PERFECT PLAY! INCREDIBLE!
It’s been quite the year for rhythm games! The once-dormant genre is making a comeback in a big way, with new entries in the Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Project Diva, and even Persona series. Drawing on their past experience with the DJMAX series, the developers at Nurijoy are capping off the 2015 resurgence of rhythm games with Superbeat Xonic. But did they end the year on a high note?
As soon as you hit the title screen, it’s clear that Superbeat Xonic is attempting to throw back to the golden age of arcade rhythm games. Everything just oozes polish and contagious enthusiasm, as if the Vita was a little arcade machine trying to get your attention among all the other flashy arcade machines. It’s really kind of charming – the flashing lights, neon colors, and implorations to “SHINE LIKE A STAR” might seem excessive, but it does really get you in the mood to play.
Once your eyes adjust to just how shiny everything is, you’ll find two main ways to play the game: the main mode, Stage, and the mission mode, World Tour. In Stage mode, you’ll choose a difficulty and play through three songs, with your score being displayed in aggregate at the end (just like Dance Dance Revolution and similar arcade games). There’s also a “Freestyle” option that lets you pick and choose any song and difficulty that you’ve cleared before and play them at your leisure. The World Tour mode is what you’d expect from a mission mode: you’re tasked with clearing one or more songs in a row with a specific goal such as “miss less than 10 notes” or “clear the song while the notes blink in and out of existence”.
The gameplay itself is simple: notes approach from the center and radiate outward toward an outer ring called the “Gear”. When a blue or green note crosses the gear, you tap on it using the Vita’s touchscreen. Round, yellow notes require you to hit them then swipe in the direction of the arrow displayed on the note, and red notes are followed by a path that must be traced up and down the Gear. If you don’t want to use the touchscreen, you can play with the buttons and analog sticks, though after trying both, I vastly preferred the touch controls. The buttons on the Vita are just too tiny for me to keep up with the faster songs, though your mileage may vary!
Interestingly, the additional difficulties don’t just add more notes and more complicated patterns, but also add more types of actions for you to keep track of (similar to the DJ Hero games). The easy difficulty has four lanes (two on each side), the moderate difficulty has six lanes (three on each side), and the unlockable hard difficulty adds in two “FX” tracks that must be hit with the L and R buttons (even if you’re using the touch controls!). For the most part, it feels really good to play. In particular, playing with both the touchscreen and shoulder buttons is an interesting feeling that I haven’t gotten from any other game on the console.
This setup may remind you of Persona 4: Dancing All Night, which I reviewed less-than-favorably. Initially, I was concerned I’d have the same problems with Superbeat Xonic, but boy was I wrong. Xonic avoids every single one of the pitfalls that plagued P4D: the focus is on the notes rather than the background, and the note icons themselves are big, chunky, colorful, and obvious. But most importantly, the audio and visual timing windows line up perfectly with the music, so it actually feels good to play! Together, these differences eliminate all the frustration that came with playing P4D.
Superbeat Xonic also features some fun addiction hooks via an experience-point system. By playing songs, you’ll gain experience points and level up (announced with a hilarious “LEVEL UP! YEEOWW!”), which will unlock new songs, avatars (which come with helpful buffs), and keysounds (little sounds that play when you hit a note, to help you keep the beat). Some rewards are also tied to missions in the World Tour mode, which can get very difficult, so skilled rhythm gamers can expect to be rewarded for the effort they put in.
Of course, a good rhythm game has to have a good soundtrack, and Superbeat Xonic is no exception. The soundtrack has a handful of licensed pop songs to complement the much larger portion of tracks composed just for the game. The tracks are unusually diverse for a rhythm game: instead of just sticking to one or two similar genres, Xonic goes all over the place with pop, rock, R&B, trance, and metal, with multiple variations of each. Every track in the game is really catchy, and all of them are perfectly suited for a rhythm game – no ill-advised slow ballads to be found here. Sometimes, it’s honestly hard not to bob my head up and down while playing!
The Verdict: 8.9 out of 10
Superbeat Xonic is the best rhythm game I’ve played all year. Slick visuals, solid gameplay, and a strong soundtrack all combine to make a game that’s easy to lose yourself in, especially if you plug in some headphones and crank up the volume. This is a rhythm gamer’s rhythm game, and it’s completely unapologetic about that; it doesn’t have much to offer for people who don’t like the genre, but it certainly wouldn’t be a bad entry point for the curious. But for existing fans of the genre, I can’t recommend this enough.
For more information about what the score means, check out our official review scale.
Aaron Dobbe is an Associate Writer at MONG specializing in Nintendo but playing a bit of everything else too. Follow him on Twitter for a cute picture of an alpaca.