Developed by Nurijoy Published by Acttil Reviewed on PlayStation Vita
The DJMAX series was a popular alternative to Konami’s Bemani rhythm games. Created by the Korean gaming studio Pentavision, the series had popular entries on the PC, PlayStation Portable, Vita, IOS/Android, and arcades. They had developed a line of critically acclaimed DJMAX games until the company went defunct shortly after being acquired by Neowiz. Thankfully, a group of former Pentavision developers formed a new company, Nurijoy, to develop a spiritual successor to the series. With the help of PM Studios, their debut effort became SUPERBEAT: XONiC.
Much like the DJMAX games, SUPERBEAT: XONiC‘s strength lies in its rock solid beat matching game play, stylish production values, and wonderfully diverse soundtrack. An international collection of musicians contributed a variety of musical genre including Korean R&B, J-pop, house electronica, and even metal. The vocal tracks from Rinat Arinos are especially catchy.There’s a bit of something for everyone, with upcoming DLC from games like BlazBlue and Guilty Gear Xrd. Each track is about 2 minutes long, making the game perfect for short gaming sessions.
Like most rhythm games, the core game play involves hitting moving notes as they approach visual markers on screen. Similar to Persona 4: Dancing All Night, the notes flow in lanes from the center to the left and right edges of the screen. Each lane is tied to a specific face button. The Power Bar, the game’s HP gauge, fills up and dips depending on your performance. Miss too many notes and the Power Bar is deactivated, resulting in a failing grade. Then there’s the Fever Bar, which activates a score multiplier after you hit a certain number of notes.
You can use either buttons or tap the touch screen, or even alternate between both. The controls are excellent aside from the notes that require players to flick or drag along moving notes; these are difficult to pull off in fast paced song, especially since button users have to use the analog sticks for these inputs. You can also use the touch screen for these inputs, but the timing can still be hit or miss. While the game is compatible with the PlayStation TV, the input lag makes it difficult to play the game accurately.
The primary mode is the Stage mode, which has you play through three successive tracks of your choice. Successful completion of these three records your score, gives you experience, and unlocks the completed tracks for the FreeStyle Mode, the game’s free play mode. Unlike the recent Persona 4: Dancing All Night or Project Diva F series, there’s no story mode, dancing virtual pop idols, or music videos to unlock. There is a progression system, however; earning high scores nets you more experience points, which levels up your progression bar. As you level up, you unlock additional DJ avatars, sound effects, and new tracks for the FreeStyle Mode. Much like the DJMAX games, equipping a DJ avatar icons provides you with certain perks like 20% experience gain or ignoring missed notes. For the hardcore, there are even icons that cause notes to randomly disappear.
There are three play modes, 4TRAX, 6TRAX, and 6TRAX FX, each corresponding to the number of button prompts used. The most advanced mode throws in FX notes that are triggered by the shoulder buttons. All this can be a bit overwhelming given the sheer number of possible button outputs. Some tracks require you to hit or hold the shoulder buttons while press other buttons. Thankfully, there’s the option to speed up or slow down the notes. There’s also the option to choose between Easy, Normal, and Hard. Even on Normal, it can be a very difficult game for those unfamiliar with the genre.
The World Tour presents a variety of challenges to unlock additional DJ avatar icons and sound effects for your button inputs. These challenges range from achieving a certain combo count to finishing tracks with a limited number of misses. The difficulty ramps up fairly quickly, so this is definitely for more advanced players. There’s are no multiplayer modes, but the game does have an online leader board where players can compare their overall scores. The lack of scoreboards for individual songs is a slight disappointment, however.
While SUPERBEAT: XONiC is missing the flashy background animations from the DJMAX games, the background visualizations are sleek and well produced. Each song does feature a unique illustration to match the song’s vibe, but aside from that, the game is devoid of any visual story telling. The only exception is Heavy Day, a track from Guilty Gear Xrd that features animated clips from the games. The absence of those animations does the lend the game a more consistent and clean aesthetic, however. The menus and interface also sport a sleek, minimalist style.
SUPERBEAT: XONiC is one of the best pure rhythm game in years. What it lacks in characters and story it more than makes up with its outstanding core mechanics, generous customization options, and stellar soundtrack. Aside from the awkward note flicking/dragging issues, the game is easy to pick up and play. It’s not the friendliest of games for rhythm game newbies, but the generous customization options makes it approachable for players of all skill levels. Veteran rhythm game players and DJMax fans will have an absolute blast having their hand eye coordination challenged.