There are a few things that bring me unmatched joy for reasons I can’t quite comprehend. One is eating each individual layer of a Liquorice Allsort. Another would be sliding my phone into my car’s cupholder because it’s weirdly just the right size and shape to carry my phone while still displaying the screen. The other, which I admit is far less practical than the first two, is watching any kind of media where action is tied to music.
Something like Baby Driver where gunshots are synced to the beat of the song playing or, for a more specific and niche mention, the trailer for Netflix’s The Punisher which offers a similar sequence. There’s just something so satisfying guns being fired on a beat, something which I’m sure hits a pleasure receptor for more folks than just me.
At least I hope that’s the case otherwise I’m going to sound like a madman for talking about how much I enjoyed BPM: Bullets Per Minute. Sure, it’s a game designed on a single gimmick and it doesn’t really evolve much past that point, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have an absolute blast playing it right up until its main gimmick became boring.
Forget story or characters, BPM doesn’t strain its brow trying to shoehorn either of those aspects into its loop. BPM is all about exploring procedurally generated dungeons, finding upgrades and items to improve your build (it’s a rogue-like because what isn’t these days?), and slaying every enemy you come across. It’s nothing special in the slightest; with that description alone, most people wouldn’t look twice at BPM.
Yet the whole game is pushed forward via the momentum of it’s soundtrack in a very literal sense of the word. Every significant action, bar walking, is tied to the beat. That means if you want to shoot, reload, jump or dash you have to time it to the beat of the song that’s playing over your adventure. It’s daunting at first, especially for someone like me who enjoys the idea but is very open about the fact that my sense of rhythm followed Paul McCartney’s, the only difference being he at least had his for a while.
So the first few runs were incredibly frustrating. Never getting the timing right, I’d be met with a flash of red and buzzer to tell me my timing was off, only exacerbated by the fact that the different weapons in the game have different reload animations that require their own timing. It’s a lot to process and the panic of needing to kill a room of enemies while fighting the very game I was playing… well, let’s just say my first few runs didn’t leave a pleasant riff on my bass.
Yet after some practice and some patience, clearing rooms became an instinctual and vulgar display of power. When BPM’s combat eventually clicks in place, it has to be one of the most satisfying systems I’ve played all year. On one hand that’s because it’s incredibly simple, like someone took modern Doom and stripped out all the unnecessary nonsense and just left the speedy movement and gunplay. Yet on the other, and there’s no other way I can describe because trust me I spent ages trying to think of why my brain enjoys it so much, fighting to a beat and doing it successfully is just so damn cool. There’s a reason Edgar Wright made an entire movie built on that premise so I have to imagine I’m not alone in this.
That combat hook, just learning how each weapon interacted with a level’s song and then using the pace set by the game to actually challenge it is the best part of BPM: Bullets Per Minute because beyond that, there’s not all that much going on under the hood. The rogue-like mechanics are standard fare, neither impressive nor bad, they just exist to provide structure to the idea of on-beat killing. The enemies are only ever tough on your first encounter as once you know their very singular attack pattern they become extremely easy to manoeuvre around.
Worst of all, I really don’t like the way the game looks. The stylistic choices made on the textures is fine, it seems like everyone is doing that but at times it feels like BPM has around two colours in at any given time, meaning that every room and environment at some point in time blends together. If there wasn’t a map, this game would be impossible to play as beyond a few thematic differences between zones, everything feels like a reskin of the first level which isn’t great when you’re asking players to continuously run those levels over and over again.
Once you beat the game you’ll unlock some new characters and abilities, with more of those features locked behind achievements and milestones in the game but I’ll be the first to admit that after I’d completed my first run of the game I was never compelled to go back and try do it again with any of the other Valkyries. There were differences in stats and starter weapons but the experience was still fundamentally identical. I suppose that’s the problem with building a game on a gimmick; eventually, when that gimmick becomes stale and plays its entire hand, there’s not really much else to go back to.
Which is to say that I hope BPM: Bullets Per Minute manages to make enough cash to drop the occasional content update. The developers are very open about the fact that they want to add more if they make enough money (there’s literally a line that says it right in the “Challenges” menu) because if they do expand on the game, I think it could be a tremendous experience, one that evolves past the initial hook. Yet for the time being, BPM is a fun distraction for a few hours only to be forgotten when you inevitably grow tired of hearing it’s song. It’s like listening to the Black Eyed Peas in 2010, which is more damning than it should be.
Last Updated: October 1, 2020