My first response when I started playing Superbeat Xonic was "wait... where's my waifus?!?!?". No Risette Kujikawa, no Hatsune Miku. How on earth could I be expected to get along with such a game? Of course, I got over that after I settled down to play (at least, that' the official story), and now I really do like this slick little rhythm game.
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In Superbeat Xonic, as with every other rhythm game, you're tasked with tapping along to the beat, across a wide range of different tracks. This time around, you'll be presented with a ring around the edge of the screen (not unlike the setup in Persona 4: Dancing All Night), and the notes scroll in towards the screen from a distant point set in the middle of the screen. Rather than pressing buttons, as with most Vita rhythm games, in this one you're encouraged to tap and swipe directly on the screen.
At first, it's a ridiculously easy setup. The touch screen registers inputs with remarkable precision and accuracy, and on the low difficulty tracks, on the lower difficulty mode, I was scoring perfect runs on the very first attempt. But Superbeat doesn't take long to start ramping up the difficulty. When notes come in thick and fast, and require a combination of swipes, taps and holds on one side of the screen, while requiring a different pattern on the other, the end effect feels a little like trying to tap your head while patting your stomach. I'm not actually very good at doing that, so while I had no difficulty keeping on top of the timing, boy did I struggle to keep both sides of the screen in check.
The low difficulty splits the screen into a grid of four, while the higher difficulty does it in six. The precision required to hit every note on the higher difficulty adds another layer of difficulty into the mix. At the end of each track, you are then scored based on how well you perform. There are two main ways to play; a score attack (where you work through three tracks and earn a score based on how you perform across them all), and a "world" mode, which provides a series of "levels" each with their own win conditions. There's nowhere near the kind of depth of content beyond the music that you find in other rhythm games, but working towards high scores is nevertheless an addictive formula, and thanks to the game's general difficulty, it'll take a while to master this one.
The presentation gives off a modern clubbing atmosphere, which, though minimalist, is really appealing. The glowing, pulsating, abstract shapes in the background, combined with the slick, electronic fonts and clean user interface makes this the perfect kind of game to boot up after a couple of beers, as it will get you in the Friday night rave kind of mood.
The soundtrack is incredibly diverse, ranging from easy listening, to Latin American styles, right through to hard rock and metal. The artists behind these tracks aren't at the forefront of their respective genres, but the music tracks are of a high quality, and each track is accompanied by rhythmic patterns that, abstract as they are, are perfectly in "tune" with the music. So in other words the difference between the easy listening and heavy metal tracks isn't just the speed with which notes need to be tapped, but the patterns are also abstract reflections on the music rhythm itself, giving players a very visceral response as they feel a very real part of the music itself. Too many rhythm games struggle to reflect the music through the gameplay, but Superbeat nails this.
The game's problem is also its diverse soundtrack. I'm not a big fan of heavier music. The immediately disqualifies a bunch of music tracks in the game from my playlist. I think rhythm games are better served by targeting a specific audience; vocaloids, soundtracks, and so on. The broader the musical net, the more likely it is that players will find entire sections of the track list not to their taste, and I don't think any rhythm game can afford for players the actively dislike parts of it.
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That issue aside, Superbeat: Xonic is a vibrant, slick and well-produced rhythm game that, while minimalist, has a clear identity of its own. On the PlayStation Vita there is already plenty of good quality rhythm games, but this one sits in the with them nicely.
- Matt S.
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