The Switch has become something of a haven for rhythm games, with big names like Project Diva and Taiko no Tatsujin, Japanese titles like Groove Coaster, and ones that fall under the indie label like Cytus Alpha, Deemo and Voez making themselves at home. Sixtar Gate: Startrail, which is in early access on PCs via Steam, is the latest to appear. It’s not without its charm, but my experience makes me wonder if the PC version is the better suited to what it is trying to do.
There are three modes in Sixtar Gate: Startrail on the Switch. Adventure Mode is a story mode. You go through songs, seeing events in-between. Sometimes, you can choose your difficulty level! Other times, you’re stuck and locked into, say, a 15 difficulty track when you’ve been playing on 3-5 while you get used to the notes. Travel Mode is a freeplay option that lets you go through any unlocked track one at a time, at any difficulty you’d like. Outer Space is a challenge mode that involves three preselected songs at determined difficulties that you must pass to unlock more. It’s quite a bit of variety, though the story features localization issues and I’m not a fan of it deciding its difficulty for me.
The gameplay itself is great! However, the more I play, the more I suspect Sixtar Gate: Startrail might be better on the PC than the Switch. Indicators fall from the top of the screen to a judgment line in time with the music. You “play” along using the face buttons, analog sticks, and triggers. During a song, the gear will sometimes expand to add or remove an additional note hit with the right or Y button to the mix. The track listing is filled with a pretty adequate array of titles.
However, It’s the little things about Sixtar Gate: Startrail that begin to add up. For example, the hit sound for notes is incredibly faint. When I leapt into the Adventure Mode to kick things off, I didn’t even realize there were any hit sounds at all. In order to get them to a somewhat reasonable degree, I needed to head into Travel Mode to access the options menu to fiddle with things. The audio is hidden under Advanced Settings, and only by setting Music Level to 50 and other noises to between 50 and 80, while leaving hit sound at 100, did it start to get more reasonable.
Speaking of which, even finding the options and figuring out what you’re doing is a bit of a task. There there brief introductions that come up when you first enter the Adventure, Travel, or Outer Space modes. However, there’s no tutorial to introduce the inputs or gameplay. It isn’t too complicated, especially since its UI resembles titles like Beatmania DJMax, but is a lot to suddenly toss people into a song without familiarizing them with what each note means. Especially since there’s no way to customize inputs to your liking. For example, when I began I kept pressing the L and R buttons for trigger notes, rather than ZL and ZR. I still make that mistake, because it isn’t comfortable for someone who’s spent the last year playing Taiko no Tatsujin games. I keep wanting to use the left, down, B, and A buttons for inputs, rather than left, up, X, and A, because again there’s a familiarity.
I suppose this gets most frustrating when the movement notes come into play. These are performed using the left and right analog sticks. You even get a telegraphed warning. But because of the way I’m forced to hold my Switch in handheld mode when playing Sixtar Gate: Startrail, I can really only use the left analog stick. Anyone familiar with rhythm games knows that if there is a trickier note like that with two input options, it behooves you to be able to switch between the them based on what that hand is doing at the time. So if I’m busy with a left or up input with my left hand, but my right is pressing X and has A coming up, I can’t really alternate.
It’s especially odd that there isn’t that customization option, as Sixtar Gate: Startrail lets you adjust pretty much everything else. You can change how your hitsound, gear, notes, and judge line appear. The note speed can be adjusted. You can determine if you want widgets to appear that show your combo counter, judgment, or how far you are through the song and decide where they appear on your gear’s screen.
Sixtar Gate: Startrail does a lot of things right. The customization options are handy, though largely cosmetic. I enjoyed the songs and the aesthetic. I just wish the Switch version of Sixtar Gate: Startrail did a better job of introducing itself and adjusting its control schemes to make it a bit more comfortable.
Sixtar Gate: Startrail is available on the Nintendo Switch. It is in early access on Steam.