Most Western gamers likely think of titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band when rhythm games are brought up, but there’s also always been the more niche series originating from Asian companies, be they Dance Dance Revolution and other Konami “Bemani” titles, or the cult favorite DJMax series, created by Korean developer Pentavision. Now, many of the same people behind DJMax have formed a new studio and developed something of a spiritual successor in the form of the PS Vita title Superbeat: Xonic. While the game’s control method is fairly different from its inspiration and it’s also missing a few trademark DJMax aspects, it’s still an enjoyable experience for any hardcore fan of the genre.
At its core, Superbeat‘s gameplay is identical to almost every existing rhythm game, with onscreen indicators signalling players as to when to press buttons to the beat of various songs. The HUD and overall layout are where things get a little more unique, as the indicators take the form of curved columns on the left and right side of the screen, with colored gems approaching in a psuedo-3D manner.
Players are given the option to press buttons corresponding to each section in a column (The D-pad controls the left side and the main face buttons control the right side), but there’s also the option to use touch controls, allowing players to touch each individual section. Though I’ve often found button controls preferable in similarly set up rhythm games like Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, I found Superbeat to be more in the Elite Beat Agents camp in terms of how much more efficient the touch-based approach feels.
Notes come in several different fashions. There are the traditional single gems that only require a quick button press or screen tap, long notes that require the corresponding trigger to be held down, an alternate long note that requires players to stay within a gem that moves vertically up or down over time, and arrow symbols that require a quick flick of the finger or analog stick in their specified direction. Finally, the hardest difficulty also incorporates larger symbols that make use of the L & R shoulder buttons.
The main mode, known as Stage, has players choose from one of several difficulties, with the lowest one requiring less individual inputs. From there, a set of three songs is played, with unique sets of possible tracks being thrown at players before each song begins. This is a holdover from the DJMax series, but a major problem still stems from it, as I still couldn’t find any option to freely select individual tracks.
The more interesting mode, World Tour, has you go through preset playlists instead of choosing individual songs, but it throws in unique twists and requirements, like hitting a specific note streak in each song or shortening the amount of time gems are visible. Across both modes, players can earn experience and level up, unlocking additional songs and hit sounds, as well as avatar icons that also provide perks like increased experience or the ability to miss several notes without breaking a streak.
Superbeat‘s core gameplay, while taking some getting used to and providing a heavy challenge at points, is still quite fun, but there are a few aspects originally in DJMax that I wished had carried over. The biggest omission is how the sound of hitting each note is handled. In that original series, each note had a unique sound applied to it that served as one of the instrumental tracks for each song, lending a feeling of the player genuinely contributing to each track. Here, you can only choose between various stock sounds or silence, which I ended up sticking with due to it at least giving off the illusion of tapping to create the sounds that accompany each gem timing-wise.
Also, the animated music videos that accompanied each DJMax track have been replaced by more simplistic surreal backgrounds, somewhat akin to a kaleidoscope. This change is a little easier to understand, as the new HUD may have been hard to tell apart from other images, but it still leaves the game feeling like it has less personality.
Despite these setbacks, the game is still fun to play, and provides a decently varied selection of songs that are both enjoyable to tap along to and listen to. World Tour is a clever way of extending replay value beyond the more traditional Stage mode, and the songs range from accessible easier tracks to harder tracks that will test your reflexes for sure. Superbeat: Xonic is unlikely to go down as one of the best rhythm games ever made, but for PS Vita owners looking for a unique music-themed experience, it’s still worth checking out.
This review is based on the PS Vita exclusive, which was provided to us.
Easy to get into and challenging to master, Superbeat: Xonic will please many rhythm game fans, even if a few presentation elements feel like a step backwards from the developer's previous work.