Who would have thought the Vita could be one of the best places for your musical fix?
Editor’s Note: When our review build of Superbeat XONiC landed in the inbox, I couldn’t think of a better member of the team to cover the game than our resident shmup-crazed mad maestro, Ser Flash. Ser is an accomplished VGM composer and also produces the fantastic series Bullet Heaven HD. For more of his amazing work, check out his music and videos.
Music games are making a pretty big resurgence this year with veteran heavy-hitters Rock Band and Guitar Hero vying for the top spot in the genre. But what if I told you that you don’t even need to bother with those if you had a Vita? If you have this crucial piece of hardware – which, let’s be honest, does way more than any plastic wannabe guitar or fake drum set will ever accomplish anyway – you can pick up what I’m going to boldly call this year’s best music game. That’s right, I said it. I can hear you all now:
Which, incidentally, is the opening lyric to one such song (literally, “Drop the Shit!”) you’ll find within Superbeat: XONiC, the latest offering from Korean development house PM Studios. Previously the purveyors of the hugely popular and most excellent rhythm music series DJ MAX, PM Studio has pulled no punches with its newest title, with awesome implementation of both tried-and-true classic and new, innovative features to the genre.
The concept is pretty simple; players select the song that they want to play and proceed to hit moving markers in time with the music selected. Unlike JD MAX where the markers fall from the top of the screen, various colored bars will radiate from the center of the playfield as trippy yet non-distracting visualizations happen in the background. The playfield has a number of markers that resembles the Head-Up Display (HUD) of a fighter jet, and as the colored bars reach the HUD’s outer blue edge, players either use the assigned button or the touch screen to activate them as a percussion-based note. The more perfect the timing, the better the note will be scored. There are also directional notes, represented in yellow and pink that have players either swipe in the direction indicated or follow the note along the HUD’s edge. These notes are very touch-screen natural, but the Vita’s analogs can also be used – often more precisely, too since the direction is all the notes need rather than being tracked with your thumb.
With both input methods, control is absurdly precise yet very forgiving, allowing new players and veterans alike to get down with Superbeat: XONiC’s great sounds. But more on that later. Timing on any note will either be “Good” for an okay-ish note hit, “Superbeat” for a perfect hit or “Break” if the player misses. Subsequent chains can be made through consecutive good or superbeat notes, with a higher judgement rating for more perfect notes throughout the song played. Miss too many noted though, and your stage power will decrease, making for a more and more terrible grade at song end. In addition, a fever gauge in the top right-hand corner of the screen fills with consecutive chains and activates when full. Fever mode scores considerably higher than regular notes, but will end if even one note is missed. Speaking of scoring, a nice touch to the gameplay is an audible signal mid-stage that alerts players as to whether they have topped their high score. At stage end, your note accuracy, number hit and chain all contribute to the song’s letter grade, which ranges from F to S++. Starts are also saved to compare the next time the song is selected.
Now, how you play also depends on what mode you start in. 4-trax has players concentrating on high/low notes indicated by blue and green respectively on either side of the HUD, making up four tracks. This basic mode of play lets players get used to the basic mechanics of the game while playing a three stage set. 6-Trax ups the ante with green notes displaying on the top and bottom tracks on each side and blue showing in the center. This mode takes quite a bit more coordination. Of course, if it’s all-out mayhem you want, you can really ratchet up the difficulty with 6-Trax FX, an unlockable mode that adds L and R trigger activated FX notes to an already difficuly-boosted version of the 6-Trax mode. Finally, Freestyle allows players to pick and choose any of the available default and cleared songs in any order they please. In any of these modes of play, the overall combo chain carries over from song to song; I’ve been able to get over 1000 chain over the course of three tunes, though truly skilled players can get much, much higher. Players can even enable handicaps to make the game even more challenging.
As players complete more tunes, experience is collected and will raise the player’s DJ level. Your DJ level is what unlocks the vast majority of the stuff in Superbeat:XONiC, such as new songs and beat sounds. Another helpful unlockable are JD icons, which represent various characters and objects in the game’s music. These will grant the player bonuses and enhancements, like addition power, recovery and experience boost, which, in turn, levels the player much more quickly.
But DJ level also affects what stages can be taken on in World Tour mode, which features a series of real-world night clubs, each with an easy, intermediant and hard stage set for players to challenge at different levels. Some of the difficulty seems a bit unbalanced in this mode though; there’s no way that a certain level 10 set that has faded note range and a miss-maximum for success set to 10 over three tunes is less difficult than a later “hard” set that requires 85%+ judgement. Regardless, all of the emissions in Superbeat: XONiC are fun to play and will invariably challenge players at some point or another.
Really, there’s only one thing that bugs me a little about Superbeat: XONiC, and that’s the sliding notes. However, the only reason this is an issue for me is that while I prefer the touch controls to the buttons, the sensation on my thumbs when dragging them over the touchscreen makes it feel like they’re going to peel off. The analog method works extremely well, yeah, but the button controls frustrate me, due to my ironic lack of coordination. Very personal, but a tiny issue nonetheless.
So the gameplay and mechanics here are fun and work especially well, but the main draw to Superbeat: XONiC is definitely its music. Scores of K-Pop, Japanese electronic, Jazz, Techno and more in several languages will have definitely have its players grooving along with all-new original tracks. That’s right: No licensed music here. Say what you will about licensed tracks in games like DJ Hero or Rock Band, but that’s the cheap, effortless way out. New music is always fantastic to hear. Human ears are far more sensitive to things they haven’t heard before, which certainly brings out the best in each original tune. Seriously, the music in Superbeat XONiC are so fresh, their expiry dates aren’t even in this decade.
Meanwhile, the visuals in Superbeat: Xonic are bright, clear, colorful and easy to navigate and understand. Nothing gets lost in the shuffle, and nothing is hard to understand about the visuals in general the awesomely designed UI. DJ MAX featured some cool, funny and otherwise tasteful videos which are completely absent here though, but honestly, they were a little bit of a distraction, unless you were watching them in the gallery mode. Superbeat: XONiC is a game that puts way more emphasis on the music rather than fluffing up the gameplay with videos that you can’t really watch while playing, and that’s totally fine.
Rounding out XONiC’s presentation, players can track their progress and check out their unlockables and other stats in Backstage mode and Online leaderboards also exist for perfectionists too; there are numerous leaderboards that contribute to local and worldwide rankings for players that want eternal bragging rights. As always, PSN Trophies extend the replay value of Superbeat: XONiC with some seriously hard challenges to be overcome.
I loved DJ MAX Fever and Hatsune Miku: Project Diva F 2nd is pretty fun, but no other music game in a decade or more has rekindled my desire to play more than Superbeat: XONiC. Get it, slap on a good set of studio monitor headphones and get ready to be drawn into an aural soundscape like nothing else you’ll experience this year.
Final Verdict 5 / 5
Available on: Vita (Reviewed); Publisher: Acttil ; Developer: Nurijoy ; Players: 1; Released: November 10, 2015 ; ESRB: T for Teen; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review code provided by Superbeat XONiC’s publisher, Acttil.