E3 2015: Hands On with Superbeat: Xonic

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Yesterday at E3 I got a chance to sit down with Michael Yum from PM Studios to try out the Vita rhythm game Superbeat: Xonic. After the Guitar Hero franchise implosion, many gamers considered the rhythm game genre all but dead, however that was false. The genre still lived on in the realm of niche Japanese and Korean games. Now, in the shadow of Guitar Hero and Rock Band making a huge return, Xonic continues in the tradition of those niche rhythm games.

As soon as I started up the game, it was clear that this game really is the spiritual successor to the DJMAX franchise. PM Studios and many of the developers at Nurijoy, two of the companies working on Xonic, were key members of the development of the DJMAX games so the link is not surprising. What was surprising was just how much they had managed to evolve on the way to Xonic.

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Xonic starts off with a pretty typical rhythm game base. Notes scroll towards an action area and the player has to hit the correct part of the touch screen (or perform the right action) in time with the music. However, one of the key differences in Xonic is that the notes end up in two separate locations on the sides of the screen. It is a little like games like Maimai or Nurijoy’s Cyclone but pared down from the full circle. The difference of splitting up the track between the sides ended up making the game a lot more interesting than some of the simpler rhythm game styles out there.

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The specific style of play depends on what mode the player is playing though. On the easier end of the spectrum is the 4 Trax mode, where each side of the screen has two “buttons.” 6 Trax ups it to three lanes, and touch screen “buttons,” on each side of the screen, making the game just a little harder. And the final mode, 6 Trax FX, adds the L and R shoulder buttons into the mix for the highest level of challenge. Each mode has three successive rounds with a different selection of available songs and finishing a song makes that song available in Free Style mode.

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Of course, since the game uses the Vita’s touch screen (although only optionally, more on that in a second), there are more types of notes than just simple buttons. Some notes have a little arrow in them. To correctly hit those notes, the player has to flick in the direction of the arrow. There are also a form of drag note, where the player has to follow the note up and down in time with a line on the screen.

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As I mentioned, the touch screen is completely optional and the game can be played using the Vita’s normal inputs. Regular notes are scored using the Vita’s buttons and the flick and drag notes are tied to the left and right analog sticks. I personally found the touch screen to be a little more intuitive, and it didn’t require me to move my hands between the buttons and analog sticks, but rhythm fans who don’t like touch screen based games will still be able to play Xonic without compromising. And Yum told me that they were hoping to get the game running on PS TV, where players would be unable to use the touch screen at all.

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I was really impressed with the game systems. I definitely underestimated the challenge provided by splitting up the notes on the two sides of the screen and it took me a few songs to really get used to watching both sides. The harder songs on the harder modes should definitely offer great challenge to rhythm game fans. I tried one of the harder 6 Trax FX songs and if Yum hadn’t had the game set on “no fail mode,” I’m sure I would have been dead just a few seconds into the song.

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There were also options in the game to add effectors, which can add effects such as making the notes fade in, and equipment, which can change how much health the player has. Unfortunately, those features were not ready yet. They should be fairly similar to the DJMAX series though. Song selection should be recognizable to DJMAX fans as well, as the game covers similar genres and artists. Several DJMAX artists, such as Planetboom and Nien, have contributed to the game. The songs I played ranged from K-pop to techno with many genres in between.

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Outside of the rhythm game component, Yum talked about some features they hope to implement into the game. There’s already an option for a mission mode and Nurijoy hopes to be able to add in timed missions through network features. Such missions could even do things like give a song a new, different note chart. Xonic should also feature an online leaderboard for songs when it launches.

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Michael Yum told me they were also hoping to add in some fan requested features. One I asked about was a mode similar to the Club Race in DJMAX Technika (arcade) where players can upload their play through of a set of songs and others can compete against that score. While that mode is not currently in the game, Yum said it was one they were hoping they could add before the game launches. One thing Yum was adamant about was that they do everything they can to make Xonic better than DJMAX. He knows that DJMAX has many fans and he wants them to all enjoy Xonic when it launches.

Currently, the game is aiming to launch in the fall of this year and they are working on doing a full retail release for the game. In true DJMAX tradition, they are hoping they can put out a really nice limited edition for the game. As a long time fan of DJMAX, Superbeat: Xonic hits all the right notes. If I didn’t have other appointments to get to, I probably would have stayed and played it all day!

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