Review: SUPERBEAT: XONiC (PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
Title: SUPERBEAT: XONiC
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (2.88 GB)
Release Date: November 10, 2015
Publisher: PM Studios/Acttil
Developer: Nurijoy
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
SUPERBEAT: XONiC is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
The PlayStation Vita download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

As a longtime fan of the DJMAX series, which XONiC is a spiritual successor to, I was excited since the day it was announced. Playing the game at E3 just made me all the more ready to play a final version. The unfortunate side effect of all my hype is that the game couldn’t possibly live up to it. It’s still fan-freaking-tastic but there are a few small issues that keep it from being the perfect rhythm game.

Gameplay:
Like the DJMAX series, SUPERBEAT: XONiC is a straight rhythm game. It’s not trying to imitate real instruments for a party setting, celebrate virtual pop-idols, or tie into existing franchises. This means the game can be hyperfocused on the kinds of things fans of the rhythm game genre want; things like a good soundtrack and a solid gameplay system.

XONiC’s gameplay features two sets of targets on either side of the screen. Depending on the game mode, there are either two or three “lanes” per side on which notes will scroll towards the targets. For normal notes, tapping either the target on the touchscreen or the appropriate button on the Vita will hit that note for a score. The buttons are Up/Down/Triangle/Cross in the four lane mode, while the six lane mode adds the Right and Circle buttons to the mix.

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There are also other types of notes. Yellow circles with an arrow inside are “flick notes” (my term) that either require a quick flick on the touchscreen or a quick flick of one of the Vita’s analog sticks. Red notes attached by a line are “drag notes” that can either be followed along on the touchscreen or hit by holding the appropriate analog stick up or down.

The final type of note is only in the game’s most complex mode. It looks a bit like the normal notes but fills up all of the lanes on one side. I call these ones “trigger notes” because the only way to score them is to tap the L or R button.

As should be obvious now, XONiC provides two main input methods: the touch screen or the buttons/analog sticks. However, one of the things I really like is that there’s no setting for these modes so they’re both active at any time. This means the player can switch between them as the like, perhaps using the touchscreen for normal notes but the analog sticks for drag and flick notes. This makes the game pretty flexible for inputs, outside of the trigger notes, which are always tied to L/R.

… a bit too big compared to normal notes …
Unfortunately, there are a few small areas where I took issue with the gameplay. One of them is the drag notes. Very long drag notes are very fickle when using the touchscreen, sometimes causing a miss even when it seemed like I was still holding the note. I also think the graphic for the trigger notes is a bit too big compared to normal notes. If the game has a trigger note and a normal note on the same side at the same time, it’s a little too hard to see the normal note.

Put these all together and the game is capable of being quite tough with harder songs featuring a barrage of constant notes to hit. A player using the Vita’s buttons for 6 Trax FX mode has to use 6 total face buttons, plus both analog sticks and the L and R buttons. Fortunately, the game does allow the player to ramp up as needed. The easiest mode only has four total lanes, meaning fewer buttons and targets to hit, and no L/R buttons.

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There is also a difficulty setting in the game’s options. Set it to easy mode and the game is more lenient on note timing and health meter at the cost of each note scoring less. Conversely, hard mode has more stringent note timing and the player loses with fewer misses but each note is worth more points. Normal is the happy medium between them.

Player icons are also available to make things easier. These icons can have various effects such as forgiving a missed note or increasing the player’s health bar. There are well over one hundred to collect, though the icons tend to fall into just a few different types based on ability, and then only differ in the strength of those abilities.

… carries over the combo count between songs …
In my opinion, these icons might even make the game too easy. For example it’s possible to get upwards of 45 break shields, which forgive a missed note. On the other hand though, it just accentuates how difficult some of the hardest songs in the game are if even a 45 break shield doesn’t help much in passing the song. On the other side of things, players who want things to be harder can use a variety of effectors. These do things like removing the HUD, randomizing which lane notes appear on, or making notes fade in later than normal.

XONiC’s gameplay modes are fairly basic. The main mode is Stage Mode, which is split up into 4 Trax, 6 Trax, 6 Trax FX, and Freestyle. The first three are a series of three rounds, each with a different set of songs like an arcade rhythm game might be set up. Freestyle mode has all songs with all three button styles and carries over the combo count between songs. Unlocked songs have to be played in a “trax” mode once before becoming available in Freestyle though.

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The other gameplay mode is World Tour, which has a long list of missions to complete. Missions have a set song list and give the player an objective such as to achieve a certain combo or pass a song with fewer than a set number of breaks. Missions may even apply some of the effectors to make songs harder than usual.

That’s about the extent of XONiC’s modes. There are a few other options on the main menu for the online leaderboards plus a collection mode where the player can browse their unlocked icons and sound effects. The collection mode also hosts the player’s play stats but as of this writing that feature crashes the game.

There isn’t a lot of fluff in here compared to some other recent rhythm games, so those looking for more from this might want to look elsewhere. However if you’re looking for a good rhythm game and don’t care about the fluff, XONiC’s systems make up for it. The gameplay is all great and the songs in the game are well charted. There are the few minor nitpicks I mentioned earlier, plus I don’t like that the game’s judgement system isn’t as granulated as previous DJMAX games. However these minor issues don’t manage to sour the overall experience.

… a pretty wide swath of genres …
A note for PSTV owners, SUPERBEAT: XONiC does not have any kind of built-in lag compensation. Since rhythm games are hampered more by lag than some other genres of games, this is something to be aware of depending on one’s setup. Displaylag.com/ is a good resource to find out how much lag a monitor or TV has.

Also, many of the menus in XONiC are made for a touchscreen and may have portions that can’t be navigated by physical controls. PSTV does have methods to allow the player virtual touch but these menus may be slightly more annoying to navigate without an actual touchscreen.

Audio:
Normally the visuals would come first in these reviews but as audio is a major part of a rhythm game, I’m going to talk about that first. The development team for XONiC is based in Korea but that might be nearly impossible to guess based solely on the soundtrack. The music in the game covers not only a pretty wide swath of genres but also a variety of languages.

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The two major genres covered are pop-ish music and various electronica styles but the overall list covers a pretty wide net. The music ranges from Korean pop to upbeat Spanish inspired music to English dance music to Japanese “trance pop.” Most of the songs are made for the game though, so don’t expect to know much of it. DJMAX series veterans should at least recognize some of the artists though. Artists like 3rd Coast, NieN, Planetboom, Makou, and Tsukasa to name a few. All of their songs are new but each composer’s style shine through.

There are two larger names in the game though. One of them is Daisuke Ishiwatari, longtime composer for the game studio Arc System Works. Because Arc System Works is publishing the game in Japan, they’ve lent the song Heavy Day (opening theme from Guilty Gear Xrd -Sign-) to the game, plus some soon to be released DLC tracks.

The other is Rinat Arinos, a name I didn’t recognize immediately. However, she has credit for working on a ton of movies and TV shows that are more recognizable. I believe the songs she and her label, Pink Shark Music, provided are original for the game though. Her songs might be some of my favorite tracks with some catchy pop tunes and get-stuck-in-your-head-easily lyrics.

… I love XONiC’s eccentric soundtrack …
As opposed to the Guitar Hero’s of the game world, where players tend to rate the soundtrack based on the songs they already know and love, XONiC is more about new and original music. While music taste is probably even more subjective than game taste, I love XONiC’s eccentric soundtrack since it has a wide array of music to offer. Just don’t go in expecting to know most of the songs already.

The other main audio is the key sound, the sound that the game makes when the player hits a note. There are a pretty good number of unlockable key sounds to use. However, the option for their volume is limited by being just a simple selection of low, medium or high. They can be turned off too, but only by selecting the “no sound” key sound rather than from the volume selection. I thought it was a little odd that they don’t offer a slider for key sound volume, but it is a rather minor issue (if it even is an issue since I found the default volume to be fine).

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Visuals:
One of the best aspects of the DJMAX games is the background animations (BGA) for the songs. Unfortunately, XONiC doesn’t have those. Instead, all of the songs just have generic background animations, many of which share aspects between songs. They’re still timed and set up to align to the music in some manner, they’re just not as interesting or unique.

Still, with how many more HUD elements there are in the game, it’s hardly a loss. The one song that does have a unique BGA is Heavy Day, which plays the opening from Guilty Gear Xrd in the background and it’s hard to really see much of the BGA with everything in the way. So while I may lament the lack of videos to watch, the change doesn’t bother me all that much.

… individual song leaderboards would have been better …
Other than that, XONiC has good visuals. The user interface is slick and interesting both in menus and in game. My one issue with the visuals, mentioned previously, is that the trigger notes can overshadow normal notes if they’re both at the same time, but I’ve learned to mostly be able to overcome that with practice and knowing what to look for.

Online/Multiplayer:
The only online feature is the leaderboard. The leaderboard is split up between the different modes: 4 Trax, 6 Trax, 6 Trax FX, Freestyle, and World Tour. All of them, save Freestyle, are the combined score of every song/mission in that mode. Freestyle is the maximum combo achieved in that mode (though the mode maxes out at 99,999 combo).

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While it’s nice that these are here, some individual song leaderboards would have been better. Improving the score for a specific mode means hunting down songs to incrementally improve the overall score for that mode on, so the leaderboards probably won’t see much movement after the first month or so. Likewise, the Freestyle one will soon be filled with people tied for first place with the maximum combo.

The leaderboards also seemed slow to update. Perhaps they only update at a specific time each day but a lot of the times I checked on them, my data was not up to date.

… a solid rhythm game without frills …
Conclusion:
The idea behind XONiC is to make a rhythm game for rhythm game fans. There are some small nitpicks that could probably improve it, however, the fantastic soundtrack and otherwise sturdy gameplay mechanics lead to a great music game overall. The difficulty, which can ramp up significantly for the hardest songs and missions, also helps and is well attuned for those who want a challenge.

In a year of plenty of great music games, XONiC tries to stay away from the pack by focusing on the group who just wants a solid rhythm game without frills. I’d say that SUPERBEAT: XONiC succeeds at that, making it a game worth checking out.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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