The rhythm genre is certainly one of the quieter ones at the moment. Gone are the days of the once hugely popular Rock Band and Guitar Hero, drumming, strumming and singing away to a range of licensed tracks. Instead, releases are a far less frequent occurrence stripping away expensive peripherals. It’s still a genre to be excited about though with recent highlights being the delightfully strange Rhythm Heaven series and indie surprise Thumper. And while the Nintendo Switch has already proven a warm home for many types of experiences already, can the same be said for a rhythm title like SUPERBEAT XONiC EX?
One of the first things to hit me when playing SUPERBEAT XONiC EX was how deceptively difficult it was even on the easiest difficulty. Despite countless hours invested in other rhythm-based series, it felt like I was trying to relearn the genre all over again. Instead of vertical lanes or humorous cartoon videos, the layout here is very different. On-screen prompts instead slide out from the centre of the screen to either what the game calls the left or right “gears”. As a prompt passes over these you’ll then need to respond with either a well-timed button press or tap of the screen depending on which control scheme you go for – traditional or touchscreen.
Whether you’re playing using the touchscreen controls or standard button and analogue scheme, both feel very fun to use, with each offering a unique experience. While the latter is probably the more difficult to get to grips with of the two (not only do you need to time button presses but also make sure you use the correct ones) the former offers its own challenges through its use of taps and slides. Also worth noting is that despite the responsiveness of the Switch’s touchscreen being great overall, hitting notes where you need to tap and slide your finger slowly can be a little finicky at times. Just like the game’s mechanics though, it just takes a little time to adjust.
Thankfully the game’s varying difficulties introduce you to new commands at a rate you’re comfortable with. Not only can you adjust the overall difficulty and speed at which notes fly toward you, but also the number of lanes they travel on; four still proving tough but easily the best place to start and six offering even more challenge to practised gamers.
Stage is the game’s equivalent of arcade mode. Here you’ll select three songs to play through in either the four or six track option as you try to get the highest score possible. I found this to be ideal for jumping in for a quick game whenever I had a quick ten or fifteen minutes to spare. You can, if you prefer, opt for Freestyle mode which strangely keeps track of your longest combo streak over multiple songs.
World Tour meanwhile has you playing in a number of clubs around the world with each offering its own set of songs as well as extra missions to achieve. The range of tasks is pretty decent throwing combo targets and modifiers your way, their difficulty escalating the further you progress. If there was one problem I had with this mode, it’s that it is not immediately clear how you actually progress – new clubs locked away based on your profile level rather than typical progression.
As you complete songs you’ll earn experience toward your profile status, every new level you achieve handing out rewards in the form of new songs, new sounds and also DJ icons. The latter proves especially useful as things get tougher, each one offering its own perks such as more experience on completion of a song or even the ability to save you from losing your streak. The levelling aspect is a neat touch, making you feel like you’re always working toward a new prize and with experience plentiful, you won’t be waiting too long for the next carrot at the end of the stick. Online leaderboards are also included split out by mode, so whatever option you go for your high score will always be recorded.
Something always important for any rhythm game is nailing its soundtrack and while a lot, if not all the names featured in SUPERBEAT XONiC EX were unfamiliar to me, they were plenty catchy to keep me replaying them over and over. In fact, their range in style means that you will never know what the next unlockable track might be with classical, rock and techno but just a few featured. With the promise of more tracks coming as downloadable content, it will be interesting to see what follows.
The overall presentation of SUPERBEAT XONiC EX is best summarised as simple but stylish. The almost anime-style characters mixed with dark backgrounds and flashing lights is a unique blend that might fall to repetition every once in a while but makes sure you can clearly see the notes on screen – and honestly that’s more important in a game of this genre. In fact, whether you’re playing on a TV or in handheld mode, the game runs well and looks clean and clear.
It’s very easy to lose yourself in SUPERBEAT XONiC EX, its satisfying gameplay and soundtrack melding together in perfect harmony. While the initial learning curve is a tough one, once you’ve come to grips with all the rapid tapping, sliding and button pressing, you’ll discover a great rhythm game unlike anything on the Nintendo Switch right now.