Bullets Per Minute Review
When I played the excellent Crypt of the NecroDancer back in 2015, I never really thought to myself, “Wow, this would be great if it was an FPS game”. Oh, how wrong I was. Developer Awe Interactive have created a rhythm-based rogue-like that manages to hit all of the right notes on the dance floor but frustratingly falters outside of this. Whilst it isn’t always smooth sailing in the Underworld, it is a blast to shoot, jump, and dodge your way past enemies while nodding your head to the rock-infused soundtrack.
Highway to Hell
In my very first experience with the game, I immediately thought something was wrong. My screen looked like someone had coated it in red paint. The game turns up color saturation to 100 and this is immediately apparent in vivid detail. You can change this saturation in the settings but this is something I eventually got to uncomfortable grips with. Once you look past a color palette that Red Faction would be proud of, you’re asked to choose a Valkyrie and thrown into a randomly generated dungeon to begin the symphony.
The main draw of the game comes to the forefront early. Every action you take, be it shooting or reloading, has to be done in sync with the heavy metal soundtrack. Try to shoot out of sync and your weapons will jam. Attempt to reload out of sync and nothing will happen. Enemies will also attack you to the beat of the music. For someone as “rhythmically challenged” as myself, it certainly took me a few runs to ease myself into the game, and boy was it satisfying when it finally clicks and you find yourself precariously dancing around enemies dispatching them with vengeful bravado while trying to hold back that head nod as the brilliant rock-infused soundtrack blares in the background. The game feels extremely satisfying in moments like these and providing some unique experiences once you master the rhythm.
Stop, Rock, and Roll
Unfortunately, the aforementioned core gameplay is also central to any enjoyment in this game. It is the hill this game dies on. Players that are easily frustrated by rhythm games and unwilling to master the timing can turn on an “auto rhythm” mode that allows players to just play, but the game loses its edge once this is turned on. The scope quickly changes frantic rhythm-based combat to generic rogue-like shooter. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter if the enemies are hard-hitting when it becomes a breeze to blitz past them. The guns in the game feel satisfying when timed to the beat. Without the beat, it just turns into another run-of-the mill rogue-like shooter of which there are plenty.
Likewise, the game is hindered by some of its rogue-like design principles. There are no stats of any sort in BPM. No permanent advantages and no shortcuts. Every round starts the same way, with the only difference being the Valkyrie you choose – which affects the abilities provided. The only thing that is permanently kept is any coins you earn, but the caveat here is you need to be lucky enough to find a bank in your dungeon. These banks were often few and far between to make this a reliable method of transferring progress. Speaking of coins, you are able to spend them at the game’s intriguing merchants to buy different armor pieces or weapons. There are some interesting weapons and trinkets to buy; I found myself equipped with a pair of boots that left a trail of poison in my wake, but these were often rare too. It would be nice to see this tweaked in the future to give more opportunities to utilize a wider arsenal of weaponry.
Full Metal Orchestra
I wouldn’t even take offense to the lack of diversity if the game wasn’t so damn fun when it is firing on all cylinders. Equipping a minigun and mowing down a room of enemies in sync with the tune is a great feeling. So it is deeply disappointing when the game so regularly fails to follow up on this promise. I found myself constantly tackling boss rooms with nothing but a pistol. The heavy metal music was slowly feeling like pain and sorrow. The lack of a proper tutorial also did more harm than good. It is truly perplexing as to why the game makes no effort to explain any of the mechanics. For instance, I found a shrine that accepted coins in exchange for gifts. How many coins? Well, the game never tells you. It may be cute in other games, but here I can’t help but feel the developers have missed a beat by not including further guidance around these mechanics.
The game also suffers from a lack of rewards. This leads to a very unbalanced experience when tackling runs. It was hard to tell if I was getting better as the runs were far too dependent on which items I got rather than my skill. This results in wildly different experiences. One run, every room I got early on just had locked chests. Another run I was getting keys and new skills. This frustration could be alleviated by a more consistent reward system to make every run more fruitful.
For all its flaws, I still thoroughly enjoyed my time with BPM. This is very much going to be a matter of how much you enjoy its central core gameplay of rhythm-based shooting. When it clicks, BPM can be a symphony of bullets and metal. Unfortunately it’s let down by some cumbersome rogue-like elements that are discordant with the rest of the game.
Bullets Per Minute is available on Steam.