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Superbeat Xonic Review

Ever since I first laid my hands on Parappa the Rapper for the original PlayStation console I’ve been a fan of the music rhythm genre.

Whether it’s the legendary Gitaroo Man or the controversial Senran Kagura: Bon Apetit, I’ll be there, bashing away rhythmically at the buttons to music that I would never dream of listening to otherwise.

Whilst they’ve gotten a bit more hardcore over the last few years – trying to beat a game like Project Diva F on its hardest setting requires the reflexes and coordination of a superhuman, I’m sure – they’ve still remained a personal favourite despite making me feel slow and inadequate, and now there’s another rhythm game on the block to amaze and belittle me in equal amounts: Superbeat Xonic.

From the moment you make your way through Superbeat Xonic’s rather hurried tutorial, you know you’re going to be in for a tricky ride. Utilising the Vita’s face buttons, D-pad, analogue sticks and shoulder buttons, the control scheme is what I would call “busy”, and right from the get-go you’re bombarded with a large amount of notes moving at you at an alarming pace. Notes travel towards you via multiple tracks (or “trax”, as the game likes to call them) placed on the left and right hand side of the screen, and it’s down to you to quickly take in what you’re seeing and press the right inputs accordingly. It sounds easy when you write it down, but in practice the gameplay is fiendishly difficult due to the game’s complex note strings that require you to switch between the buttons and analogue sticks without so much as a thought. If you’re the type of person that feels more comfortable using touch controls rather than buttons you can do that too, but that brings its own problems typical to the input method such as the inconsistency of registering touches and also the fact that it’s just not that intuitive.

Luckily, unlike most games of its type, Superbeat Xonic is very lenient when it comes to your poor performance within songs. In the top left hand corner of the screen is your power meter that decreases whenever you miss a note, and should it fully deplete your performance is over. Hit notes successfully however, and the bar will replenish, meaning that as long as you don’t continually miss all the notes for a large section of a song, you’ll be able to at least finish it – albeit maybe with a terrible grade. You can fine tune the game’s difficulty to your liking to some extent via numerous methods, such as changing the overall difficulty in the options menu, increasing or decreasing the speed of the notes throughout the game, and also equipping a DJ icon that provides benefits like shielding you from multiple duff notes – although most songs are still very challenging even at their easiest. On the flip side, if you’re some kind of superhuman with lightning-fast reflexes who finds the game too easy (really?), you can also enable some effectors when selecting songs that will modify the tracks to make them more challenging. Personally, I found the effects – which include such delights as mirror mode and fade in – just too testing to play with, and they quickly turned what is a hard but enjoyable experience into a bewildering and frustrating one.

Important to any rhythm game is the quality of songs included, and in this regard Superbeat Xonic excels. Featuring over 50 songs that are all enjoyable to listen to whilst beavering away at the buttons, pretty much all genres are covered including some that I never knew even existed. Does “sludge metal” or “gypsy jazz tech” ring any bells with anybody? Most of your time spent playing these songs will be in “Stage” mode, which challenges you to play three songs back-to-back with either four or six note tracks active. With just four tracks, the song difficulty ranges from breezy to hard, but with six tracks it’s just insane all the way. If you fancy playing just one song, you can do that too by selecting the freestyle option, which is great for when you’ve only got five minutes spare or want to practice the more intricate sections of a song. Each completed performance earns you a nice sum of experience, and by collecting enough to level up you gain access to new DJ icons, songs and sound effects for your note presses. Once you’ve proven your skill and levelled up enough, a 6trax FX mode is also unlocked, which brings the shoulder buttons into the mix to further increase the complexity of the note arrangements. The progression system is a nice addition that drip-feeds you with new content on a regular basis, managing to keep you hooked so that you are eager to see what you unlock next.

As you increase your level, you also gain access to events in another game mode called “World Tour”. In this extremely challenging mode, you get to travel to various clubs around the world and attempt to complete mission based events in order to unlock even more goodies. Instead of merely just playing through songs like in Stage mode, here, you’ll have to complete objectives such as reaching a specified combo streak or avoiding missing more than a set amount of notes throughout a number of songs. Many of the events also have one or more effectors mentioned previously enabled, making progress through them quite an arduous task. Still, it offers a nice diversion for those with the requisite skills, and gives everyone else something to aim for.

There’s no doubting that Superbeat Xonic is a great game, but unfortunately its sky high difficulty prevents it from being a title that I can recommend to all PlayStation Vita owners. With its large and varied assortment of songs to play though, as well as a wealth of customisation options, it’s a game you can lose hours to if you can keep up with its breakneck pace – but it’s a big if. In the end, Superbeat Xonic is just too challenging for its own good, and will only truly be enjoyed by rhythm game aficionados with unnatural hand-eye coordination. For those lucky few however, this is rhythm gaming action at its finest.

Superbeat Xonic is available on PlayStation Vita.

Editor in Chief // An avid gamer since discovering the wonders of the Acorn Electron in the '80s, Rich has nearly played more games than he's had hot dinners. Not one to put all his eggs in one basket, Rich is happy to play games of all genres, but he particularly enjoys racing games and anything that's full of non-stop action, especially if it includes a good dose of humour, horror or crudeness!