SUPERBEAT: XONiC (Switch) Review
Release Date: November 21, 2017
Publisher: PM Studios
Platform: Switch (Reviewed). Also available on Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita
As a long time fan of rhythm games, I had wanted to play SUPERBEAT: XONiC since it's release back in 2015 on the PlayStation Vita. The game has had time to expand, having also released on the PS4 and Xbox One. On November 21 the game made it's way over to the Switch, giving players a chance to have the handheld and full screen game in one total package.
SUPERBEAT: XONiC is a straightforward rhythm game that doesn't rely on plastic instruments or a silly story to get you going. It simply has 68 music tracks to pound through, with plenty of special treats to unlock, be it more music, special beat note sounds, or new DJ avatars that bring with them special abilities to help you play.
While there are some very basic bacground changes, the game interface encapsulates the entire screen. Notes come from a center point, reaching toward two beat bars on the outside of the screen, which are divided into two or three sections depending on which mode you choose. When beats cross the bars, you have to hit the corresponding button (left, up or down on the left Joy Con, or A, B or X on the right). Big bars are hit with the L or R buttons, and occasional flicks of the joystick are required. In offscreen mode, you can also use touch controls to hit the track buttons. There's a basic arcade mode requiring you to pick and play songs, as well as a "world tour" mode that gives you a bit more challenge, requesting certain parameters to get through the levels.
To be honest, that's the core of the game. SUPERBEAT: XONiC stays true to it's arcade roots, with online leaderboards to work your way up. There are notable difficulty spikes, and it takes a bit to get "in the zone," much how I could do four-button Guitar Hero like a pro but throw the fifth at me and I'm a blubbering idiot. There are videos of individuals playing the game online that scare me, much like the masters of Dance Dance Revolution. Get the game down, and this is a trance. If you are a lighthearted rhythm gamer, you are likely going to hit a wall early on like I did, but a little dedication makes you feel awesome as you smoothly transition into the beat. Getting the rhythm down causes your fingers to fly in a smooth pattern that makes you feel as if you're truly creating music.
The music is a wonderful combination of RnB, indie pop, big beat, progressive metal, and other music genres traditional to the DJ and club scene. Joe Average isn't going to know any of the tracks on the game, but they are catchy and fun. A few runs through and you'll be anticipating the beats as they rise. Since they aren't popular songs, you may get discouraged having to learn the song (and fail a few times) before you know what to expect. The game asks a lot of you, as the two beat bars are on opposite sides of the screen. This game is made to watch from a bit of a distance: using the Switch in offscreen mode you have to pull back a bit to manage both sides of the screen with perhipheal vision.
There is one make-or-break problem for me on the game, and your mileage may vary, which could be fixed with a couple little patches, and it's all around console aesthetics. When the game originally released on the Vita, it was probably in the best place it could possibly be. You have it right in your hands on a comfortably sized screen. The headphone jack was easy to reach, and you could zone out and play. Most of all, the configuration makes sense. The face buttons are directly opposite each other, sized up against the side of the screen. You could use touch options as well, but the buttons were where they needed to be. If you needed an analog stick, your thumbs moved identically to reach them.
On the Switch, the attempt to differentiate the JoyCons is a downfall. The two sets of buttons are not directly opposite each other, nor are they centered with the screen. This can be overcome with a little patience, but my biggest problem is the analog sticks. Often the motions to the analog are done either simultaneously or one after the other. Your left thumb has to go up, and your right has to go down. Imagine that motion when you have to flick both sticks down and get right back to the face buttons, moving your fingers in opposite directions. It's just disorienting. Enough practice would get it down, but this is one place the original version would shine much better. I also wish that there was a logical "tablet only" mode, but the JoyCons buzz away when disconnected from the unit. It's a bit of a stretch for my fingers to accurately get to the touchscreen options. Then there's the shoulder buttons. ZL and ZR do nothing, while you use the thinner base L and R buttons for certain rhythms. I'd like to be able to remap buttons: perhaps use the joysticks for core play and digital for the special swipes, or allow the game to be controlled with two independent left or right JoyCon so that the sticks and buttons were lined up. I did play on TV mode with the Pro Controller, and while that was a bit better with the extra space on the pad, the usually beneficial button design felt spongy and wouldn't let me solidly hit any beats. This game has a lot of options for controls, but I just feel like there could be a couple more. I'm looking forward to finally purchasing one of those 8bitdo controllers that have mirrored sides of the pad. I feel I could really soar with that option.
Overall, SUPERBEAT: XONiC is a wonderful rhythm game that sets it's own niche. I really enjoy the music, graphics, and challenge, though it'll be a while before I get to any sort of expert mode. The control scheme makes me want to re-purchase the game on a Sony system for the sticks alone, but your mileage may vary, and an 8bitdo controller may very well rectify my biggest problem. Any solid rhythm gaming fan owes it to themselves to get down with the SUPERBEAT.
-Switch mode shines with TV and handheld in one
-Track list is varied. You'll find something you like
-Interface is beautiful and colorful
-With two areas to focus on for rhythm on the sides of the screen, you have to pay close attention
-Difficulty spikes. This is not a casual game
-Asymmetrical JoyCon analogs make a simple motion into a confusing one
Special thanks to PM Studios for providing a digital copy of the game for review.