which gives your character no upgrades so they feel like they have the constitution of a piece of notebook paper after an afternoon rain shower, to a challenge where The Floor is Lava, and um. Yeah, good luck with that.
The uneven difficulty, low content, and parallel world building are just some of the notes in BPM that glaringly fall flat. But BPM‘s pitch-perfect gameplay finds a way to strive through the mistakes and warrant learning the whole sheet and playing it with pride. Lets just hope some more staffs and staves are added in the future, because I’m interested in hearing more of what BPM has to offer.
Reviewed on Steam.