There’s an opening scene with a young male and female, listening to music while gazing up to the sky. Their names only show up once and they are Stargazers by trade. They live in different planets and they undergo flashy transformations accompanied by a catchy tune. We never really meet them again, but that’s alright. Once you delve into the realms of Superbeat: XONiC (note the stylised name), you’ll be too busy going with the rhythm to worry about anything else.
Superbeat: XONiC was originally released for PlayStation Vita back in 2015 before finally finding its way to the Switch. As you may have guessed already, it’s a rhythm game: press (or touch) the appropriate buttons in time with the song’s beat.
3, 2, 1… go!
Superbeat: XONiC features a lot of exclusively composed songs for the game. Most of these are available right from the get-go, with more tracks unlocked as you progress with your scores. There are also new downloadable songs released every so often, which are usually priced affordably when they’re not free. Songs range from easy-listen pop tunes all the way to heavy electronic beats. These songs sound great too – headphones are a must to give them justice if you’re playing on handheld.
Aside from the cover art which are custom-made, various visualizers also come with each song. They’re a step above the typical Windows Media Player/iTunes visualizer but they’re never distracting. They sit nicely in the background, providing white noise for your eyes while you deftly match the beat. You can also change the way the prompts come to you: leave them as is and see them ahead of time, or have them appear at the very last second. It’s a great way of creating additional challenge in an already challenging concept.
Speaking of challenges, there are three main modes for everyone to truly get their rhythmic chops going: 4 TRAX, 6 TRAX, and 6 TRAX FX. The numbers denote the amount of fields that notes could potentially land – either two or three on each side. 4 TRAX is the easy mode but can still prove challenging with faster songs. 6 TRAX is the normal mode, and 6 TRAX FX is for seasoned veterans. In fact, 6 TRAX FX is initially locked, probably to prevent undue suffering for newbies.
There’s also the Freestyle Mode where you can play one song at a time. This is the perfect place to practice a specific song or to get acclimated with that one song you just unlocked. 4 and 6 TRAX stages require you to play your choice of three songs in a row, so practice will definitely help you pull off that coveted S++ grade. Or if you just really like a song, you can keep playing that over and over in Freestyle.
Time to shine
Aspiring Stargazers have two ways to play: by pressing the buttons on a controller or by tapping the panels directly on the screen (handheld only). Obviously it’s better when played directly on the screen because you get immediate feedback through your fingers. But if you’re like me who hates accumulating smudges on the Switch’s screen, there’s no choice but to use a controller.
However, controller play is nothing to sneeze at, either. Each button press is responsive to ensure accurate scoring, and you can calibrate them if needed. The only problem is that when the music really gets going and the prompts start bombarding your peripheral vision, being able to keep up with everything becomes its own challenge. Not only do you have to deal with up to six buttons, but you also have to worry about reaching up to the shoulder buttons and minding the analog sticks. The Switch’s Pro Controller becomes crowded very quickly, while the JoyCon’s spacing causes confusion.
Music and gameplay are not the only things that Superbeat: XONiC does well. The game’s interface has a colorful, modern look that’s shiny but never gaudy. It matches the otherwise unmentioned space/stargazer theme very well. Some of the dialog boxes need improvement, however. When prompted with a yes-or-no box, you usually have to tilt the stick one way or press a directional button just to get to yes. Unlike other games where the options are presented as “No” and “Yes” (with “No” as the preselected answer), the box comes up with nothing selected. Depending on your habits, you’ll probably always move towards the right to pick your choice, only to realize that it’s not the one you want. It’s not a gamebreaking problem by any means, but one that is awkward to say the least.
Aside from small complaints here and there, Superbeat: XONiC does a very good job of being a portable game. With just three songs per TRAX session, it becomes a game that’s perfect for short pockets of time. The barrier to entry is not that high either, making this game accessible to a lot of players. If you like rhythm games or just want to jam with great tunes in general, you owe it to yourself to add this game to your library.
Note: Acttil, on behalf of PM Studios, provided a copy for review purposes.