REVIEW: Superbeat Xonic

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Developer: Nurijoy
Publisher: PM Studios
Price: $39.99 via PSN
Version Played: Playstation Vita (PSTV compatible)

With the DJMax series behind them, former employees of Pentavision have formed the new development studio Nurijoy and last November saw the release of its spiritual successor, Superbeat Xonic, on the Playstation Vita. It’s an excellent (albeit insanely challenging at times) rhythm game that makes good use of the Vita’s front touchscreen, but there were a few hurdles I had to overcome in order to fully enjoy my experience.

For starters, the soundtrack largely consists of unfamiliar tunes. Superbeat Xonic covers a wide range of genres, from expected offerings like electro and foreign pop music to weird metal, radio pop, and even obscure genres like gypsy jazz and whatever the hell lemonade funk is.

There’s a little something for everyone, but therein lies the problem. It’s just a little something.

I wasn’t a fan of the slow, mellow pop tracks that played on the newfound popularity of Idol music, or whatever this is, though I found myself coming back to the harder hitting dance beats of Flash Finger and Electronic Boutique. A lot. Superbeat Xonic has roughly 60 tracks to unlock, but as I began crossing the tracks I didn’t enjoy off of my playlist, I noticed the respectable number of 60 dwindle to about 10.

“Superbeat Xonic is meant for the touch screen, and it fits that layout perfectly.”

It’s safe to say that my personal taste in music got in the way of my enjoyment early on, but I was pretty thrilled with Xonic’s responsive, addictive, and engaging gameplay. Using the Vita’s front touchscreen, the objective is to press the left and right sides as notes coming in from the center pass through a designated touch area. Some notes require a simple tap at their location, while others have you holding your finger in place, flicking scratch notes up and down, or tracing lines with your fingertips.

After spending just shy of 10 hours with Superbeat Xonic, the only notes I continue to have issues with are the scratches — rather, landing them effectively in rapid succession. I actually just bombed a 900-hit combo with a scratch note while writing this review, which isn’t surprising. I’m not sure if this has to do with the Vita’s touch screen failing to register a slight sliding motion (more of a flick, really), or if I just need to research a more effective way of doing them.

Superbeat does support traditional d-pad/face button inputs as well, but I found them impossible to use. Notes can zoom by pretty fast, so remembering which button corresponds with which note was too much for my hands and eyes to comprehend in tandem–exacerbated by the fact that the Vita’s analog sticks are used to deal with scratch notes and tracing. If you’ve used a Vita before you know how closely the analog sticks sit in relation to the d-pad and face buttons, so it goes without saying that even my tiny thumbs had issues fumbling their way across the surface area.

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Superbeat Xonic is meant for the touch screen, and it fits that layout perfectly. Tapping along with the track while feeling the beat under a pair of headphones is a rush, especially with the faster songs, and I just didn’t get the same enjoyment stumbling around the d-pad, face buttons, and analog sticks. If touch controls aren’t appealing to you, just know that you’re probably going to have a bad time suffering through the game’s traditional scheme (through no fault of its own).

Stage Mode is broken down in to 4-TRAX and 6-TRAX, where 4-TRAX is more suitable for beginners and acts as the game’s crash course in Superbeat Xonic-101. As the name implies, there are only 4 slices of the screen that feed you notes (rather than 6) which allows you to ease your way into the touch controls while familiarizing yourself with each of the songs. Bumping it up to 6-TRAX creates less room for error, generates more notes to tap, and adds the use of the Vita’s shoulder buttons once you’ve unlocked the more challenging 6-TRAX FX mode.

Stage Mode is where I spent most of my time, since the only other mode’s stages (World Tour) are locked behind your DJ level. Leveling is simple though, as you’ll earn XP and unlock new songs just by playing through Stage Mode repeatedly. If you’re having trouble with certain songs, you can equip unlockable DJ icons that increase your health pool, add shields to prevent combo drops, and regenerate more health with successful combos. There’s also an adjustable difficulty setting that provides a larger health pool at the cost of smaller XP gains, which makes Superbeat Xonic extremely accessible to newcomers.

“…the steep challenge is a hurdle worth considering if you’re merely a casual player of the rhythm genre.”

Nurijoy’s newest rhythm game is already challenging, requiring rapid fire precision taps at speeds I deemed unreachable by anyone outside of the hardcore fanbase, but World Tour mode stopped me dead in my tracks. Rather than simply playing the game, World Tour’s progression is determined by your ability to meet certain criteria–hitting thousands of notes without error, playing a track (or tracks) perfectly for high rankings, and other frustrating requirements that will no doubt prevent the casual player from reaching the mode’s finale.

Rhythm games already cater to a niche audience, and Xonic’s unfamiliar soundtrack will do little to draw in new fans, but as someone who sits well outside of their target market, I still found myself enjoying the game immensely. Parts of it will forever go untouched, as I don’t see my thumbs moving any faster than they already do, and I’m okay with that.

There’s a lot to unlock just by playing the songs I enjoy, be it DJ icons, sound effects, or new tracks, and that’s enough to keep me engaged for now. Whether or not that’s enough content to warrant the game’s $40 retail price tag is entirely up to you, though, and the steep challenge is a hurdle worth considering if you’re merely a casual player of the rhythm genre.

*So where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I did spend a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if it’s worth playing.

Full disclosure: This review was done using a Playstation Vita copy of Superbeat Xonic provided by the game’s publisher, PM Games. I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews to fellow consumers and constructive feedback to hard working developers. Whether or not I pay for the game is completely irrelevant. 

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