BPM: review of balls per minute
The first few minutes of BPM: Bullets Per Minute made me wonder if I had spent the 22 years of my life without any sense of rhythm. Instead of effortlessly shooting rhythmic demons and scrambling synthetic metal, my weapon did all the jamming for me, resulting in swift death at the hands of some sort of hellworm.
This is BPM’s key gadget – all shoots are tied to the beat of the music. Firing and reloading your weapon should be done at a rate, which adds another layer to doom-style firing. Where you would run around a map and fire shots whenever you get the chance in Doom, BPM asks you to kill at a very specific rate. At first, trying to play a doom-esque shooter to a specific beat is like trying to rub your stomach and pat your head at the same time, but sting your eyes along the way.
Once you’ve learned how movement and shooting work again, BPM is a hell of a time. Reloading a rocket launcher and hearing the click perfectly along with the music is incredibly satisfying, as is dodging an attack the moment another riff begins. There’s clearly a lot of love too, and I couldn’t help but smile every time I saw my character pretend to strum a guitar while picking up the shotgun.
In many ways, Doom already feels like a rhythm game thanks to its very specific brand of dodging, jumping, and shooting, but it works even better when the concept is taken at face value. Well done, BPM is the equivalent of expertly playing the drums on your desktop on Guns n ‘Roses – you probably think you look a lot cooler than you actually do, but it’s amazing.
If, like me, your flow is interrupted on the best of days, there’s an auto-pacing option as well. Out of curiosity – and certainly not because I had a hard time passing the first level – I gave it a try. Thankfully, BPM is still a proficient Doom roguelike without the rhythm gadget, though it does remove the niche edge from the game.
Auto-rhythm mode isn’t a bad idea, however, as BPM isn’t just a rock fan, it’s rock – rock solid. Even on the easiest difficulty, enemies take a quarter of your health per hit, which can make you feel like you’re playing Doom on the higher difficulty. I have reached the final boss several times and still haven’t managed to beat it, even with the best weapons and abilities. The high damage rate also has the effect of making small flying enemies the biggest threat as they are harder to shoot and can kill you in four hits. Ignore this huge demonic sea squid boss, the real threat is the little ground worm that you must try to shoot at a brisk pace.
Speaking of beats, the music is obviously a key part of the experience here, and thankfully it’s full of synth-rock energy to propel you through the challenge. It might take a little long to hear over and over again when restarting a run, but it works great for BPM. I would have loved to see heavier rock, similar to Mick Gordon’s work on the Doom reboot, but it’s still awesome here.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the visuals of BPM. Each step seems to have only one color and the contrast has been set to a maximum which, beyond looking like someone who has run to hell rubbing wicks all over the furniture, makes it much worse. the gameplay because the objects become difficult to see. It gets worse as you descend in a race and the lava starts to get involved with the screen being terribly bright.
The basic concept of BPM works well, but beyond this gimmick, the roguelike mechanics leave a lot to be desired.
For starters, other than the occasional banks that let you store coins, no progress continues. While this is typical of the roguelike genre, the game is moving towards roguelite, a la Hades, and BPM feels stuck in the past.
Pure luck seems to play a bigger role in BPM than any other roguelike I’ve played. Sometimes you’ll arrive in a boss room only to find an even tougher version waiting for you there, and sometimes you’ll find the Infinite Ammo Shield in the first room and fly through a race. Even when I cleaned the rooms without a problem, I never felt that my victories were based on skill. Instead, it felt like I owed BPM for giving me the rocket launcher.
Another major problem with BPM is its refusal to explain anything. Finding out how things work is a key part of the roguelike experience, but BPM definitely doesn’t want to give away any clues about the item you’re about to purchase, the meaning of the symbols on the card, and what to do your powers.
It can be fun when you suddenly find out you’re shooting fire bullets, but a lot less fun when you’re in the middle of a good run and accidentally jump into the final biome and instantly get annihilated.
Discovery is one of the key parts of a roguelike, but there’s usually a helping hand or tutorial involved. You’re not going to reach Olmec on your first stint in Spelunky or defeat Hades right away, but these two games make it a bit easier for you before you allow you to experience some of its deeper intricacies. A tutorial wouldn’t have hurt.
The difficulty without much progression and the absence of any type of guidance can make the BPM a little unwelcoming, which is a shame when its mechanics are so pleasant to learn. It’s worth diving into the main premise, but don’t expect someone to hold your hand in hell.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute is available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series, and PC. We tested the PS5 version for this review. The revision code was provided by the publisher.
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