I think when I first got my hands on BPM: Bullets Per Minute, I said the mash-up of first person shooter and rhythm game was the best thing since chocolate met peanut butter. If that’s not exactly what I said, it should have been: it’s a sublime combination. And with the upcoming Metal: Hell Singer, it’s not alone. But BPM: Bullets Per Minute got here first, both in announcement and release, and it makes a mighty fine argument for this emerging subgenre.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute is a first person shooter rhythm game with rogue-lite elements. It takes place in a heavy metal vision of Nordic mythology, where you fight from Asgard to Hel. You can only shoot, reload, dodge, jump, and use abilities to the rhythm of the music, on the beat or on the off-beat. Shooting and reloading to the beat successfully nets you a score multiplier. The higher your multiplier, the higher your score—but score doesn’t seem to translate into direct gameplay–and for that matter, most of the time your multiplier doesn’t seem to, either. There are some abilities that take advantage of it, though. Collect weapons, items, and abilities to succeed and destroy the demonic invasion—with some abilities drastically changing the way you approach situations. Each run is a unique combination of rooms—you have to clear out rooms to progress, defeating the seven bosses on your way to victory.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute is neither a shooter first, nor a rhythm game first. The gameplay is inexorably intertwined in the main game mode. If you’re not on rhythm, your gun won’t shoot. This was a challenge for me to get used to. Moving, aiming, shooting, dodging incoming projectiles all while being on-beat is a little harder than I anticipated. I got used to it, and dare I say, pretty darn good at it: but there are some issues with the way BPM does things.
I usually play first person shooters with a mouse and keyboard, so it felt mostly natural to do the same with BPM. I ran into a few problems with this, mainly, my ability to reload while moving. Reloading is sometimes a multi-step process. It isn’t as simple as pressing a button, but sometimes (depending on the weapon) requires multiple, on-beat, button presses to reload. This is a problem, because if I’m pressing the ‘r’ key multiple times, I have to do some finger Twister to be able to dodge to the right while reloading. Not insurmountable, but it was a whole new skill for me to learn.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute levels are set up a lot like Binding of Isaac. Sure, they’re 3D environments, but each level is a series of randomly configured rooms–each of the four walls of each room as a potential for an exit. A minimap shows you what types of room connect to the one you’re in. Some encounters—like minibosses, and generic rooms full of enemies, aren’t marked. Rooms can contain chests, merchants, and other items or abilities to help you fight off the enemies you encounter.
Weapons are an important aspect in any first person shooter, and there is no exception here. You have your regular range of pistols, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, miniguns and more. Each of these weapons is not only unique to fire, but have their own unique reload sequence. Some weapons can only be fired on the beat, others can be fired on the beat and the off-beat. Others, like the chaingun, only require the fire button to be pressed on the beat, and ramps up, in rhythm, to become a hail of bullets.
While the guns feel functional, none of them really feel like they have a ton of oomph. That has a pass for the only time ever, because they all feel so damn right. My biggest complaint is most guns’ lack of range. Range can be increased via power-ups and other methods, but the first character’s starting pistol is especially egregious. Learning how to deal with the super short range while juggling the rest of the mechanics was a little cumbersome. Luckily, there are many power-ups that can make things a lot easier.
The power-ups in BPM: Bullets Per Minute are substantial. You have four armor slots, and a spell slot to find abilities that can seriously change a run from challenging to hilariously easily. Some of the abilities you can find feel like cheating. There’s a spell that lets you just steal health, and armor that lets you take flight.
Despite the random nature of BPM: Bullets Per Minute, it feels same-y very quickly. It’s possible to see what most of BPM has to offer only after a dozen playthroughs or so. And I feel like that’s being generous. There are five different characters to ultimately unlock, but despite their differences, they don’t change much beyond the beginning of a playthrough—for the most part. Each of these five have different starting weapons and health—with only two of the characters touting truly unique abilities. Even the enemies start to feel repetitive.
Each of the areas introduce new enemy types, but enemies from earlier areas are constant throughout. You’ll even run into bosses again as you get into the end levels. Enemies are interesting, though—they don’t just run at you, but have a wide range of behaviors. Some shoot projectiles from a distance, others will try to attack, and then back away. Sadly, the seven bosses you fight are always the same—and in the same place, as they don’t rotate to different levels like some of the bosses in Binding of Isaac.
I’d be remiss to write about a rhythm game an not include a note on the music. It’s great. I’m waiting for the retail version to release so I can get a hold of the soundtrack. It’s heavy, but I wouldn’t exactly describe it as death metal—at least, there are no screaming vocals.
If you get tired of playing BPM: Bullets Per Minute as a rhythm game, you have options. There are at least a couple of challenge modes that let you play the game as a traditional first person shooter. It’s just too bad that retro mode has the ridiculous pixelated filter. No retro game had that low of a resolution.
If BPM: Bullets Per Minute was a test, I’d say it passed. It’s a great proof of concept for the shooter-meets-rhythm genre, and I really want to see where this type of gameplay can do in the future. I would have loved for a little more variety, but what’s there is solid. If it becomes popular enough, maybe developer Awe Interactive will keep adding to it. I’d love to see it get the same traction The Binding of Isaac got.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute is available September 15th on Steam, and will release later this year on consoles.
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