Fans of Korea's DJMax series have certain expectations of their rhythm games. They want complexity. They crave challenge. Their music ge preference is all over the place. Superbeat: Xonic gives us exactly what we want.
When DJMax development studio Pentavision merged with GameOn Studios a few years back, a group of folks left to create their own studio — Nurijoy — and they brought their rhythm game chops with them. As the owners of the DJMax name turned towards the mobile market, Nurijoy made a splash with last year's arcade rhythm game Beatcraft Cyclon. Its circular playfield was then adapted for the PlayStation Vita game released last week, Superbeat: Xonic.
Why the PlayStation Vita, a system on the verge of dying out completely in the West? There are two gamer types that cling to their portable PlayStations for dear life — Japanese role-playing gamers and rhythm gamers — and the rhythm gamers have a very loud voice when it comes to anything remotely related to DJMax.
It's a smaller, quieter audience — I like to imagine all of us wearing headphones all the time — but they are fiercely loyal to the developers no matter which name they're going by, and thankful for publishers like PM Studios and Acttil for bringing us games like Superbeat: Xonic. So thankful that all 450 copies of the $US100 "X-octic" limited edition, which includes the game and the soundtrack on both CD and vinyl, sold out in incredibly rapid fashion.
The PlayStation Vita gets the player closer to the music. There's a more intimate connection between players and something in their hands than something on a screen several feet away. In order to capture footage of the game in action I had to use my PlayStation TV, and the disconnect made it quite difficult.
That's a song I perfect every time on the Vita itself. Here I can't quite get the timing down right, getting more "Good" ratings on my taps than the optimal "Superbeat" rating.
I favour the Vita. There's nothing like winding down after a long day with my earbuds in, tapping along to the strangest mix of music assembled since the last major DJMax release. It's got K-Pop, J-Pop, hardcore electronica, dance, house, and something called...
...Gypsy Jazzy Tech. Yes. I am sure there are a ton of Gypsy Jazz Tech fans out there.
The game can be played with either on screen controls, which are horrible for people with large hands, or the Vita buttons. At the highest difficulty there'll be three tracks on each side. Plain notes correspond to either the face or directional buttons. Rising and falling notes are handled with the analogue sticks, while circular yellow notes with arrows are quick taps on the sticks. There are also broad notes that require hitting the shoulder buttons, with a special difficulty level involving an extra helping of shoulder love.
Here's a song on 4-Track easy mode.
Superbeat: Xonic features the standard DJMax-style game mode in which players pick a series of three songs to play in a row, a Free Play mode that allows players to pick and choose between any of the game's more than 50 tracks.
Then there's the World Tour mode. This is where the real challenge comes in. Taking place at a series of venues across the world, this mode has players playing through fixed set lists with increasingly difficult modifiers and goals. Once they have mastered each of the games' tunes, this is where that mastery is put to the test.
The rewards, as with its predecessor, are experience points, new song unlocks, performance-enhancing DJ icons and new key tones. At least that's the mechanics of it. The real reward is interacting with some amazing (and some not-so-great) music and becoming one with the beat.
There are aspects of DJMax I miss. Mainly the video animations from some of the earlier releases. But ultimately they were just background noise behind a weird and wonderfully challenging rhythm game, which is exactly what we've got in Superbeat: Xonic.
This last song goes out to Yannick LeJacq. I think of his musical taste every time I play it.
Stupid PlayStation TV.