By Alexander O. Cuaycong
and Anthony L. Cuaycong
RIGHT OFF THE BAT, followers of DJMax Technika might see something familiar in Superbeat: Xonic. Little surprise, really, as developer Nurijoy is composed of former employees of Pentavision, the company responsible for the DJMax Metro Project. Even as the line of DJMax games continued, with DJMax Respect on the PlayStation 4 the latest release, Superbeat: Xonic debuted in the PS Vita back in 2015. And in light of its appeal, it made its way to the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch last year.
As with DJMax Technika, Superbeat: Xonic challenges players to complete songs by rhythmically pressing buttons corresponding to the location of the notes on the screen. It offers a wide variety of tracks to choose from and a pseudo-campaign mode in the form of its “World Tour,” as well as free play via its “Stage” game mode.
While the premise might sound simple enough, the actual gameplay is nothing short of challenging. Superbeat: Xonic throws beats at players in dizzying fashion. And depending on the intensity of the song, notes can come slowly or fly across the screen at hyper-speed. Taken alongside various other types of notes (among them holding notes, sliding notes, flicking notes, and FX notes), this means that players won’t be making use of just the usual buttons on the Joy-Cons’ faces, but the analog stick and the L and R buttons on the side of the Switch as well. All this, while managing the constant barrage of inputs, can prove demanding to negotiate.
Longtime habitues of rhythm games know this is all very standard fare. Plenty of other titles from such notable series as Project Diva and Guitar Hero promise the same type of gameplay. Nothing really new here. What DOES make Superbeat: Xonic stand out, though, is in how approachable it feels compared to its rivals, not just in the interface, but also in aesthetic design. While the tutorial is fairly bare bones, learning the basics is easy. And while the unconventional setup of the Switch can make for confusing button presses and take some getting used to, touchscreen controls are likewise available, and they work great. As an alternative to button mashing, they’re probably the game’s biggest plus. Using fingers directly is infinitely easier, not to mention much, much more fun. Combine this with the ability to customize song speeds, songs not ending on players losing all their “health” to allow for practice sessions, and the wide variety of song genres — from rhythm ‘n’ blues to metal to popular music — and there’s something for everybody to like with the title.
This isn’t to say that Superbeat: Xonic on the Switch is flawless. Even as it runs great, its control scheme takes a while to get used to. The analog controls for the flicking and holding notes feel awkward and difficult to use, sometimes even failing to register prompts and inputs. Even the touch screen can fail to register taps at times, and there’s nothing more frustrating than to lose a high combo just because the game isn’t up to par, programming-wise. Even worse, there’s a natural and invariable strain that comes from using the touch screen. The development forces players to resort to likewise using the Joy-Cons’ L and R buttons, thus making gameplay a chore, especially with fast-paced selections.
Fortunately, Superbeat: Xonic is so compelling as to overcome its flawed controls. True, half the fun is about how well players can manipulate said control mechanics. And, true, the technical missteps can stunt the release. Nonetheless, it provides fans of rhythm games with an ample supply of enjoyment. A little patience can and will go a long way towards realizing its value. Both accessible and exacting, it’s perfect for beginners and veterans of the genre alike.
• Extremely diverse roster of songs
• Adjustable difficulty combined with good progression and forgiving timing on inputs
• Touchscreen controls (apart from the occasional sputter) feel amazing
• Inputs can sometimes fail to register
• Long-play sessions using the buttons can cramp up fingers due to awkward positioning