BPM: Bullets Per Minute Review
A fun game when the stars align
What if The Binding of Isaac, Guitar Hero and Doom managed to produce a child? Well, you'd get BPM: Bullets Per Minute, a roguelike first-person shooter with a focus on rhythm and timing. It was as if someone decided to make a game after watching that shootout scene from Baby Driver. BPM is the first game from Awe Interactive and while a rhythm-based roguelike first-person shooter may sound like a weird mish-mash of genres, it is certainly an interesting premise.
BPM is set within Norse mythology. You play as a Valkyrie fighting off hordes of enemies from the underworld with the goal of defeating Nidhogg, an evil dragon/serpent who feasts on the souls of the dead and gnaws at the root of the world tree, Yggdrasil. That is already more information than what the game will tell you. BPM never expands on that premise. All you know is that the game is set in the world of Norse mythology and you have to shoot some demons and kill Nidhogg. That’s all you really need to know.
BPM isn’t going to blow any game out of the water with the sheer visual quality, nor is it a bad looking game. At best, it looks average but that is not what makes it pop. The visuals are incredibly saturated with each realm being bathed in a particular colour. The first realm of Asgard is incredibly red, Vanaheim is green and so on. The saturation levels can be changed in the settings and if you go for no saturation you will give the game a monochrome look.
With the saturated colours it can become quite difficult to keep track of what is going on, especially if you’re in a cramped room with enemies throwing attacks at you. In a game where it is essential to dodge telegraphed attacks, it can become confusing when you are focused on timing your shots as well as keeping enemies in your field of view and watching for their attacks. However, the visuals are more a means to an end rather than the focus.
The real focus, and the game's party piece if you will, is the tempo and rhythm gameplay. BPM is a first-person shooter where you have to shoot in time to the beat of the music; failure to do so could lead to your gun jamming and your death if you’re not careful. You also have to reload in time as well but it is not as simple as pushing the reload button. With the pistol you have to push reload to get you clip ready and then again to put the clip into your gun. Every gun is different when it comes to reloads. A revolver requires you to push the button for every individual bullet and the minigun takes 3 inputs to fully reload. This leaves some room for tactical thinking. Do you want a revolver that deals more damage but takes longer to reload or save up your coins for a different weapon?
Luckily, with the focus on rhythm, you don’t have to entirely rely on your hearing. The targeting reticule actually shows you the beats of the music, giving you a visual as well as an audible aid. However, the timing of the reticule can be difficult to focus on when you are in the middle of a fight with various enemies. With such importance being put on timing, obviously the music is a key factor. If you’re into rock music with a thumping beat and memorable riffs then you will be happy with what BPM offers. At no point did the music become irritating or grate on me, and in fact the music was playing in my head as I was trying to get to sleep.
Once the novelty of shooting in time to the beat wears off, it does become a nuisance. The game becomes a true test of multi-tasking with timing your shots and reloads while listening to the music, aiming at enemies and avoiding their attacks. So, you can have all the natural rhythm in the world but if you can’t multi-task then you’ll be stuck. Thankfully, there is an option to turn off the auto rhythm, which does turn off the score multiplier but makes it easier as the game functions like a standard FPS.
With the game being an FPS there are a lot of blind spots that can screw you over. Upon entering one room I tried to strafe left without noticing that an enemy was blocking my way and I died instantly. This isn’t an issue very often but with the game being a roguelike, it can occasionally ruin an otherwise promising run.
If you’ve played Doom or Wolfenstein, then the way this game plays should be familiar to you. In general, your best bet is to just keep moving. As soon as you stop around an enemy then it is curtains for your run. Speed is a skill in this game which you can upgrade by paying a coin to the relevant totem, or you can pick up items which increase your speed that can be extremely helpful. The only issue with being too fast is that it takes some time to adjust to the speed so you will have to adjust your aim. You can improve your luck as well but I never lived long enough to see the full effect of it. On top of those two skills, you can upgrade your damage, precision, range or ability if you’ve picked one up.
Sometimes the levels have a modifier like low gravity or an infested modifier which adds more enemies to each room. There is a barren modifier but that is one that caused plenty of frustration. This modifier means that nothing will drop for the entire level. No coins, keys or chests. If this modifier was used in a later stage then it would be challenging but not impossible. However, I only experienced this modifier on the first stage. This makes the level virtually impossible to pass. I don’t mean to brag but I did a fair amount of damage to the boss during this run but still ultimately failed.
This difficulty brings me on to the next point. Even on easy mode (the game only has an easy and hard mode) this game is unbelievably difficult. Most games have a learning curve but even on the first level it is just sink or swim. You learn on the job and you will die a lot. Like a hell of a lot. You will get better the more you play but you just need to persevere. I can’t lie, however; this difficulty does get frustrating. I had to take a break before coming back to try and get past the first stage.
It does appear that luck plays a huge part in whether you are actually successful in BPM. I could just be bad, but my best run was when I got an item which gave me regenerating health and an ability that heals me as well. I have not been that lucky since. For this reason, the game doesn’t feel entirely balanced. While I understand that luck plays an element in roguelike games, it plays far too much of a role here. Luck should not have to determine whether I am actually able to progress past the first level.
Now we turn to the enemies. For the most part you’ve got small aerial enemies who fire at you, small ground enemies who try and rush you and the larger variants who sporadically charge at you. The most common enemies are the baby bats who were notably annoying at the start of any playthrough. There is a larger bat variant that acts as a mini boss but because I could actually hit it, it never caused much of a problem. In fact, the smaller and faster an enemy is, the more annoying they are. The mini-bosses themselves have attacks that do less damage than the normal enemy types, so a smaller enemy is more dangerous than a larger one.
The bosses themselves wouldn’t be too hard if you got a lucky draw in the dungeon beforehand. If you weren’t so lucky then I think you already know how it’s going to go. Bosses are essentially one hit kills unless you have full health. Much like how the levels can get modifiers, so do the bosses. You can get dwarf version of bosses which are even harder to hit and more frustrating, or a burning variant which causes damage if you get too close to them. The burning variant adds a new dimension to the encounter but if you haven’t improved your range it can be damn near infuriating. The dwarf boss just seems to be included to annoy. It doesn’t change the fight up in any meaningful way, it just makes the boss harder to hit and in the heat of the moment it really screws you over. However, you will fight the exact same boss at the end of each stage with an occasional variation to change things up. Asgard 1 will always end with a Draugr, Asgard 2 will always end with Ymir and so forth. There’s no randomisation to which boss you will fight outside of a potential modifier.
The game has two currencies, coins and keys. This will be familiar to roguelike players. Coins can be used to buy items from Muninn and Huggins (references to Odin’s ravens but they appear as a giant dog and bird respectively) whereas keys unlock certain chests and doors to a library room which can give you further abilities. Coins can be gained from dead enemies or from chests that spawn when a room is cleared. Keys come from stronger enemies and bosses, as well as from special converters where you can convert coins for a random drop. These converters can give you coins, keys, health potions or spawn an enemy if you’re that unlucky, which I seemed to be.
Another way you can get some form of the currency is through a sword of Damocles reward. With this you can get a key or a bag of coins but you will lose a chunk of your health. This feeds into a risk vs reward thought process which the game wants you to weigh up near constantly with the shops, libraries and locked chests. The game also gives you access to a bank where you can save your gold coins after death but this was one of the rarest rooms I encountered.
Like all roguelike games, the map is procedurally generated. Each stage appears to pick from a certain pool of rooms, so you will get very used to the layouts of every room used in Asgard 1 and will know them like the back of your hand. You get more variety in the architectural design with each stage. This procedural map does play into the luck that is needed to proceed in the game, but the actual map itself didn’t draw any ire. Even though some rooms don’t appear such as the bank, library or Muninn’s gun shop, I never felt truly aggrieved if a room was missing.
BPM is not overly demanding on hardware. I had some frame rate dips when the screen was particularly busy, but it was nothing a drop in the graphics settings couldn’t solve. The only other graphical glitch I encountered was seeing the level clip with some white space. Any major issues with performance would make a game like this unplayable, so it’s good to see that no major issues presented themselves.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute is a fun game when the stars align. However, you need for a lot of perseverance to get close to a run where the stars resemble something close to alignment. There is a focus on the rhythm combat and it is certainly intriguing, but BPM works better when the auto rhythm is turned off and becomes a more standard FPS like Doom. If you’re a fan of rougelike and FPS games then there is fun to be had in BPM, just be prepared to get frustrated and spend a lot of time in Asgard.