Super Beat Sports is not the traditional rhythm game players might expect from developers Harmonix, creators of the plastic instrument music revolution. Instead of covering your favorite songs by playing a note chart, Super Beat Sports challanges you to several different games of call and response, asking a player to sight-read music they have never heard before, while also pushing their ability to count beats more than most Harmonix games of the past.
The game is divided up into five different modes, each of which can be played with a friend and the final two being playable with up to four people. Each mode has a number of levels broken up by difficulty tiers, and in the two-player modes, you work together to tackle its own set of levels and tiers.
Whacky Bat is a lane changing, beat playback minigame that feels the most familiar to a more traditional rhythm game. Monsters spawn across a baseball field from you and throw balls towards you in a rhythm. You’re then tasked to play back these rhythms to the monsters once the balls reach their side of the field. These rhythms don’t require different button presses, instead playing a “note” or hitting back a pitch only requires the pressing of any face button. Monsters are the same across all game types and each have a certain way of counting pitches. A big purple monster throws balls high into the air, causing you to need to track the rhythm over a number of bars, while a little blue monster throws balls at a speed that might require a response in as little as a beat. In later levels, these monsters will be throwing out balls at the same time, requiring players to keep track of different rhythms while changing lanes to make sure they hit the appropriate ones at the right times. It certainly takes some getting used to, but shortly becomes incredibly satisfying. The music that’s created by the playing of new rhythms intertwining with the player response of older ones makes for some really good, full sounding songs that fit perfectly into this world created for the game. If it’s been a few years since your school band days or you’ve never been great at keeping time, the game does try to help in all modes. Things like characters moving in the backgrounds or the scoreboard bouncing in time help get you back on track if you lose the beat, or you’re in public and you don’t feel like tapping your foot.
The next mode, Net Ball, is less call and response and more music prediction. Set up as a 2 vs. 2 volleyball game, players will have to respond to a ball if it is sent their way. Unlike Whacky Bat, you’re not expected to play back a set rhythm, and instead will have to feel out a song, thinking about where it might be heading to get an idea of when the ball might be coming towards them. As someone who enjoys site reading in music games, this mode is great because it makes you think creatively musically while also challenging your perception on what a song might be building towards. For less musically inclined players, monsters will flash above their heads, letting you know the ball is heading your way, but without an indication on how quick you need to respond to it. The levels do start out easy enough, but quickly take a turn for the difficult, which might be off putting for some. Spending some time in other modes hearing the songs might help, but Net Ball could still frustrate those who aren’t super into music games.
The last and least single player mode is Gobble Golf. This mode is essentially Simon Says, but instead of an ever growing pattern of tones, monsters sing out a short pattern of music and players have to play it back to them. A level is broken up into 9 rounds or patterns, and players get 2 opportunities to play the pattern back. However, if you manage to partially play the pattern back on the first try, you’re not required to play those notes on the second. It’s not that this mode is awful, it’s just boring in comparison to the others in the game. Because it’s broken into so many rounds it feels like it takes forever, even when it technically is shorter than some songs in other modes. It doesn’t help that it’s the only mode with a fail state, where if you can’t play the patterns in a round in 2 tries, too bad, start again.
The dedicated multiplayer modes are closer to party games then rhythm games. Buddy Ball is similar to Whacky Bat, but instead of responding to patterns being sent at them, players take turns hitting a ball back to one of three monsters sitting across from them. These monsters then hit the ball to the next player with whatever speed that monster sends beats back in the normal game. After hitting a few monsters they will change into powers ups that affect the flow of the match. One might change the direction of which player goes next, while another might speed up the pace, giving players less time to react. Hitting a bomb takes a life from the player who hit it, and after losing three lives that player is out. The last one with lives remaining wins. It sort of ends up feeling like a Mario Party mini game, and not a great one at that. Rhythm Racket, however, is a fast paced game of pong. Players are set across from each other in a sort of hockey arena with obstacles and sometimes monsters set up between them. Players can hit the ball or set it to hit with a lot of speed in a specific direction. Hitting one of the monsters on the court will allow you again to aim and hit the ball with more power in an effort to score on other players. Each player has a set number of lives to start and occasionally opportunities to get more lives will arise. At its core it’s Pong, but playing at high speeds with 4 people is more exciting then it should be. Although neither of these modes have you playing music, they both incorporate the songs that are featured in the others. Rhythm Racket especially shines because of this, making for quick and dramatic tunes as the ball breaks obstacles and hits off of walls.
Super Beat Sports is a great package. The music is unique and designed specifically for the game, fitting in perfectly with the upbeat nature of the creatures throughout. Although there isn’t a narrative per se in the game, images during loading screens and flavor “hint” text help to flesh out this imaginative world that the main character has dreamt up. No songs are hidden from the player, they simply have to make their way through the levels to get to them. There are unlocks, but they are just goofy sports based outfits or different clubs, bats, sticks or anything that could be used to hit balls. Talent at reading music and counting beats isn’t required, but those with those abilities will likely enjoy it and get more out of the game then someone without. The multiplayer might be hard to get someone into, but if you’re able to find someone who’s willing to try it, the co-op modes offer a good challenge and some fun. It’s not going to be for everyone, and it’s not going to be for every rhythm game fanatic, but there’s a home here for those who would gladly take up a baseball bat and beat to their own drum.
Super Beat Sports was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch using a retail eShop code provided by developer Harmonix.