A game feeling ‘good’ to play has universal definitions depending on what genre you’re talking about: Platformers should have tight, responsive controls, fighters/beat em’ ups should have weighty impacts and so on. However, these definitions get shuffled when multiple genres come together, and BPM: Bullets Per Minute (we’ll shorten that to BPM for ease) takes the unorthodox approach of putting first-person shooter and rhythm in the same basket. I’ve played my share of rhythm games, and I admit this sounded like a formula that’d collapse under itself when I first heard about it. Quite the opposite; BPM takes why shooter and rhythm games feel good and makes for an enjoyable game that provides plenty of visceral, satisfying feedback. Its roguelike elements are its weakest part, but that doesn’t change that this is the most fun I’ve had with a rhythm game in a long time.
The gimmick to BPM is that, with exceptions to things like moving and interacting with shrines or shops, actions are tied to the music’s rhythm, either on the main beat or off-beat. This includes shooting and reloading, and if you’re the type who likes to spray in games where ammo reserves are non-existent, I can’t fault you if it takes a while to adapt to this concept. With shots only happening with specific timing, the game had trained me to exercise restraint, better aiming and movement in a 3D space to avoid hazards or the violent embrace of an enemy. Reloading can have multiple steps depending on the weapon used, like the pistol having a one-two ‘click-clack’ or the revolver needing to load each round individually. Encountering a new gun can lead to fun questions like if it can shoot on the off-beat, how many reload steps are needed, and naturally if it’ll work with your current build. Only one weapon can be equipped at a time, so finding or buying a different one can be a big decision depending on how many coins have been nabbed along the way.
I’m going to burst if I don’t go on about how fantastic BPM’s feedback is, both audibly and visually. The heavy colour palette (limited as it is) doesn’t get in the way of differentiating between enemies as their models have chunky outlines, so quickly telling what’s a bat, shielded goon or spiderling helps in your threat assessments. Often you won’t have to look at the baddies to tell who’s there, as many will have audio cues for their projectiles, announcing their presence or if one is in pursuit. Every sound and cue pitches into the song’s structure, right down to the pitter-patter of your character sprinting, though the principal percussion will stem from your offence. Weapons feel and sound thunderous from the piddly-looking triple shot pistol, right up to the minigun whose rumbling ‘dakka-dakka’ never fails to delight. The sounds of reloading might be the best of all, as the mechanical noises of emptying and refilling the weapon are exaggerated to let you know when firing can happen again. Along with the screen pulsing slightly and the (off)beats flanking your aiming reticle, there’s plenty of reminders to keep track of and maintain rhythm. There are tweaks in the options to remove some indicators that are welcome features while I haven’t had to do so. There’s also the option of how tight or loose the rhythmic recognition on your inputs should be, making things harder or easier depending on your skill level.
For a game about valkyries trying to ascend, the music is expectedly rocking. Since I lack musical qualifications for a more in-depth analysis, the simplest way I can describe BPM’s soundtrack is that of a rock concert held in an industrial cathedral: Shredding guitars, choir vocals and heavy, forceful drumming. I’ve gone so far as to call this soundtrack my favourite of 2020 since it hits so hard and so well that it practically forces my feet to tap, head to nod and body to sway during gameplay. As mentioned earlier, with sound effects adding to the song, listening to the soundtrack on its own compared to what you hear during gameplay would be a hollow experience - But the music’s great, so problem avoided!
The roguelike elements of BPM ends up being its only main weakness, as the weapons and items don’t encourage much by way of experimentation. You’ll often find a weapon you prefer and stick with it due to familiarity, with item builds of auto-aim, infinite capacity and life gain being almost broken in how much effort they take away - Heaven forbid if you find them all at once. The item pool goes both ways in terms of it being small compared to other roguelikes: A small item pool avoids bloat, but not having more options can make runs begin to feel very samey after you’ve sunk multiple hours into the game.
Spin Rhythm XD used to be my go-to rhythm game when I wanted to get into my inputs and the music, but BPM has taken that go-to spot in its place. The hybrid of genres makes for good shooting, good music and the interplay between each other. While I wish there was more variety to loadouts and builds during runs that encouraged experimentation, BPM gets an absolute recommendation from me.