BPM: Bullets Per Minute review

By Luke Albigés,
Alright, let's not mince words here: BPM is hard. I cut my teeth on the fast-paced old-school FPS games from which BPM openly draws inspiration, rhythm-action games are my jam, and I'm no stranger to roguelikes, but shove the lot together and things get all kinds of intense. Each aspect has its own inherent challenges that we tend to handle in different ways, so here — where you need to line up your shots, to the beat, based on whatever build you've got going on — not a second of action goes by where you aren't mentally juggling loaded shotguns. It is A Lot to deal with, but it just feels so, so satisfying when it all comes together. Take the frenetic pace of Doom, set it to the constant beat-based pressure of Crypt of the NecroDancer, then lob in the wide array of guns and gear from something like Enter the Gungeon and you're starting to see the DNA of BPM take shape... and starting to see why it's so damn chaotic.

bpm bullets per minute xbox

On paper, BPM seems simple enough: pick a Valkyrie, battle your way through eight stages (set across four different realms), and slay Nidhogg in Helheim at the end. The kicker, though, is that everything bar basic movement needs to be done in time with the shredding metal soundtrack — mistime a shot and it won't go off, for instance, while double-jumps and dodges will only work if timed to the music. Given the absolutely ridiculous pace at which BPM zips along, that's not always as easy as it sounds, especially when you've got packs of horrible creatures poised to take advantage of any such error. Those brief windows of opportunity can seem to fly by and while the game does naturally pull you into its own violently infectious rhythm, it's not unusual for FPS instincts to kick in as you line up a shot a little early and end up pulling the trigger off the beat ineffectually. There's also a scoring system where the multiplier gets nuked whenever you make a mistake, but that's largely only there for bragging rights (as well as a single achievement and the odd piece of gear tied to it) so the odd slip isn't the end of the world so long as it doesn't get you killed. It often does, though, especially since there's no kind of grace period after taking damage so you can end up eating multiple attacks in quick succession, which can really sting.

Valkyries, it turns out, are surprisingly squishy, some even more so than others. Default character Göll — the other nine need to be unlocked — starts with the most health at 100, which sounds alright until you realise that the majority of enemy attacks deal damage in 25-point increments. Dead in four hits, then, and that's the tankiest character... well, bar Skuld and her 150 starting HP, but considering she naturally loses 1HP per beat and will bleed out in under a minute if not constantly topped up by dealing damage, I'd hardly call her 'tanky.' Naturally you'll be able to bolster the starting values (which vary from character to character) with max HP boosts and armour along the way, so you might wind up with triple that starting health or more by the end of a winning run, but not all characters have the same kinds of options. Freyr begins with just armour and no health, so can't make use of healing until you find a way to give the guy an actual health bar; Herfjötur uses money as health and loses half (rounded up) to any hit, so the only way to get healthier is to get richer; Odr and Sanngriðr don't even have health bars and die to any instance of damage. Each also has their own default weapon and abilities —the latter need to be unlocked by beating Easy and Hard respectively — so they do feel quite different to one another right out of the gates, and several require you to completely change up how you play, whether that involves being extra frugal when cash is your life force or speedrunning like your life depends on it, because it does when you're Skuld.

bpm bullets per minute xbox

Aside from unlocking characters and their default abilities, the main form of permanent progression comes in the form of the shops. Both the general store and the armoury have loyalty systems and will rank up as you spend more and more, offering a much broader selection of goods and eventually even laying on a little free gift every visit. Maxing out both of these makes a massive difference in terms of consistency and while you still won't always find what you're looking for, some free healing, guaranteed upgrades, and more chances for top-tier items will drastically reduce the number of dead runs. Such runs can and should be used to reach this point, actually — if you're bleeding out and can feel a run going sideways, better to blow all your cash in a shop and restart than to die on a stack of gold that all ends up going to waste. There are a lot of sources trying to part you and your cash besides shops, mind, with upgrade shrines to be found in many chambers, several different gambling rooms, a handy bank where gold can be carried over between characters and runs, and the occasional fickle wishing well-style Valkyrie statue. While it can be tempting to spend everything you find to make the current run count, prioritising shops (and filling up the bank little by little, actually) is a much more sensible long-term plan as it will lead to more good runs down the line.

The reason strong runs are hard to come by (especially early on) is that as is often the case with similar games, the loot pool is all over the place in terms of quality. One run, you might find a pair of boots that just makes you a little bit faster, while the next may serve up a shield that gives you infinite ammo, or one that gives you a regenerating shield or doubles your damage. The disparity in power between items is vast and while that's not particularly uncommon in roguelikes, it becomes more of an issue when you start running the non-standard characters. For Valkyries without traditional health bars, pretty much any kind of damage mitigation is redundant, and not only are there a lot more dead drops for these characters, a few also rely on certain gear to get a run going — Odr and Sanngriðr really want to to see Lion Heart or the Valkyrie's Veil ability drop as these are the only items that can prevent a one-hit kill, for instance. There are so many items that are unwanted or even actively detrimental (I never grab the Go Faster Glove as it makes your character borderline uncontrollable) that a lot of attempts end up feeling like you're just treading water until you luck into a Face of Death or Gauss Cannon to save the run. While skill can certainly cover for top-end gear to a degree and clears are possible even with starting weapons, the fact remains that the slower you get through encounters, the more opportunities there are for something to go wrong. And as mentioned, a seemingly winning run can die extremely easily in BPM.

bpm bullets per minute xbox

Part of the high mortality rate for runs comes down to a single factor: modifiers. Both stages and bosses can have these unique tags attached (stages get one, bosses can have more, especially on higher difficulties) and let me tell you, some of them are horrendous. A Barren level will offer no rewards or enemy drops, Dark ones are hard to navigate, Infested stages are a lot more dangerous... almost all of the stage modifiers are negative, and with no reward for overcoming the randomly-added extra difficulty, they're just a possible roadblock in the way of an otherwise promising run. Same for bosses, and while you'll reach a point where you're able to drop the standard versions pretty much flawlessly, variants such as Champion (increased health), Cloned (fight two of the boss at once, each with half health), Lethal (boss hits harder and uses more special attacks), and more — or even combinations thereof — can absolutely be run-killers depending on your character and loadout. It's always horrible to lose a run to the fact that the game randomly decided to serve up a heavily buffed version of an otherwise straightforward boss that feels like a perfect counterpick to your build, as if the AI has just decided not to let you win this time. As with the general challenge level of the game, however, overcoming unpleasant surprises like this with deft rhythmic ultra-violence feels amazing, so as ever, it's a matter of taking the rough with the smooth.

I'd also argue that BPM isn't a great fit for a controller. While aiming and movement do feel snappy enough to get by most of the time, the precision of a mouse and keyboard setup is simply that much stronger a fit for a game so demanding in terms of timing and execution. You see this even more when you attempt to get through with harder characters like Odr — the first one-tap Valkyrie supposedly has an edge in the gift of flight, but it's simply impossible to make effective use of this in combat with the default button layout. Smart remapping or special controllers with extra buttons might work so long as you're happy to learn to play in a completely different way to the other Valkyries, but there's a lot of finger gymnastics going on here all the same, especially considering everything needs to fall in line with the rhythm. You can just about make it work, and more power to you if you do, but it certainly feels like an uphill struggle with some of the characters.

bpm bullets per minute xbox

It'd be wrong to bring this write-up to a close without more fanfare around BPM's killer soundtrack, which gives each stage its own unique feel and really layers on the intensity. It has the same kind of energy as Mick Gordon's incredible work on Doom, but channeled more towards classic metal and rock opera than bleak djent stabs and industrial undertones. There's a chance you'll start to get sick of the tunes that accompany the first few floors if you aren't able to beat them consistently, although hearing them again after a winning run (or at least one that gets you deep into the game) feels like coming home and you can enjoy them anew. While the music has a wicked variety to it (within the constraints of all being rock/metal, anyway), visuals can feel quite samey throughout, with only some architectural and palette changes to change up the usual high-contrast, scratchy presentation. It's metal as all hell and works in context... it just may not be to everyone's tastes.

BPM's achievement list, however, feels like a real missed opportunity. Of the 28 achievements, 20 are awarded for Easy and Hard clears with all ten characters, with another five just for beating each of the worlds and the last boss for the first time. That leaves just three with which to get creative... and we get a duplicate achievement for beating Hard with the first five characters, a high score achievement, and a borderline impossible one for beating Hellish difficulty with the worst character. Considering both Odr and Sanngriðr die in one hit, that ties almost a quarter of BPM's achievements to effectively damageless runs — the amount of skill, patience, and luck required to even beat the game once with one of these glass valkyries is crazy, so good luck to any maniac that attempts this completion. The rest are actually fairly manageable once you have a proper feel for the game and what kinds of builds each character should be looking for, and I can see myself getting to 22/28, just missing the Odr and Sanngriðr ones. 'Graslu - The First' (named after the speedrunner who was first to clear Hellish difficulty with Sanngriðr, and remains one of the only people to have done so) is almost Necrodancer hard, and I'll honestly be surprised to see even a single unlock on TA. I'd love to be proven wrong, and will even be attempting to prove myself wrong, but this one and a couple of others just feel like they're way beyond the skill level of most players, and way too reliant on literally everything working in your favour to ever happen.

bpm bullets per minute xbox


Summary

BPM is an amazing concept, realised wonderfully. It's not the easiest of recommendations due to the game's brutal difficulty level and heavy metal skew, but if you're on board with those things, willing to learn something new (and get your ass handed to you repeatedly in the process), and prepared to overcome the whims of some random elements to bring down Nidhogg, you're in for one hell of a time. Honestly, well executed passages are next-level satisfying, from triple-tap kill combos to the beat to the simple act of reloading some of the fiddlier weapons. Completionists beware, though — the list is a bit silly.
8 / 10
* Luke spent around 30 hours blasting to the beat, unlocking just 12 of the game's 28 rock-solid achievements. A review copy was provided by the publisher, and played on Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S.
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Luke runs the TA news team, contributing where he can primarily with reviews and other long-form features — crafts he has honed across two decades of print and online gaming media experience, having worked with the likes of gamesTM, Eurogamer, Play, Retro Gamer, Edge, and many more. He loves all things Monster Hunter, enjoys a good D&D session, and has played way too much Destiny.