Superbeat: Xonic has a lot to live up to. Developed by Nurijoy, a company composed of people who worked on the DJMax games, Superbeat: Xonic serves as something of a spiritual successor to their previous work. However, Superbeat: Xonic isn’t the same game as DJMax. They look different and play different, but there’s plenty fans will find familiar with the experience.
The basic idea is the same: notes come flying at you and you need to press the right button or else you’ll never be the greatest video game DJ ever. To help you out, music plays in sync with the notes. Both soundtracks are filled with music from tons of different genres ranging from rock to trance pop to rumba.
Where things differ come from the controls and your point of view. In DJMax Portable 3, for example, the notes scroll down to you vertically. In Superbeat, the notes come from the middle and move horizontally to the sides of the screen. It makes the notes feel a little more unpredictable, but thankfully the interface remains very clean and easy to see.
Compared to DJMax, Superbeat feels like it uses more of the overall system to its advantage. The button layout focuses on the two sides of the screen. Both sides have designated top, side, and bottom buttons, with the left side being controlled by the d-pad and the right side being controlled by the typical face buttons. On the highest difficulty, the shoulder buttons also get added to button repertoire. Superbeat also has two analog sticks (compared the PSP’s one in DJMax Portable 3) which get used for scratch notes, which are basically notes that have to be flicked in certain directions in order to register.
But the power of the Vita doesn’t end with its analog sticks, as Superbeat also takes advantage of the system’s touch screen. The layout and general gameplay stay the same, but you can tap the notes as they hit the sides of the screen instead pressing a button. It’s not exactly like DJMax Technika Tune, but the idea of tapping notes remains the same. I actually had a really hard time adjusting the touch screen controls, so I mostly stuck to the buttons. On the harder songs especially, potential screen destruction seems like a definite possibility.
What’s interesting is that you can switch between the two styles of play at any time. If you’ve played half of the song using buttons, there’s nothing stopping you from finishing it up with just the touch controls. Theoretically, you could be using the buttons and the touch screen at the same time. You might have to be some kind of hand contortionist, but it’s possible. Personally, I have a hard enough time coordinating my hands with just the buttons during tougher songs, so it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where this feature would really come in handy.
One of the most important features of the DJMax games also makes it over: you can customize the difficulty in a ton of different ways to figure out what works best for you. At a fundamental level, Superbeat has three different ways to play: 4Trax, 6Trax, and 6Trax Fx. Like DJMax, these difficulties basically decide how many buttons you have to worry about. 4Trax only has you worry about the bottom and side buttons (with the side notes working interchangeably with the top button). 6Trax ramps things up by splitting the top and side buttons into separate notes. Finally, 6Trax Fx adds the L and R shoulder buttons into the mix.
Working your way up the ladder actually feels surprisingly easy. The additional buttons don’t complicate the songs that much on their own. Instead what makes these styles more difficult are usually the additional notes and prominence of concepts like having to play notes on one side of the screen while holding down a note on the other.
Beyond the gameplay styles, you’re also able to tweak some settings in the game’s menus. An easy, normal, and hard setting can applied to game the universally, which makes it so you can miss more notes before failing the song. You’re also able to directly change the difficulty of individual songs via a fully adjustable note speed and the DJ Icon system. You’re free to make the notes go super fast if you’re a pro or really slow if you need some help, and with the DJ Icon system you can pick out an icon that gives you bonus effects like the ability to recover health more quickly or preventing a missed note from breaking your combo.
Even with everything it has though, Superbeat is still missing some key aspects of the DJMax experience. For me, the most disappointing aspect of Superbeat is the lack of the dynamic music depending on how well you play. In DJMax, certain parts of the song were tied directly to whether or not you played the notes, so for example you might not hear the piano section of a song if you aren’t playing well. Superbeat foregoes this feature, instead playing pre-set key sounds as you hit notes, with no effect on the actual music itself. It’s not a total loss, as some of the unlockable key sounds are pretty fun and goofy, but I definitely prefer the DJMax style of doing things.
Also missing from DJMax are the videos that play in the background during songs. Instead of music videos, (almost) every song in Superbeat features a visualizer effect similar to what you’d see in a music program on your computer. The visualizers are flashy and fit with the game’s style, but none of them really feel distinctive and it’s harder to appreciate overall.
Superbeat may not have it all, but what it does have works and the game feels like a fun and refreshing spin on the genre. It carries the spirit of customizability on, and introduces a new way to play with its touch screen controls. While those expecting exactly the same game as DJMax may be disappointed, Superbeat is a lot of fun and I don’t think any serious fan of the rhythm genre is going to want to miss out.