We’ve seen a pretty big shake-up in the first-person shooter realm within the last few years — the biggest changes seen in a long time.
After over a decade of beige-colored military shooters following in the footsteps of 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the term ‘Boomer Shooter’ has now been coined to represent a shift away from that paradigm. The revival of classic shooters like DOOM and Wolfenstein brought old-school shooting mechanics from the 1990s back into the forefront, and these AAA releases were followed by a huge boom in creativity from indie developers.
The indie game featured in this BPM: Bullets Per Minute review slots nicely into that category. It’s stylish, fast, and addictive, and its focus on rhythm-based gameplay is yet another example of how the genre keeps surprising us. Beyond a cool concept, though, does the game do enough to make a lasting impression?
The FPS heavyweights from Id software proved how integral music can be to a gameplay experience. Mick Gordon’s skull-splitting Djent soundtracks for the latest DOOM entries will get anyone pumped-up to rip through their intense shooting galleries, and when you get into your groove, you’ll experience a certain rhythmic symbiosis between the gameplay and the music.
BPM exploits that sentiment as its entire gameplay premise. The game’s metal-electronic music slaps you across the face as soon as you launch the game, and you’ll need to master its steady, thumping beats if you want to survive.
Playing revolves around setting your ears on the beat of the music and using your metronomic crosshair to let you know when you can fire your guns. You can only shoot on the beat of the music: depending on the weapon, that’ll either be on full or half-beats. It takes some getting used to at first, but you’ll quickly grasp the concept.
Regarding the movement, the game plays very much like the boomer shooter mechanics we’ve once again become accustomed to. You can double jump and dash, and health is finite meaning you’ll need to search for pickups in chests after completing each level. After fifteen minutes or so of play, you come to appreciate a rather magical blend of elements: the breakneck pace of an old-school FPS, the addictive synergy of Guitar Hero, and the potent addictiveness of a rouge-like.
From chamber to chamber
The game is split up into chambers akin to something like The Binding of Issac. You have a mini-map on the top left screen, and levels present a large, interconnecting grid of squares with a boss battle at the end. In the true spirit of its 1990s roots and rouge-like influences, BPM is a tough ride, and if you die, you’ll have to start the level over.
Each chamber presents with a wave of enemies to dispose of, from slug-type creatures that scurry along the ground to much larger foes that can fly or throw out multiple projectiles. While the enemies provided enough variety to keep you on your toes, I wasn’t the biggest fan of their design. It was difficult to distinguish one enemy from the other, with each blending in with a derivative insect aesthetic.
This wasn’t helped by the color pallet: the cel-shaded, high-contrast reds and oranges look cool, sure, but playing a fast-paced shooter within that style often got in the way. The colors made it all the more difficult to distinguish enemies. Their projectiles are the same color as their bodies, which are the same as your own projectiles…which are the same color as everything else.
Colour pallets do change every now and again. Sometimes you get two colors that work relatively well, but the above issue permeates most levels. It’s less than ideal but you do get used to it, and thankfully, it wasn’t enough to substantially mar the experience.
A metal ballet
For the most part, BPM succeeds in fostering that classic FPS flow state we all know and love. Once you get good and master the loop, pulling off kills to the beat of the music looks and feels amazing.
It does take a while to get to that point, though: you start off with the pistol when they really should’ve given you something more powerful from the get-go. Of course, DOOM Eternal learned this from DOOM 2016. The meek, slow fire rate of a handgun doesn’t gel with the breakneck pace of an old-school FPS, and this is more apparent than ever when your shots are dictated by the tempo of a song.
The starting song isn’t brilliant, either. It features this rather monotonous, droning grunge-style guitar riff, which becomes all the more irritating on account of the fact you’re going to die a lot at first start.
The music does pick up in later levels, and overall, I think the composer did a great job balancing a style that was catchy yet simplistic enough to ensure the gameplay was uncomplicated. Around the same time the music improves, you get your hands on some better weapons which evolve the experience. The shotgun in particular cracks with the sort of satisfying force we’ve come to expect from these types of games, and weapons like the mini-gun, burst SMG, and Gauss Rifle leans into the music mechanics to exploit the game’s rhythmic strengths.
There’s also a host of special abilities to utilize, too. Jarnbjorn is an explosive orb that travels around the room and obliterates enemies in your vicinity. Then there’s Snap Fingers — a kill-switch ability that can empty a room in seconds with a violent blast. As your arsenal becomes more complex, the gameplay becomes more interesting.
Naturally, BPM is at its strongest when you’re at the peak of its mechanical depth. In the moments where you have the best weapons and abilities, the game taps into something truly unique that harnesses the best of the component genres it combines together.
Bosses done right
This is no more evident than with the boss battles — the title’s standout set pieces. Compared to the lackluster insect designs of the usual cannon fodder, the bosses look fantastic. Their designs tap into the Norse mythology the rest of the game fails to truly capture, and their surprising, often devastating abilities make for some amazing musically-driven combat sequences. During the boss battles, everything comes together, and BPM becomes a perfect blend of the most exciting elements of three of the most popular video game genres. These segments also feature the best music and, most importantly, the best utilization of that music from a mechanical standpoint.
At the same time, these intense seminal battles made me wish more had been done in the build-up. While the idea of shooting stuff to music certainly worked, at times it felt more of a restriction than a well-designed gameplay anchor. Having a full arsenal of deeply rhythmic weapons and abilities — as well as similarly energetic enemies to use them on — wasn’t an occurrence that came around as often as I’d have liked.
Sometimes, this aspect was worsened, rather than improved upon, by the rogue-like elements. Acquiring weapons and abilities are often based on luck, and you can’t guarantee you’ll have access to a given weapon or the Library area where you acquire new abilities. As such, you could go an entire run begging for more upgrades or, on the other hand, be so overpowered that it saps the joy out of the experience.
The verdict: a double-edged sword
The developers have taken on a lot: mixing three genres together can’t be easy, making for an experience that has some incredible moments, but also a lot of flat periods that don’t reach their potential.
When it works, it really does. The game’s boss battles represent some of the most intense fun I’ve had in a while with an FPS, and the team should be commended for their ability to blend so many elements at once and not create a disaster. Having said that, it can feel like there are too many ingredients, and whether its trifecta of genres comes together is hit and miss. The recipe could do with some refinement, but undoubtedly, the developers have still hit on something cool with this title.
- A totally unique gameplay loop with some huge highs
- Brilliant boss designs with clever strategies
- A surprisingly extensive, satisfying, and impactful arsenal
- An often visually confusing art style
- Lackluster enemy designs
- A blend of genres that don’t always gel together in the way you’d hope
Alternatives to BPM: Bullets Per Minuet
Here’s a selection of other similar games you might enjoy:
- Crypt of the NecroDancer: An award-winning rouge-like rhythm title with a thumping electronic soundtrack and neon fantasy aesthetic.
- Beat Saber: With an incredible selection of tracks and unmatched combat-centric gameplay, Beat Saber is the quintessential rhythm game in 2022.
- Rez Infinite: Rez is the product of the ingenious think tanks of the Dreamcast era, and this PC port revitalizes this rhythm classic for the modern age.
- Pistol Whip: This title is as close to BPM’s FPS-rhythm gameplay as it gets, and with blisteringly fast VR gameplay and a cool cyber-punk story to boot, it’s an excellent choice for fans of the genre.
Bullets Per Minute Review: FAQs
Question: I see BPM is also available for PC. Should I get it on Steam or Nintendo Switch?
Answer: The original game was released in 2020 for PC, so that’s certainly an option over the Switch version. FPS games typically control better with a mouse and keyboard, but the rhythm elements negate that idea somewhat. I found a controller to work great, and in this case, I think you’ll find both versions to feel very similar.
Question: I was terrible at Guitar Hero. Will I suck at this?
Answer: The game does a great job at helping you. In the settings, you’re able to set the degree to which hits are registered (strict, normal, or loose), and the practice difficulty mode ensures you can spend as long as you want acclimatizing to the game’s mechanics. Even if you struggle at first, you’ll get the hang of things eventually.
Question: With latency being a factor for rhythm games, does the TV I’m playing on make a difference?
Answer: Thankfully, the game presents you with a handy test once you launch to account for any latency. It’ll have you practice pulling the trigger to a graphic on screen, and will adjust the latency settings automatically. You’ll also want to ensure your TV’s Game mode is turned on. Nearly all modern sets have this feature: it’s usually found in your TV’s settings and increases the response time substantially.