Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Superbeat XONIC (PS Vita) Review

Superbeat XONiC is a new rhythm game from a relatively new studio.  I'm not too good at these types of games, but I figured I should give it a try anyway.  The notes you have to hit for each song approach a ring at the edge of the Vita's screen.  At first it reminded me of the last rhythm game I played on the Vita, Persona 4 Dancing All Night.  However, XONiC is very different.

For one, the songs are more complicated.  There are four note types: single, swipe, scratch and FX.  Single is just pressing the button, d-pad or appropriate place on the screen when the note is on the ring.  If the note has a tail, then you hold it until the end of the tail.  Simple enough.  Next is the swipe note, which requires you to 'flick' the section of the screen or use the Vita's analog stick and move it in the indicated direction.  This is much harder than it sounds.  For one, it really messes me up to have to transition from buttons to the stick and back so quickly.  I had this problem in Dancing All Night, but I only had to hit the stick since the direction didn't matter.  Now I have to hit in in the right direction and get my fingers back quickly to hit other notes.  It really makes me fumble.  Using the touch screen is 50% better for me.  I can hit the swipe down notes easy enough, but it doesn't always register the up swipes.

Similar to the swipe note is the scratch note.  These are a kind of magenta color.  Scratch notes require you to either tilt the stick in the direction noted or slide your fingers in the direction noted.  These can be tricky with the touch screen, but only if you move too slow.  You don't have to follow the placement of the note so much as register that you are moving in the proper direction.  The last note is FX, and these require you to push the L or R Buttons as indicated.  These only show up on the 6Trax FX difficulty, talked about below, so I wasn't able to see them.

Overall I felt the touch screen was much easier to play the game with, since switching from the buttons and d-pad to the sticks messed me up a lot.  That said, I still had trouble getting the swipes to register all the time (if there was too much friction, my finger wouldn't slide enough to register).  The game can also be played on the PSTV, but I imagine it would be harder with a bigger screen.  It might be easier to hit the swipe and slide notes, though.

In the upper left hand side of the screen, there is a health gauge that depletes when you miss a note.  If it empties, you fail the song but still get to play it the rest of the way through.  Hitting notes will slowly fill it up.  The upper right hand side has the Fever meter.  As you hit notes, this meter builds up until it is full.  Once full, you go into Fever mode, where you get a point multiplier on each hit note.  Notes hit on the ring will give Superbeat rank, which is worth the most points.  Hitting it a little too early will net you a Good rank, and missing it entirely will get a Break.  At the end of the song, there is a judgment ranking that is higher the more Superbeats you hit.

One of the two play modes is called Stage.  You choose your type/difficulty and play three songs in a row.  You can select the next song from the list they have, which sadly doesn't have all the songs you have unlocked.  It might be a balance thing, I don't know.  Anyway, the three difficulties are 4Trax, 6Trax, and 6Trax FX.  The "Trax" are the outer sections of the ring that have notes.  So, for 4Trax, there are two sections per side, up and down.  This is the mode I am most comfortable with.  Next is 6Trax, which has up, side and down.  Here's where the touch screen didn't do as much good.  I don't know if my fingers are too fat or my aim is bad, but I had some trouble getting the game to register my hits correctly, mostly because they are much smaller areas.  Plus, the top and bottom both use green for the single notes so you can't just match colors to try and keep the buttons straight.  With a lot more practice, I could get good at 6Trax, but I'll probably try to stick with 4Trax and not embarrass myself too much.

6Trax FX is the hardest in the game.  It wisely has to be unlocked, so sadly I didn't get to try it and get humiliated.  6Trax did that enough.  In Stage there is one final option called Freestyle that allows you to pick any song and play it.  However, it will not track your highest score for that song.  It does keep your combo even after you finish a song, so you could conceivably max out the combo with enough tenacity (or a DJ shield).  I honestly would have preferred an option to just play one song, and keep the score for it, instead of stringing a combo along or having to play 3 songs back to back, but sadly XONiC doesn't have that option.

The second play mode is World Tour.  This mode groups together challenges for you to complete on a song or group of songs.  There are easy, medium and hard of each challenge, but it mostly equates to song difficulty.  Each set of challenges is unlocked once you reach a certain DJ level, and each one rewards you with an icon or beat sound.  It's not as hard as I initially thought, since certain DJs will help you power through some early challenges.  The shield skill in particular helped me.  However, some of the extra challenges can be tough.

For example, one early set on "easy" had the fade-in notes.  Meaning, I would only get to see the note when it was close to the ring.  This was still pretty early in the World Tour mode, and it felt like too much of an extra thing to throw on there for the "easy" challenge.  The core challenge was to not miss more than 20 notes, and this made it harder.  Strangely, the "normal" challenge didn't have the fade-in, and was actually easier.  The hard challenge in that set was really hard for me, but mostly because the song had a ton of notes and went really fast.  It just feels unbalanced, since it's still pretty early and I have to play harder songs.  I dread to see what the later ones are.

As mentioned before, you can unlock new DJs and note sounds.  They are awarded when your DJ level increases, or you complete a challenge in World Tour.  Each DJ has two skills that help you.  There is extra health, increased experience, break shields, etc.  I personally favored the extra experience so it was faster to unlock more DJ icons.  Once I figured out what shield did, I loved it too.  It really helped me complete some challenges and get higher scores.  I still wasn't better at the game, but I felt better.  The note sounds you unlock change up what the note sounds like when you hit it.  Pretty basic, but it is nice and you get a lot of options.

Superbeat XONiC has many songs to choose from, and even some I wouldn't have expected (there's a song from Guilty Gear Xrd).  It's a good mix of many styles, from pop to R&B to Hardcore.  It would take a lot of time to play through them all and raise your DJ level high enough to unlock all the World Tour stages, and finish them.  It will also take a lot of skill.  Maybe a bit less with a good DJ icon.  I liked a lot of the songs, even if I wasn't very good at the game.  However, fans of rhythm games should definitely check it out.

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