Years ago, rhythm games infiltrated arcades and living rooms, where titles like Guitar Freaks, Taiko: Drum Master, Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and Rock Band dominated recreational spaces with their hulking cabinets and faux plastic musical instruments. But gradually, the genre made its way onto portable systems, where Hatsune Miku and Rise Kujikawa headlined Project DIVA and Persona 4: Dancing All Night, permitting players to enjoy cadence-based mechanics almost anywhere. These game might have lacked analog control schemes, but were balanced by the incorporation of celebrated characters.
Two years ago, the PS Vita also received Superbeat: Xonic, which might have lacked a teal-haired temptress or Shin Megami-themed shuffling, but extending a plethora of song selections, an intuitive input method, and a wealth of customization options. With the release of Xonic on the Nintendo Switch, developer Nurijoy hopes to reinvigorate the success of the title, which has also made it way onto the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Crafted by former members of South Korea-based Pentavision, Superbeat: Xonic shares a similar visual style as the popular DJ Max series, boasting an exceedingly clean and neon-hued interface. This aesthetic also carries over to Superbeat: Xonic’s succinct tutorial, which offers a two-minute overview of the game’s note-progression system. Between the lesson’s brevity and the involvedness of the control system, expect to watch the cinematic a few times. And like many other components in Xonic, you’ll be rewarded for your diligence.
Move into the title’s Stage mode, and you’ll discover some of the variations that Superbeat has in store for players. Beyond three difficulty levels that influence the number of missed notes players can endure (called “breaks”), there are also a quartet of different input methods- each built upon a mechanic which sends musical notes radiating from the center of an on-screen circle. 4Trax splits the two bordering areas into halves, with 6Trax splitting the zones into thirds. 6Trax FX ups the ante even further, requiring some serious finger-based calisthenics from players. Once you beat a song, the tune becomes available in Free Style mode, permitting players to enjoy the selection without most of the of game-based constraints.
Complementing the selection of note-tracking techniques are two different control schemes. The touch screen based method is ideal at lower difficult levels, allowing players to tap away at the successions of notes and sustained holds. It gets a bit harder when you add pitch shifting and scratches. The former task gamers with moving their finger along the fringes in time with a crimson-colored line. But veering away from the indicator can be a bit too easy, potentially ruining an exhilarating combo of notes. Likewise, scratches require players to slide their fingers across the peripheries, which can be a bit burdensome for Switch owners with gummy screen protectors.
Mercifully, these minor misgivings are largely absent when players use the physical control scheme. Here, face buttons, triggers, and both analog sticks are used to confirm each passing note. While not quite as instinctive as touch screen input, stick with it, and you’ll soon be replicating successions of notes with transcendent composure. Pleasingly, both systems can be used simultaneously, granting gamers to come up with their input styles. Those who worry about the presence of lag when playing in docked mode can take comfort in knowing that Xonic allowing gamers to adjust timing within the options menu.
Agreeably, Xonic makes a few amendments to rhythm-game convention. While failing will still occur after a procession of note breaks, defeating doesn’t occur by flubbing a pre-set number of times. Instead, Superbeat uses a HP system where breaks lower your count, but subsequent successful entries can replenish the gauge. As such, bombing a song typically means completely losing track of things. Additionally, further assistance can be found in the game’s DJ Icons. But equipping one of these items, players receive a buff, bestowing bonuses like doubling your HP and giving an Experience boost.
Experience factors into Superbeat’s meta-game, with each successful performance and even botched attempt contributing toward level growth. In execution, this system helps to goad gamers along, delivering a steady stream of incentives. From new songs, additional DJ Icons, keynote sounds, and even extra missions for World Tour mode, the game distributes a nice array of unlockables. The latter adds value to Xonic’s secondary campaign, which sends players on a global trek to real-world clubs. Each assignment gives gamers a specific challenge that’s tailored by modifiers. While relatively easy at first, once players are challenged with trials such as nailing a 100-note combo, the difficulty level does ramp up. Meanwhile Stage mode is perfect for a portable game, with players endeavoring to earn the supreme S+++ rating across three selectable songs.
Although Superbeat’s gameplay is adept, the game can’t match the aesthetics of its contemporaries. While players will be too occupied to care about the absence of music videos and animations during play, it would have been pleasing to see a bit of personality beyond an ‘eye catch’ for each track. That said, few will find fault in Xonic’s delightfully eclectic soundtrack. Beyond the obligatory K-pop, J-pop, and house songs, there some really remarkable fusions found on the set list.
Yes, Superbeat: Xonic’s screenshots look a bit sterile. But look past these superficial transgression, and the game has the potential for long-term play. Unlike most entries in the music-rhythm genre, Superbeat gives players complete control over the difficulty of their game, even offering to tweak details like note speed and the type of control scheme. Factor in a substantial selection of tracks, and Xonic will makes a harmonious choice for rhythm-game aficionados.
Superbeat: Xonic was played on the Nintendo Switch
with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Switch, previously on Vita, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Publisher: PM Studios and acttil (NA)
Release date: November 17th, 2017
Price: $39.99 retail or eShop