Harmonix has traded their plastic instruments and licensed music tracks for cute and cuddly aliens that want to challenge players to five different sporting events. Of course, they just so happen to be obsessed with music (they are from the Muzicalian galaxy), so each mini-game has a musical twist. With multiplayer support, this Nintendo Switch exclusive looks to appeal to gamers of all ages with single-player and multiplayer modes.
Whacky ball features different lanes that you must shift between to hit baseballs back at the alien that tossed them. If you listen carefully, you are timing your swing to the beat of the song being played. The standard mode features three lanes for you to move between, while the pro mode increases that number to five. It’s a similar setup to how Harmonix handled the difficulty options in Rock Band. Once you approach the end of the song, you’ll be pitted against a large boss type pitcher, that inevitably brings the heat, along with some of the wackiest pitches I have ever seen. You may not be able to follow the ball by visuals alone, so it is essential to ensure you are listening to the beat. There are 27 different songs and levels to complete, the most in any of the included mini-games. If a second player joins, you need to ensure you are hitting the balls that correspond to your color.
Super Beat Sports has over 50 different items to unlock to customize your character. Besides a selection of skin tones, which are available from the start, you earn new pieces of equipment and costumes. Your swingable item ranges from standard sporting gear, such as cricket bat, a tennis racket, and a baseball bat, with some comical choices such as an electric guitar and a garden gnome (my favorite). Each one has its own unique sound effect when you make contact. Experience is only earned in the cooperative two-player games; Whacky Bat, Net Ball, and Gobble Golf, which is a shame as I found the competitive games much more fun to play. Super Beat Sports also supports local wireless play.
If you find Whacky Ball a little challenging, Net Ball serves as a more accessible mini-game, resembling doubles beach volleyball. You can either play with an AI partner or with a second player, but you only have to worry about timing your hits correctly. Super Beat Sports is very lenient when it comes to the timing. Pro mode will throw more notes your way, but since you aren’t moving, it is less challenging. The only time the game changes is when you are presented with a chance of spiking the ball. You are given a quick countdown to time your hit perfectly. Something about playing beach volleyball with aliens, while dressed as a hockey player holding a garden gnome makes me smile.
Buddy ball is all about your reflexes, as you bounce the ball back and forth between three targets on platforms and your opponent. It’s like an indirect game of racquetball, where the aliens act as the wall. Power-ups are what makes the game interesting, as the rhythm may speed up dramatically or add bomb targets that cause you to lose a heart if you hit them. It can be played against a single opponent, AI or another player, but it also supports up to four players. Your reflexes must stay sharp, and you need to strategize which alien platform to target. With only three lives, the game continues until only one player remains. There are only four different songs to enjoy, which is shame as it is one of the better events in the game. With that said, when the action heats up, you are not following the music so much as trying to mash the button as quick as you can.
Rhythm Racket is the second competitive game and also supports up to four players. Block the ball from reaching your goal in a mix of pong and air hockey. Just like in some of the other games, your goal is divided into three lanes for you to protect. There are multiple options available, you'll bunt the ball if you let it make contact, but you are also able to hit the ball any direction you are aiming. Smashing it back towards your opponent is the most potent shot. As the arena changes every time someone loses a heart, you may have to break through bricks and aim for the aliens placed throughout the arena. Hit the ball into them and they can send it soaring in any direction. The music plays less of a pivotal role in the gameplay compared to timing your button presses and blocking the right side of your goal. While playing against a single opponent is entertaining, rhythm racket gets downright hectic when four players are competing at the same time. It’s certainly the most involved event in Super Beat Sports, and matches with friends can get highly competitive. Even if you don’t have anyone to play local multiplayer with, the AI provides a solid challenge, even on the lower difficulty.
The final event in the collection of mini-games is by far the most frustrating. Gobble Golf gives you a preview of the current round (nine rounds in total), and you have to match the timing for what alien opens their mouth. Most of the time you have to hit the ball before this happens, so paying attention is essential when the pace picks up. The more aliens you feed, the higher your score. You are given ample chances to complete each round. For this reason, I didn’t find it as challenging or involved as some of the other mini-games, and in fact, I would say it feels quite boring. I’ve also encountered an issue when trying to target the jumping aliens, as you are told to hold the button down, but I never was able to get it function properly. I didn’t care enough to play through all of the 12 stages in Gobble Golf or bother with the pro challenges.
Being a Harmonix title, it only seems fitting that they included a calibration to sync the visuals and audio if you are having difficulties. I applaud the desire to continue releasing games that can be classified in the music genre, as the almost yearly release of Rock Band became quite tiresome. Super Beat Sports shows they can still lead the way in innovation with rhythm-based titles with a colorful and charming spin. I was initially caught off guard on how sharp and clean the visuals look, both in portable mode and when docked.Note: Super Beat Sports was reviewed on Switch. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.