It’s not until fairly recently that the first person roguelike really took hold as a successful genre. Games like Void Bastards and City of Brass combined the fun action and varied weapon selection of FPS with the constant decision making and procedural worlds of the humble procedural death labyrinth. It’s a tough mix to pull off, and there have been far more failures than successes. Unfortunately, in trying to marry this delicate balance with the demands of a rhythm game, BPM: Bullets Per Minute falls apart at the seams. The game’s repetitive slow shooting and restrictive unlocks would already be an issue, but layering on a demanding musical challenge on top of everything makes this one game to tune out.
For all its problems, BPM: Bullets Per Minute does nail one aspect, the musical score. From the thumping beat on the menu to each new piece of level music, BPM provides memorable jams that stick in the mind for days after playing. This is a necessity to make the game’s rhythmic ideas work, as the beat for each song determines how often players can attack and reload. If players hit an action while not on the beat, a buzzer plays and they either try again or die to the giant spider hopping into view.
If BPM: Bullets Per Minute were a spot-on precision shooter with this style of challenge on top of it, everything would be great. The idea at the core of the game is a sound one, and one that other developers should build upon. The first time developers at Awe Interactive are not the team for the job, as they’ve produced a poor first-person shooter. The team thankfully included the option to turn off the rhythm detection, allowing their work in the FPS genre to be judged on its own. The end result leaves the game’s gimmick feeling like the 3D slider on a Nintendo 3DS. With or without the constant demand to shoot to the beat, BPM‘s combat is beyond clunky.
Movement is unruly, making one feel like they’re swimming in the ocean rather than controlling the wings of an avenging angel. This occurs on both controller and keyboard, and players will have to adjust the sensitivity of the game just to get it to a playable state. The range on most firearms is a joke, with players unable to nail bats hovering a few feet away. This is due to the game’s stats system, which only goes up in the rare instance that the player finds a random pickup. This goes for every other item as well, including guns. Despite what’s shown in the trailer, hours in BPM‘s early game, features nothing but a single pistol and rooms full of enemies that take ages to slaughter.
The game is a roguelike, which in BPM‘s case means that everything must be unlocked with the valuable currency known as time. All but one of the playable characters requires players to beat the game before they’re usable. Shops and other rooms slowly unlock more item slots as they’re invested in, making early runs frustratingly difficult. The first floor of each run features treasure rooms that hold locked chests, meaning that even the player’s first upgrades come at a cost. This drastically reduces the player’s variety in the early game, a trap that’s easy for roguelikes to fall into if they assume that unlocking items is just all part of the fun.
Make no mistake, unlocking things is fun, but repetition can make even the most enjoyable run-based games die a quick death. Trying to wrangle any sense of progress out of a game this demanding is a feat unto itself, and it’s not helped by running into locked door after locked door before running into a single key. The bosses at the end of each world are no different, operating in such a different manner to the rest of the enemies that any player’s first few encounters are going to be nothing but test runs. When a player can sit down for a long session and emerge with nothing tangible to show for it, that’s a problem.
The few times that the RNG in BPM: Bullets Per Minute actually managed to put together a set of weapons and abilities that allowed for significant progress, the game shined, but it’s just not worth the hours of suffering failed runs and mistimed shots. To borrow the game’s own 90s shooter comparisons, playing BPM is like diving into Doom on Ultra Nightmare before learning how to play an FPS. The fun is still there, but it’s buried under so many roadblocks and complications. The frustrating end result is a game with a great idea that bungles just about every part of the execution.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute releases September 15, 2020 on PC, with a console release scheduled for 2021. A digital code for the game was provided to Screen Rant for the purposes of this review.