BPM: Bullets Per Minute, from developer Awe Interactive and publisher Just Add Water (JAW), is a rhythm-based FPS roguelike that, after launching on PC and receiving several content updates, has finally arrived on console. It’s an unexpected hybrid of genres that takes some getting used to but, when it works, the slick movement, stylish gunplay, catchy soundtrack, and visual feedback provide an almost cathartic experience as you tear through rooms to a beat. That said, it still feels very RNG-heavy. Slogging through several runs that only grant weak weapons and scant few upgrades gives you time to notice the flaws.
There’s little narrative in BPM. You play as one of 10 Valkyries – unlocked by completing regions and challenges, each with strengths and weaknesses – defending Asgard from an invasion by the forces of the underworld. Basic gameplay boils down to fighting through randomly generated dungeons, themed after the realms in Norse mythology, eradicating basic foes before tackling a Norse-inspired monstrosity that guards the portal to the next area. You strafe, jump, dash, and shoot your way through interconnected rooms, looking for coins, shops, loot chests, and shrines that boost your attributes.
Despite its Norse inspirations, BPM focuses exclusively on firearms. These range from rubbish starting pistols to – if RNG permits – variants of shotguns, submachine guns, chain guns, rocket launchers, and pulse weapons. Enemies and loot chests primarily spit out health or coins but, sometimes, you’ll be gifted a new gun or armour piece that grants abilities. Coins allow you to purchase upgrades for one of six attributes at shrines (think damage, range, speed, luck etc.) along with weapons or healing items in shops. Die and you’re back to the beginning of the run with your progress lost (aside from any banked coins). It all sounds like a typical roguelike but BPM adds a musical twist.
From shooting to reloading, to dashing and double-jumping, BPM forces the player to time their actions to the beat of the soundtrack. There is a dynamic cursor for visual feedback but you’ll need an ear for rhythm if you’re going to succeed. Dashing and jumping can be done at any time but only chained together on the beat. Firearms, depending on their fire rate, can be fired on every beat or half-beat. Reloading is always a multi-stage action and some weapons need to be “pumped” between shots – actions that can also be done on the full- or half-beat. Make no mistake, if you’re someone who has to concentrate on keeping a rhythm, BPM will be a rough experience.
However, if you slip into the groove, BPM can look, sound, and feel fantastic in motion. You’ll learn to move, jump, and dash into the range of enemies while keeping track of projectiles, empty the clip to the beat, then dash away to reload. When playing the PC version, I found the gamepad support and trigger response a hindrance and this remains an issue in the console release. Thankfully, BPM now starts by assessing audio latency (of which 50% is probably human latency!), and you can set the timing from strict to loose. If you’re struggling, you can even sacrifice the score multiplier to turn off the rhythm requirement entirely. If you’ve got a gamepad with customisable response curves, I’d suggest changing the profile to respond to the slightest depression of the trigger.
For new players, BPM can feel rough in the beginning, forcing you to consider the rhythm, movement, and the range of your rubbish starting weapon simultaneously. However, with a few good runs and some coins stashed in the bank, you can get off to a better start in subsequent runs. That said, one thing that hasn’t changed since the PC launch is BPMs overreliance on RNG, to the point you’ll soon learn which runs to simply quit and restart. Both the current dungeon and bosses can have random modifiers added –think “barren” and “shopless” or “lethal” and “cloned” – which are also capable of killing an otherwise good run.
During my most successful runs, there were several common elements: 1) I always discovered a heavy weapon in the opening Asgard stages, 2) I found upgrade shrines in almost every room, and 3) there were always stores in every level to buy healing potions before tackling the boss. Weapons are, of course, situational but bigger is almost always better in BPM. A heavy weapon facing off against a horde of small, nimble enemies is problematic but manageable, whereas a basic pistol against a boss feels infuriatingly weak.
BPM might not be the most visually impressive game (with vicious motion blur enabled on console) but it does have an incredible, catchy soundtrack essential to the gameplay loop. Each level has a unique soundtrack but they all seem to follow a simple 4-beat rhythm. The music tracks remain enjoyable despite repeated runs, but the same can’t be said for the visuals. Levels, aside from all looking like you’re experiencing them through some sort of coloured-tinted drug haze, lack distinctive features. It also doesn’t help that despite the Norse inspired setting, too many basic enemies are generic creatures like flies, spiders, or worms, or variants thereof.
Ultimately, BPM: Bullets Per Minute remains as compelling as ever, combining several genres you might not think should coexist. When it clicks – and if you can master the rhythm-based actions – it makes for an audio-visual FPS experience like no other. However, there’s still a strong reliance RNG that can see your fortunes flip back and forth. Sometimes, I’d happily sink an hour or two into several fun back-to-back runs. Other times, I’d found myself restarting run after run, having found no new gear, weapons, and scant few shrines in the opening stages.
Developer: Awe Interactive
Publishers: Awe Interactive, Playtonic Games
Platforms: Xbox Series X and Series S, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, PlayStation 4
This review is based on the Xbox Version of the game.
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