SUPERBEAT: XONiC has provided the most satisfying rhythm game experience I’ve had to date. From the design of the menus, to the wonderfully tuned notes and rhythm mapping, the game shows an appreciation for music and music lovers. It does so much well, and so little wrong.
Unlike Persona 4: Dancing All Night, SUPERBEAT: XONiC offers no story, but instead has a greater focus on song variety and gameplay – more traditional to most rhythm games. Similar to P4:DAN, however, is the control scheme and HUD layout. If you don’t opt to use touchscreen controls, you’ll find yourself using the face buttons, D-pad, both analog sticks, and the L and R triggers; the right button on the D-pad and Square on the face buttons unusable. Whether or not you’ll be using all of the buttons depends on the mode you select. Right off the bat, you’re given access to 4Trax and 6Trax, each indicating the amount of lanes that’ll be used to play and hit notes to the song. 6Trax FX is locked behind progression, so you’ll have to play the game some before you unlock said mode. How you do so, is kept a secret and even if you inspect the mode from the selection menu, all you’re met with is a lock icon and no description on how to unlock it.
Like any other rhythm game on the Vita, note variety is familiar. You have your normal notes, represented by bars, flick notes, circles with the given direction needed to hit indicated on them, hold notes which extend to even flick notes, and exclusive to 6Trax FX, the FX notes, which are mapped to the L and R buttons and take up all 6 lanes of the HUD. Each lane mode indicates difficulty and the amount of notes you will be hitting, with some songs reaching up to 500+ notes on just 6Trax, some arriving in onslaught and as if to tire you you out and make you fail the song. The flick notes take some getting used to as switching between buttons so quickly can be jarring, especially when the game doesn’t shy away from throwing in flick notes amidst a multitude of normal ones. It can throw you off your rhythm and cost you what would otherwise be a passing grade.
SUPERBEAT: XONiC is the hardest rhythm game I’ve played, pushing me to my terminal rhythmic ability. Upon writing this review, I have yet to pass even half of the songs on 6Trax due to the difficulty of some. Notes follow the rhythm of tracks to a near T, forcing you to follow along to that same degree of perfection. Should you find the same challenges, there are multiple options you are given to lighten the tension. There are 3 difficulty modes, aside from the 3 lane modes, which you may choose from: Easy, Normal, and Hard. Each mode is indicative of how strict the game will be with the timing of the notes you hit and how easy it’ll be to fail. How the scoring system works in relation to this is that whether you pass or fail, all will be decided by your remaining HP. Should you deplete your HP before the track ends, you’ll still be able to continue playing the song, but your HP won’t recover and you won’t receive as much EXP.
The scoring system does not bode well with me. This system does not judge you on your overall performance and punishes you for missing even a few notes. While there are some workarounds, it does not make up for the poorly thought up system. It makes it all the more difficult for new players, and a headache if you only missed a few notes and were met with an Fail.
EXP is gained through completion of tracks, even if you didn’t necessarily pass. By gaining EXP, once you reach the correspondent threshold of a player level, you will unlock new songs, new FX noises, and DJ icons. FX noises are the sounds you will hear when you hit notes. It’s an interesting and refreshing idea locking some behind player levels as it may entice some players to unlock more and replay songs in order to play along to a FX noise that may better fit a song. Meanwhile, DJ Icons serve as your player modifiers or “equipment”. Should you find a song too hard, you can equip a DJ Icon that will increase the amount of EXP earned and the size of your health, give you a shield that will allow to avoid a certain number of BREAKs, or missed notes, and et cetera. They vary in options and can aid a player new to rhythm games or ones who wish to become more acclimated to a newer song without being penalized.
The EXP and leveling system, while somewhat meaningless, I find are genius. It invites the player to keep playing, knowing that they still have much more to see and more things to do. You never feel like you’ve played all the songs, and even if you do, upon completion of another song, you’re met with a notification saying that you unlocked a new track. It makes the player actually play the game and forces them to improve, especially with its various difficulty modifiers. Some songs will be much harder to play and master, enticing to those aiming for the leaderboards and for perfect scores across the set list.
DJ Icons are an interesting concept and alleviate some of what ails the judging system. I found myself sticking with DJ Icons that boost my EXP acquired and increase my health, so as to not completely diminish the challenge and to quickly unlock new songs as the few you are given off the bat weren’t my cup of tea.
In contrast to the varying mechanics, the game modes in SUPERBEAT: XONiC are simplistic. From the Main Menu, you are given the option to choose from either Stage mode or World Tour mode. Stage mode is where you select from either 4Trax, 6Trax, or 6Trax FX and progress through three stages, reminiscent to an arcade mode in a fighting game, but with more variability. In order to pass a stage, you must complete a song from a predetermined list corresponding to each stage, and once you’ve completed all three, you are given an overall rank. Upon completion of any of the tracks, you unlock them for play in Freestyle mode, which serves as your “freeplay” mode.
World Tour mode is a bit more exciting as it offers a setlist of songs which you will play in sequence, applies modifiers, and are given a challenge; such as completing a song with at least a combo of 100 notes. There a great amount of missions to complete and for those wishing to test their rhythm, it can keep you coming back for more.
Aside from these game modes, you can keep track of your collection of songs, FX, and icons, your ranking worldwide and locally, and your personal stats. There’s not much on offer in XONiC, but a wide array of new tracks and songs of varying genres will keep the game from becoming a bore or repetitive, even with the limited options given to you in Stage mode.
Through SUPERBEAT: XONiC, I discovered numerous genres of music that I otherwise would’ve been oblivious to. While it is geared more to electronic music, the soundtrack offers much diversity with genres like Progressive Metal to Big Band Electro to House to Trance; even some foreign tracks from places like Korea. Being a music aficionado, there’s a lot to appreciate here, especially since most songs are incredibly catchy and fun to listen and play along to. While it certainly might not be for everyone, there’s enough variety to attract all types of music fans.
The visuals in XONiC are very eyecatching. If I had to use a genre of music to describe the aesthetic, I would use electronica. Through use of vibrant colors and neon lights, it radiates the essence of a dance club or a concert. The menus are simplistic while still retaining a futuristic look. Everything feels like it was inspired by music and was made for music fans.
SUPERBEAT XONiC has earned itself a permanent place on my Vita’s memory card. It captures what I love about rhythm games and constantly challenges me and my reflexes. The menus aren’t too obtrusive, the variety of music keeps the game fresh, and it has an inspired aesthetic that really draws you in, and I certainly found myself bopping my head to the music.
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