For western audiences, when someone brings up a music rhythm game the first thought is generally relegated to an entry in the Guitar Hero or Rock Band franchises. But for the more curated connoisseur of the genre, they know there's a number of Asian-based companies that are involved, such as Konami's Dance Dance Revolution and Bemani-based titles. Another one of those lesser known companies is Korean developer Pentavision's DJMax series.
And now some of the developers from the DJMax series have formed their own studio, Nurijoy, and have developed what is essentially a spiritual successor to the DJMax series but with their own twist on the genre. And while there's some differences that might initially throw off DJMax veterans, the package as a whole make for an instant buy for fans of the genre.
Like most music rhythm games, the core gameplay mechanics are what one would expect. There's music playing in the background, with indicators on the screen to indicate when the player needs to press the buttons in time with the music. The difference with XONiC is that instead of the notes coming towards you from a specific direction, the edges of the PlayStation Vita's screen are utilizes as curved edges for where the notes will end up flying towards.
Since this game supports the PlayStation TV, there's a button-based control scheme which uses the d-pad for the left-hand side and the face buttons for the right-hand side, but there's also an option for PlayStation Vita owners to use the touch screen to press the on-screen buttons on the edges of the display. I tried out both options and I didn't feel either one was more valid than the other, so if you don't care to use the touch screen capabilities of the system it won't detract from your experience in the least.
Similar to other games in the genre, the notes themselves take on a couple different forms throughout the song. There's your standard one-time notes, but there's also a couple other variations present. These range from notes that require holding down a single button for a given length of time, or notes that require moving between notes as the gems that indicate where the button needs to be pressed moves around. There's also some more difficult notes thrown in the mix, such as arrows that require flicking the analog sticks and gems which require using the L and R shoulder buttons.
Of course, throwing everything into the mix at once would overwhelm newcomers to the genre, so the developers wisely included not only a difficulty mode option but also an option to modify the difficulty further by tweaking the speed setting. The former is what'd you expect, with easy allowing more notes to be missed and still pass the song, and the harder difficulties tightening the gap considerably. The latter, however, lets you pick from values between 0.5 to 5.0, with higher numbers meaning the notes will come to the edges of the screen faster than the lower values would. I really liked this approach, as it lets a decent player who might not be fully ready for full-on hard mode ramp themselves to that point, but still not feel like they have to either stay in Normal mode till they get good enough or repeatedly fail on Hard and get frustrated.
As far as modes go, the main two modes of note are "Stage Mode" and "World Tour". Stage Mode is what you might expect, where you have a choice between 4TRAX, 6TRAX, 6TRAX FX, and finally Free Style. The first three change up the complexity of the of the song based on the mode, with the first requiring less inputs and more for the other two in sequence. The catch, a hold-over from the Bemani games, is that a set of three songs is played with the sets being random from a collection of different songs for that group. So if you wanted a particular track you might be unlucky and take a while to obtain it, as you need to clear it in this mode to unlock it in Free Style.
The other mode, World Tour, is aimed exclusively at the hardcore fans of the genre. Unlike Stage Mode which eased you into things, this mode ramps up the difficulty significantly. You are tasked with beating an Easy, Normal, and Hard version of each Club member's task. For those who aren't musically inclined this mode will likely annoy the living daylights out of you, but thankfully you can generally use Stage Mode to unlock the songs, so this mode isn't necessarily required to unlock all of the content. One thing that is nice about both modes is that they both give you experience points, additional songs, new hit sounds, and avatar icons. So you don't have to stick to one mode in particular to unlock everything if you don't want to.
From a visual perspective, there's definitely more of a surreal approach to the UI compared to other games in the genre. Instead of animated music videos or someone dancing on the screen, you're instead treated with what's almost like a kaleidoscope in nature. It makes sense with how the on-screen HUD was crafted, but fans of other games in the genre might be disappointed by the change here.
Even with its minor issues, SUPERBEAT XONiC is easily one of the better music rhythm titles on the PlayStation Vita. It has options to make things easier for beginners, while at the same time allowing veterans and the absolute hardcore fans to ramp up the difficulty as needed. The "super" part of its title is definitely on point.
|The difficulty mode modifiers make for a much more scalable difficulty option than the standard fare.|
|You generally can unlock everything through Stage Mode, so it's great for newcomers.|
|Both the physical and touch control options feel equal in worth.|
|Those used to more visually enticing song backdrops might be underwhelmed by the more atmospheric ones in this game.|
|For some, the intense difficulty ramp of World Tour might be off-putting.|
|The semi-random nature of the song selection for unlocking purposes is an odd decision.|