By: Brian Gunn
Rhythm games can be a bit of a tough sell. Not everyone likes the same type of music, after all, and it’s a genre that has seen a few highs and lows. We seem to be in the one of the peaks, with franchises like Rock Band and Guitar Hero being dusted off after fading away. Can a game like Superbeat: XONiC compete with the industry giants that have more famous songs in their arsenal?
Superbeat: XONiC has relatively easy controls to learn, though they’re tough to master. The d-pad and face buttons are used for the basic beats, with the analog sticks used for some of the longer more drawn out moments in songs. Higher difficulties introduce more buttons to use, with the highest also bringing the shoulder buttons into the mix.
Touch controls are also an option, but given how fast the game tends to move they proved to be more of a curiosity than a real alternative. There’s also some odd menu issues, with some requiring touch controls for no apparent reason.
Superbeat: XONiC‘s visuals are generally sleek and simple. Unlike the visually cluttered Persona 4: Dancing All Night that was also released on the Vita recently, the action here is clean and easy to see. Songs each have a visualization artist credited to them so there’s a variety of backgrounds to experience. Most of them are simply trippy dreamscapes, though others, like a song from the Guilty Gear fighting game series, are more like music videos.
The collection of music on display is largely electronic, including some of the various sub genres like house. One of the central conceits of the game involves experiencing club music from around the world, so that’s generally what you’re getting — though that’s not to say there’s not the stray metal or mariachi inspired song to play.
In general, the sound is great, and the basic setup has you creating a snare drum effect when hitting the icons in time. This makes it feel like you’re actually participating in the song and is great for getting into the groove of things.
There are two main game modes: Stages and World Tour. Stages has you choosing between further modes that determine the difficulty of the tracks and how many buttons are used. You’ll choose three different songs from three different pools to play back to back, and these are graded both individually and as a set at the end.
Stages also includes a Free Mode where you can just play the songs you want without worrying about which songs are in which pool, though some need to be unlocked.
World Tour is a themed challenge mode. Each stage is based around a real life popular club. There are easy, normal and hard sets to complete, and the songs are picked by the game. These tend to have “missions” associated with them. They start simple, like get a large combo, but the difficulty spikes quite quickly with the goals requesting you do things like only miss a certain amount of notes across the entire set, or playing with modifiers that make the game harder.
Difficulty, in general, will be a sticking point for many. Superbeat: XONiC has a deceptively chill atmosphere for how tough the game gets. Even on normal difficulties and with some modifiers in your favor a lot of the later songs will put you to the test. To give it some context, the game has trophies for failing at songs and such heartbreaks like missing only a single beat on a track. It has a bit of a sadistic streak.
It wouldn’t be a modern game without an experience bar and unlockables, and that’s really the central progression mechanism. There’s no story, and very little general structure, so it ends up mainly about grinding out levels. These unlock things like new DJ icons that will boost certain stats or new tracks. Unfortunately, it feels a bit too locked down. The World Tour mode’s second level isn’t unlocked until around Level 10, and by the time I hit that I’d already played half the game’s songs.
Generally speaking, Superbeat feels like an iterative success more than an innovative one. If you’ve played many games in the genre you’ll largely feel at home with the game concepts very quickly. It tends to stand out in some minor ways, with a ton of options about how you play.
For instance, in addition to general difficulty modes, you can alter the speed of a track from half speed to five times the normal rate. In addition, there are a variety of handicaps you can force on yourself, such as the beats you need to hit fading in at only the last minute so you have less time to prepare for them.
Superbeat: XONiC is a game for big fans of the genre. It likely won’t win over a lot of new converts, but it’s a well put together product full of catchy music and fine-tuned gameplay.