Review: Superbeat: XONiC (PS Vita)

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Next week Vita owners will see another rhythm game addition to the market with Superbeat XONiC. Fans of Pentavision’s title received entries on Playstation’s portable systems, and Nurijoy has been formed to provide a spiritual successor to the DJ Max lineage.

Fans moving over to Superbeat will immediately catch an air of familiarity, as XONiC offers up a selection of modes that match what players saw in the DJ Max series. While the gameplay largely remains the same, players will see play modes that toggle how many buttons are used and game modes that range from free selection to arcade mode to challenge/mission mode. The options give players some real flexibility in setting up their game, allowing them to go casual or add to the game’s challenge.

The play modes offered up include four, six or eight tracks to keep tabs on, with the 6FX mode throwing in shoulder trigger commands. The meat of the gameplay is kept on the left and right of the playfield, with two or three tracks on each side. As expected, notes differ from taps, holds and slides, with players having the option to use the face buttons and analog sticks or go all out with the touch screen.

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The touch screen taps worked great, and put the Vita’s touch screen to solid use. With all of the arcade’s touch-screen music games, including Pentavision’s previously-released Technika, the system handles the function very well. Personally, this felt like the natural way to play the game, but I kept finding the slides would break my combos despite different ways of attempting to adjust. Especially, on the slide and hold notes, I found my combo breaking even in instances where I felt I was doing the necessary commands.

Once you get a grasp on flipping back and forth between the buttons and analog sticks, this method fits the bill. Tapping out notes feels just like the classic DJ Max formula, and the implementation of sound cues bolsters the player’s sense of nailing down the rhythms. There are still some harder charts where flipping between the face buttons and sticks isn’t exactly comfortable, so it becomes a challenge of muscle memory and dedication to hit these transitions. Players can also interchange the two control methods at will, allowing for touch screen holds and button taps, for example.

Still, XONiC offers up a wide variety of song genres, and once you find tunes you enjoy, casual plays are very enjoyable, as the four-track mode will keep your thumbs busy without throwing in anything that feels uncomfortable. Even on low end of the scale, the gameplay is a bit more aggressive than the easier settings of more recent rhythm game entries, but there are still a number of checks and balances to encourage players to stick with the game for the long haul.

[youtube_embed src=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kdnA7DnB8jY”/]

The difficulty and number of notes can be an intimidating entry barrier for XONiC, but it does make an earnest attempt to provide options to buffer the blow or amp it up even more.

The options mode allows players to toggle between easy to hard settings to affect how fast the performance meter drains, while providing more rewards for the risk of the harder settings. DJ icons sub in for the skins seen in DJ Max, with many of the icons providing much more generous buffs in XONiC. With the icons, players can save themselves from a large number of combo breaks if they need a boost against difficult songs, but players can also toggle to other icons that instead boost experience rewards.

Much like other rhythm games, players can toggle options that mask elements of the playfield or modify speeds, and these are liberally sprinkled in as obstacles throughout the game’s world tour challenge mode. They do introduce different ways to play the game, but the main game mode offers them through small icons (and there are a few other touch-screen elements I wish had bigger icons, such as the back button) and it may be hard to immediately discern what they do the first time you cycle through them. Still, they are optional challenges so players do not even have to bother with them if they wish.

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Ultimately, the player’s enjoyment of the music will boil down to personal taste, but the tunes ring splendidly through the Vita’s speakers or headphones. The menu music and announcer provides plenty of energy leading into the gameplay, and XONiC features the menu sound effects one would expect from the genre. The game’s music features a wide variety of genres, and fans of DJ Max will be pleased to know the “All-Stars” return, bringing their style into XONiC with a host of new tracks.

In another similarity to DJ Max, XONiC is filled with a large number of small rewards the player can earn by simply playing or clearing challenges. Songs are worked into this reward rotation, giving players fresh content to come back to. Sound effectors and DJ icons are also passed out frequently, which lends to the game’s replayability. Compared to DJ Max, XONiC felt like less of a grind in getting experience points, as I was coming across rewards on a more frequent basis.

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Graphically, the title looks great on the Vita, featuring a lot of vivid color and great cover art for the tracks. While XONiC loses individual “background” movies during the gameplay, the visuals during gameplay are still solid without detracting from the notes sliding down the tracks. Notes get a highlighted border if they need to be tapped simultaneously, which is handy cue. The shoulder trigger icons in 6FX mode really pop out, and while they can “hide” other tap notes that occur during a held trigger note, once players adjust their focus and get used to the note patterns, these get a little more comfortable to pick out.

The game does lose a hinge of flair by not featuring the stylish movies found in DJ Max, and, unfortunately, this does cut out the visualizer mode I enjoyed in DJ Max, which allowed you to watch a full-screen cut of the movie while jamming to the music track. XONiC does lose such extras, but, still, it doesn’t hamper the actual gameplay.

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Ultimately, though, Superbeat XONiC is a game that knows its audience and isn’t shy about catering to it. Seasoned players of music games developed in the East will get a lot of mileage out of the title. It is a title that certainly welcome in the thinning field of Playstation Vita titles, and when you measure the number of tracks, fun gameplay and rewarding challenge, it measures in as one of the better rhythm game releases for 2015.

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A professional writer who has been involved in video games writing for nearly a decade. From handwritten fanzines as a kid to growing up and writing for a number of online sources, I have at least slightly dabbled into nearly every aspect of independent video gaming. Rhythm and fighting games are my jam, and I use my free time to organize events that promote positive gaming.