This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews BPM: Bullets Per Minute.
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Regular viewers will know that unnecessary colons in titles make me want to evacuate my own colon onto the games in question, and a related issue that equally deglazes my skillet with piss is what I like to call the non-abbreviated abbreviation, as seen in DMC: Devil May Cry, or FTL: Faster Than Light. “Ooh, let’s use a cool three letter abbreviation as our title,” says Johnny Game Developer. “That way it will be remembered just as fondly as the film LXG: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” “Good idea,” says Susie Game Developer, no relation. “And on that note, just in case people don’t realise what it’s supposed to stand for, we should put the full sentence somewhere nice and subtle and barely noticeable like on the end of the same fucking title.” “Yes, that way we will enjoy the dual benefit of abbreviating, i.e. shortening the name, while simultaneously making it slightly longer. We are both screaming twats.” If only more people had the self-assuredness that MDK had back in the 90’s. Still, I guess BPM: Bullets Per Minute can justify it because most people would assume BPM to mean Beats Per Minute. Or Beardmore Precision Motorcycles. Or, erm. Bollock Piss Mimsy.
Beats Per Metre Squared is a game best summarised as Quake 1 crossed with the Binding of Isaac crossed with Crypt of the Necrodancer to make one freakish triple-parented mutant baby they can all argue over who has to raise. You’re in a series of procedurally generated first person shooter dungeons that all look like they were lovingly crafted from delicious chocolate – that’s the Quake 1 influence – and your task is to clear out the monsters room by room and level by level and hope to Christ that this time the gods will smile on you and randomly drop a gun that feels more effective than jerking off a sleepy pig in the direction of the enemies before you get more than two levels deep. The main gameplay twist is that you can only shoot, dodge, reload and masturbate your sleepy pig in time to the background music, and your score multiplier goes up the more you keep to the rhythm. Last week you may recall I reviewed No Straight Roads that was sort of trying to do a music-based combat thing but fell flat because the rhythm tended to get lost. Well, there’s absolutely no risk of that happening with this game, since you boot it up and the rhythm immediately starts smashing you about the face and neck with a driving bass drumbeat and screaming guitars.
Although the game has a Norse mythology theme so I should say the music’s relatively tame compared to most Scandinavian metal, as it doesn’t mix in the sound of goats being slaughtered or feature people singing like emotionally repressed camels who have been putting up with their rider’s bullshit for years and finally have a chance to give vent. BPM: Bombastically Pounding Music is a good example of a game that’s like 90% primary gameplay loop, and honestly it kind of kicks arse. The music is perfect. It’s exactly the kind of heavy, driving rock that makes you want to appease Allfather Odin, the kind you hear in your head when you and the boys are strutting into town to terrorise the ladies and tear shit up at the Mario 3D All-Stars midnight launch event. And it’s enormously satisfying to clear a roomful of enemies without missing a step. Even having to reload as part of the ballet seems to enhance rather than interrupt the action, rhythmically pelvic thrusting as you slide bullets into the chamber one by one and then spinning and one-shotting a fiery bat out of the air with perfect timing, I finally get what you were talking about, Mr. Ocelot.
But with the game being 90% primary loop there’s not much room for anything else. There’s only eight levels to a run and no plot to speak of unless you count the story of several bullets and their amazing journey across a room into the body of a giant spider. So good core combat and that’s about it. Not much else to say, so might as well move onto the second game I played this week. There was no second game this week, Yahtzee. If you’ll recall, you spent the whole week playing BPM because you enjoyed the core combat so much. Did I? Yes, you were planning to find something to double bill it with but then you got lazy and decided to keep playing BPM until you found some things that annoyed you about it. Hm. Well that does sound like me. And I did find a few things – most prominently, while shooting to the rhythm is fun, there doesn’t seem to be any benefit to being good at it. You get the same treasure whether you flawlessly clear the room or were moving like your trousers were round your ankles. The only thing an unbroken combo gets you is a points multiplier. Points? High scores? What year is this? You gonna ask me to enter my initials next? So I can enter BUM and make all the other little snipes in the arcade laugh before we run home and watch Saved by the Bell?
So as long as you have the basics down of pointing at the enemy and shooting at the enemy and not being in the places where enemy bullets are then the main factor that affects whether or not we’re having a successful run is almost 100% luck. Par for the course in a Roguelike, perhaps, but every time I got to the final boss the motherfucker rolled over like a dog in a tumble dryer because if I’d gotten that far it was always because I’d picked up one of the random powerups or weapons that completely break the difficulty. Like the regenerating shield or the grenade launcher. “I am behind a shield and cannot be attacked head on!” Crow several late game enemies. “What’re you gonna do about that, dipshit? Ha you missed! OH I’M DEAD. As are all my friends.” I think there are a lot of items that need a rebalancing. There just isn’t enough con to balance the grenade launcher’s pros. It needs a smaller clip or a more complex reload or a little bar that pops out and hits you in the balls between each shot. “It is very short range, Yahtzee.” Oh, piss off. Who keeps the monsters at long range? I’m trying to kill these motherfuckers, not take artful photographs of them.
And while we’re on the subject, the minigun sucks my big fat drinking straw. It’s a minigun that can’t fire rapidly. That’s like owning a Dexys Midnight Runners album that doesn’t have Come On Eileen. The monsters could use some rebalancing, as well. I don’t know about you, but in my daily life if I’m ever in a room with a giant lava spider and a small bat, I think it’d be reasonable to expect the giant lava spider to be the larger threat, but no. The most intense battles in the game are against the tiny flying enemies that the bigger enemies hire to carry their suitcases because they’re fast and hard to hit and fling projectiles that knock a quarter of your health off. Also, the first dungeon boss is the hardest in the game. ‘Cos it’s fast and got patterns and every other boss is a variation on “hurl things at the big fat dude like you’re a Subway sandwich artist who completely stopped giving a shit.” I think that’s all my nitpicks. At the end of the day, BPM: Bullets Prime Minister is a perfect illustration of why the primary gameplay loop is so important, because despite lacking much substance the sheer catharsis of the combat made me want to play it way longer than I wanted to keep playing, say, Last of Us 2. Perhaps as many as TWELVE seconds!