Publisher: PM Studios, Atlus & Acttil
Release Date: November 10, 2015
ESRB: T for Teen
An understated strength of Sony handhelds is their surprisingly solid library of rhythm game releases. Of course, there is fair reason why people likely haven“t heard of titles like Taiko Drum Master V or IA/VT Colorful in regards to Vita releases from this year alone beyond hardcore importers. But even titles that got an official overseas releases like DJMax: Technika Tune, Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd, and Persona 4: Dancing All Night have generally been well-received by genre enthusiasts. Though, as much as I enjoyed the DJMax series (even back on the PSP), its former developer dissolved with the series alongside with it.
To seemingly satiate the handheld rhythm game void in my heart, developer Nurijoy has decided to weave an entirely new spiritual successor mix to DJMax under the label Superbeat: Xonic.
The quickest sign to remind me why Superbeat: Xonic was most certainly a spiritual successor to DJMax was its unapologetic difficulty. Much like DJMax, there is not only a learning curving for the basic gameplay but there is also a fast ramp in expecting you to be decent at it. Dexterity means a lot in Superbeat: Xonic, which... in a bizarre way actually makes the game's title make a little more sense in some way (since "Xonic" is apparently pronounced like "Sonic").
Actually, it is hard to even visually comprehend the gameplay of Superbeat: Xonic with its flurry of notes, at least at first. Similar to Persona 4: Dancing All Night, however, the note inputs run outwards to the leftmost and rightmost sides of the screen. There are two different control schematics to use, those being through the touchscreen or face buttons. You can theoretically use both control schemes at the same time, for whatever reason, but chances are you'll stick to one or the other because of how demanding of your attention Superbeat: Xonic ends up being on either.
It does not help that Superbeat: Xonic has a generally strict input timing and a default difficulty that would basically be hard mode or higher in most recent rhythm games. For myself personally, I found myself sticking to buttons purely for consistency even if the touchscreen is easier to learn initially.
That said, like any good challenge, there is most certainly a satisfying -- and earned -- skill ramp in Superbeat: Xonic. Plenty of higher-rated songs caused me laugh hysterically due to their seemingly insurmountable nature and me failing miserably (and quickly) at first despite having in-game handicap tools in place. After putting more time into the game to get inner-workings down I actually found that the difficulty to be rather fair, if not sorta unrelenting. Every time I thought I was hot stuff a new song would quickly put me in my place making it all the more satisfying to eventually tackle even those pieces. It wasn't just a matter of getting used to the gameplay, Superbeat: Xonic does what a lot of rhythm games unfortunately lack where knowing the melody of the song helps playing immensely because of how spot-on the music is sync with the gameplay most of the time.
As for the music itself, I had a serious back-and-forth with the song selection making the drive to "git gud" less appetizing initially. Early on, the song list constitutes of generally weak Korean Pop with loosely familiar DJMax artists and arrangements of signature DJMax tracks like "Heart of the Witch" in everything but name. Which are fine, but have been done much better in DJMax libraries. The song selection really hits its stride as you progressively unlock its far more eclectic and dense list in both quantity and musical styles. Song beats range from hip-hop to rap (whom actually seem to know English), Spanish styled Rumba, classical remixes, and a seemingly random placement of Guilty Gear Xrd's cheesy opening rock song "Heavy Day". For me personally, I think the best tracks are of the really catchy techno variety which... well, happen to be the hardest songs to play.
To put the obtained skills are the ramps in the form of various modes. The most used mode will likely be the Stage mode which generally encompasses multiple difficulty progressions in the form of "Trax" and is the most obvious way to work your way up. Like DJMax before it, Stage mode has you pick three songs to play back to back and afterwards you are graded with a total score. The other primary mode is 'World Tour,' which has preset songs and challenges to complete back to back. There aren't really any bells and whistles beyond that aside from a general online leaderboard with both friends and worldwide. The core formula works but it does oddly lack more extraneous features like a jukebox equivalent or noteworthy unlockables beyond new songs and sound chimes.
Probably the biggest problem with Superbeat: Xonic is that it is very visually uninteresting in the midst of actual gameplay. With the exception of the Guilty Gear Xrd song, most of the time the visual flourishes amount to little more than random lighting and kaleidoscope effects. Admittedly, Superbeat: Xonic coasts on the fundamentals of its satisfying-to-learn gameplay but very little else. Some more serious issues that I had were a surprising amount of crashes during my play sessions. I had the Vita notify me of the game crashing at least three times and I could not guess the rhyme or reason behind it, even though I primarily played offline.
Superbeat: Xonic feels very much like a first effort as a spiritual successor to DJMax than truly passing the torch onto a would-be better rhythm game series. Though it has the heart of a DJMax successor it doesn't really have the polish and sheen that has understandably culminated with that series after many years of iterations.
Removed from that context however, Superbeat: Xonic is certainly a solid rhythm foundation on a pure gameplay standpoint. It's challenging, satisfying difficulty and large song selection (with even more coming through DLC) will give hardcore fans of the genre quite a bit to master, but those with a passing interest in the genre may likely be pushed away by its ruthless difficulty and lack of technical refinement.
+ Certainly evocative of classic DJ Max games from the interface to familiar songs/artists
+ Gameplay can be pretty satisfying after getting a handle on its very fast-paced and dexterous nature
+ Fairly eclectic song list in both style and quantity
- Quite a huge skill ramp regardless of control scheme
- In-game presentation is pretty uninteresting and lacks cosmetic options compared to more recent rhythm games
- Some technical issues
Overall Score: 7 (out of 10)
For the most part Superbeat: Xonic is for the passionate rhythm game fan and little else. It's challenging (and rewarding for those willing to learn), in addition to having a fairly eclectic song selection. Yet, Superbeat: Xonic noticeably lacks much of the sheen and polish that one would expect of many recent rhythm games, including its forefather series DJMax
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.