When Rock Band released in 2007, it started a video game rhythm revolution. 2005's Guitar Hero had pioneered the feeling of being a string strumming, fret sliding rockstar. Rock Band, however, took the formula to the next level, adding drums, bass, and vocals to the mix. The result led to mass appeal, as well as countless late nights partying with plastic peripherals in cramped living rooms worldwide.
In 2017, the rhythm-game landscape is a far cry from what it once was. The past few years have been devoid of major music titles, especially after 2015's Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live failed to meet sales expectations. Aside from the occasional flirt with smart devices or virtual reality, the genre has all but disappeared since it captured the imagination of gamers a decade ago.
Super Beat Sports is a new effort by developer Harmonix to cater to today's music and rhythm gamers. With a unique, charming art style, addicting music, and intuitive yet challenging gameplay, Super Beat Sports is an easy recommendation for those looking for a budget-price addition to their Switch library. Its lack of difficulty options and focus on younger audiences may turn off some, but those willing to give it a chance will find Super Beat Sports to be as addictive as it is fun to play.
The premise of Super Beat Sports is simple. As a nameless avatar, players compete in a variety of different rhythm-based sports, from the baseball-inspired Whacky Bat to the Simon Says-like Gobble Golf, either solo or alongside other players or AI. Each of these sports revolves around a central theme; Whacky Bat, for instance, is note-based, while Gobble Golf focuses on rhythm memorization. The goal of each of these games remains the same: to maintain a streak of well-timed button presses while racking up as many ‘Perfect’ notes as possible. Success in these two categories results in a higher score and, therefore, a better overall medal (either bronze, silver, gold, or platinum).
This simplicity also translates to Super Beat Sports’ actual gameplay. While controls vary from game to game, all involve pressing one of the face buttons in time with the music to swing your club and connect with an incoming ball. Coming in early or late will net you fewer points than being on-time, while missing altogether grants you no points and resets your streak.
While easy to understand, Super Beat Sports soon picks up in intensity. As levels progress, more and more complicated ball patterns are introduced, and rhythms get trickier as they rely more and more on off-beat syncopations. At its best, Super Beat Sports will have players at the edge of their seats, ready to tackle the next of its various challenges.
Of all the five games included in Super Beat Sports, Whacky Bat is by far the most fleshed out. It resembles Harmonix’s previous work on Guitar Hero or Rock Band, tasking players with navigating five lanes (frets) and striking incoming balls (notes) of varying speeds, represented by different aliens pitching balls to the player. Some, like the tiny blue variants, throw quick, repeated shots, while the larger pink ones throw slow, deliberate lobs. Before long, players are jumping between lanes, swatting back low-flying baseballs while keeping track of the various high-flying balls sinking into adjacent lanes. In addition to feeling the most familiar to veteran music and rhythm game fans, Whacky Bat is also the most challenging and fun to play.
That isn’t to say that the other games are necessarily weak. Gobble Golf offers an interesting call-and-response minigame, requiring players to listen to a predetermined sequence and then replicate the sequence by hitting golf balls into aliens’ mouths. Rhythm Racket, meanwhile, gives players the opportunity to face off against one another in an arcade-styled version of foosball. However, while entertaining in their own right, these other minigames never quite reach the level of depth found with Harmonix’s tried-and-true music-lane gameplay.
If Whacky Bat is Super Beat Sports’ strongest game, then Net Ball is its weakest. Stripping most of the former game’s strategy, Net Ball eschews moving across lanes in favor of pure timing-based gameplay. In this shift towards reflex-driven button taps, Net Ball loses a lot of the thoughtful planning that makes Whacky Bat so entertaining. Thankfully, the fifth and final game in Super Beat Sports, Buddy Ball, takes much of what disappoints in Net Ball and manages to convert it into an explosive and competitive multiplayer mode, so not all is for naught.
While Buddy Ball and Rhythm Racket are designed primarily for multiplayer play (each also allows for play against an AI opponent), all minigames in Super Beat Sports supports multiplayer play. Alongside a friend, Whacky Bat, Net Ball, and Gobble Golf add interesting wrinkles to their gameplay, throwing in multiple ball colors and new note patterns. With the ease of splitting a Joy-Con between you and a friend, Super Beat Sports offers increasingly novel ways to interact with its various modes, the more players are willing to dig into its various systems.
Despite the layers to its gameplay, Super Beat Sports may nonetheless be overlooked by certain demographics due to its childish visual and audio presentation. Sporting a vibrant, cartoonish art style, Super Beat Sports is a colorful looking game that will appeal to many but will also turn off more mature gamers expecting to find a presentation closer to Harmonix’s previous games. The game’s soundtrack, meanwhile, is entirely original music that combines electronic melodies with playful alien noises. While equally pleasing, it is also equally juvenile in nature, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Rock Band diehards pass over Super Beat Sports as a result.
Also sure to disappoint hardcore gamers is the lack of multiple difficulties. Super Beat Sports offers just two difficulty levels for its audience: standard (for younger, less experienced players), and pro (for everyone else). While the lack of a super-hard mode was initially disappointing, I ultimately found pro mode to be adequately challenging for my tastes. Given that Super Beat Sports is a smaller budget game catering to a younger audience of players, it’s easy to overlook the lack of harder levels in the game. That said, it is certainly a negative point for those accustomed to Guitar Hero and Rock Band’s hard and expert modes.
In spite of its childish appearance and lack of difficulty options, Super Beat Sports is an entertaining rhythm game and satisfying return to form for Harmonix. Its varied game modes offer a wide mix of challenging levels to conquer and master, while its multiplayer capabilities ensures that it earns a place on the couch for your next late-night party. It might not offer the maturity and depth of Harmonix’s previous efforts, but Super Beat Sports is a welcome addition to the Switch lineup that proves that perhaps the music game genre isn’t entirely dead, after all.