The roguelike genre has definitely evolved quite a bit over the last few years. With so many emerging, developers have to find ways to differentiate their game from the others. Awe Interactive’s answer to this comes in the form of BPM: Bullets Per Minute. Taking the roguelike genre and adding first person shooting as well as a rhythm mechanic, they’ve crafted one satisfyingly unique experience.
BPM: Bullets Per Minute puts players in control of one of five Valkyries or angels, placing them in various realms based on Norse mythology. You’ll start in Asgard, but eventually you’ll work your way to Helheim to fight the formidable dragon Nidhogg. Every main action, from shooting to jumping is put to the rhythm of the music, so you have to time your actions to make them successful. There isn’t much in terms of story, though the setting, characters and bosses are all really interesting. It’s unfortunate that the game doesn’t offer any sort of information log, especially for the various bosses.
While the story and lore leave something to be desired, the gameplay is the true star here. The game will put you through eight stages in four different realms, each with their own bosses. Since the game randomly generates the dungeons, not only will maps be different every time, but various modifiers can take place too. While you’ll likely run through normal stages most of the time, sometimes you’ll get a dark version with limited lighting, or a low gravity version. You might even get the incredibly frustrating pit dungeons, which make some rooms into pit traps that take some serious platforming skills to escape from. Whatever the case may be, there’s a lot of variety in the dungeon layouts.
Of course, the dungeon layouts are only part of the equation. Enemies and bosses can also be different. While enemies will typically stay the same, there’s a chance you’ll encounter a modified boss at the end of the stage. Sometimes this will mean they’ll be large or small, and sometimes they’ll even be on fire. While their overall pattern doesn’t change, these randomly occurring challenges can take you by surprise sometimes. Each boss encounter is pretty fun, and each will have a different strategy to defeat them. With some practice and a good set of weapons, skills and stats, even bosses can go down with little effort. The same can be said about the various mini-bosses that you may uncover in optional rooms.
Dungeons will also sometimes generate various different rooms. This includes banks, shops, the blacksmith, challenge rooms, treasure rooms, and libraries. There’s even rooms where players can select a single piece of gear from a selection of four options. While it’s entirely possible that you might not see all these rooms in a run, some of them can make of break a successful run. The shop, which a giant chocobo-like bird named Huginns runs, is likely going to be your most valuable asset. It’s here that you’ll buy healing potions, upgrades, keys, and even armor. The more you buy, the more you rank up loyalty with Huginns, which unlocks more options to purchase. This carries over between runs, so playing more will eventually grant you a better selection.
The blacksmith is where you’ll be able to purchase weapons. This is the shop that takes a bit more time to deal with, as some weapons are incredibly expensive. It’s also possible that you won’t want to actually change your weapon. Your default weapon is going to be your best friend, so you’ll want to make sure you can rely on it. Since every gun has a different firing and reloading sequence to the rhythm, it might be best to hold onto what you already have. If you see a gun that you’re more comfortable with, then by all means, go for the upgrade. There’s some pretty sweet weapons to take advantage of, including pistols, grenade launchers and shotguns. You’ll want to experiment with each one when you can to see what you’ll like best.
Clearing rooms of monsters has a chance of granting a treasure chest with rewards inside. This will often be coins, but sometimes you’ll get keys, gear, potions, or even stat upgrades, on top of potential drops from the monsters. You’ll even find altars in various rooms which can take a gold coin to earn stat upgrades like luck, weapon range, or damage. This adds an exploration aspect to BPM: Bullets Per Minute, giving players more to look for in each room. Sometimes you’ll even have small platforming challenges to reach new areas where you can find additional treasure or altars. With some rooms offering multiple paths, there’s a risk/reward situation where you’ll have a chance to find more treasure or gear, with the only consequence being that you’ll usually have to fight more enemies.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll find special items that can really put the odds in your favor. One such item is the skeleton key, which allows you to open any door or chest in the run. You can even use it to offer unlimited keys to certain altars. It’s a bit broken, but it can really make a run feel special when you find one. It also makes it that much more frustrating if you find one, only to die during the run. This can be the case for a lot of runs where you start out strong, but end up losing steam toward the end. You might have awesome gear and weapons, but then you might have trouble finding healing items, leaving you hurt when you face certain bosses.
A lot of the gear you find offer some pretty amazing perk too. Items like the Circlet of the Serpentine allows for you to drain a little health from enemies upon damaging them. Another one could be The Best Defense shield which offers unlimited ammo. One of my personal favorites is the Rhythmic Chaos Boots, which deals additional damage to enemies on the beat of the music. The variety among these items is pretty great, though as mentioned before, experimentation is key. An item like the Midgard Bracelet offers “pure goodness” while the Richeous Sun will grant “solar flares”. What these do, I never found out, simply because it would mean sacrificing another gear item. For all I know, it could be better. Unfortunately, without a way of practicing or having information to reference, it’s difficult to tell.
Despite the lack of information and lore, the rest of the presentation is still pretty interesting. The graphics give off an overexposed style, with colors and highlights shining bright. Sometimes it feels like a moving abstract painting with warm earth tones and posterized textures. It’s a rather unique look that separates it from games like Doom. With four realms, there’s not a ton of variety in environments, but each realm does have their own unique look and feel. There’s a retro challenge mode that can add a pixelated filter, but not much else to differentiate the style. If the game ever gets additional updates, it might be cool to see the game in a different color palette.
Getting to the true heart of the presentation, and quite literally the game itself, we have the music. BPM: Bullets Per Minute is like an interactive rock opera, with epic guitar riffs and rhythmic bass lines. Those that are musically inclined may be used to tracking tempos, which makes sticking to the beat much easier. If not, it adds a bit of challenge, but nothing that’s impossible to overcome. Stick to the beat and you’ll get better scores, and in some cases, deal more damage too. It helps that the music is pretty good, though depending on how long you stay in a realm, it can get repetitive. Thankfully, the shop and blacksmith change it up dynamically, switching the genre of music entirely when you visit. It’s what truly drives this concept home, and for what it offers, it does a great job.
Overall, I really enjoyed BPM: Bullets Per Minute. Despite the moments of frustration of having to start from the very beginning after death, I always found myself going back for more. With each run, I would learn something new or change up my strategy. Maintaining perseverance, victory was suddenly a reality, and it was oh so satisfying. As someone that isn’t a big fan of roguelikes, this one struck a chord with me, and I’m really glad it did.