When it comes to music games, Switch owners are already a bit spoilt for choice, with VOEZ, Deemo, Lanota and Superbeat: Xonic all pumping out plenty of rhythm action across multiple genres, playstyles, and aesthetics. The latest debut hoping to ascend the system’s charts is Musynx, from Superbeat publisher PM Studios. Originally a mobile title, it’s more than ready for the big time on Switch, with an impressive assortment of fresh tunes, satisfying gameplay with both button and touchscreen options, and an infectious sense of personality.
Jumping in from the title screen, Musynx doesn’t mess around: it presents all 92 songs in its setlist individually, ready for you to play right from the start. This puts Musynx firmly in the arcade-inspired rhythm game camp; unlike VOEZ, Deemo, or Lanota, there’s no story to tie your taps together, nor does Musynx feature any levelling up, unlocks, or challenges like Superbeat: Xonic. It’s a straightforward focus on playing and replaying songs to beat your high scores, and whether that’s a plus or a minus will depend on personal preference, but it does make Musynx perfect for popping in for a song or two at a time.
One consequence of Musynx’s streamlined structure is that it puts its music front and centre, and these fantastic tracks have no trouble shining in the spotlight. Musynx features a variety of songs broken down into broad genres. There's sunny vocal pop, ballads, instrumental piano and classical; EDM, techno and rock; traditional Chinese-inspired tracks, chiptunes and a small group of viral hits from the Chinese internet, - including 我要挂科了! (‘Gonna Fail My Exam!’) and 普通DISCO (‘Ordinary Disco’).
Some of these categories are fuller than others — the first three have dozens of tracks each — but all together, the selection is impressive in both breadth and quality. You’re not likely to recognise any of the tracks beforehand, but discovering these underground delights is a big part of the appeal. Musynx features tracks in Japanese and English, but there’s a particular focus here on Chinese music, with lots of Mandarin Vocaloid pop (and lots of Luo Tianyi), some sīzhú instrumentation, and even tracks from Chinese indie games Koi DX and ICEY. This musical mix is a real highlight, and helps Musynx stand out among the Switch’s other rhythm titles; if VOEZ is open mic at a J-pop/Jazz café and Superbeat: Xonic is a night out at the club, Musynx is the trip through Sinophonic SoundCloud you never knew you needed.
As with most music games, interacting with Musynx’s tracks means playing along to piano roll-style charts; notes fall from the top of the screen to the bottom along four (or more) distinct ‘lanes’, each one assigned to a certain button. Hit the correct button on-time with the beat, and you’ll score points and keep up a combo; miss a note, and you’ll reset the combo counter to zero. There are only two types of notes in Musynx — tap notes (which you’ll hit once) and hold notes (where you’ll hold the button down for a certain duration) — and timing windows are fairly generous, so it’s a system that’s easy to learn, but scales very well to provide a serious challenge at higher levels.
Musynx has two main intersecting axes of adjustable difficulty: the number of ‘lanes’ present (either four or six), and the level of the chart (‘Normal’ or ‘Hard’), both of which can be changed for each song. By default, the four-lane setup (called ‘4K’) means you’ll use — from left to right — ‘Left’ and ‘Up’ on the D-Pad, ‘X’, and ‘A’ to hit the notes as they fall. Changing to the six-lane setup (‘6K’) adds another input under each thumb, so that the left-to-right lineup is ‘Left’, ‘Up’, and ‘Right’ on the D-Pad, ‘Y’, ‘X’, ‘A’. You can choose to play either mode on both ‘Normal’ and ‘Hard’ charts, with the main difference between chart difficulties being the volume of notes, complexities of rhythms, and finger gymnastics required to hit them in time.
We love that these two settings are independent because each gets at a different part of the challenge of rhythm games. Playing charts on ‘Hard’ instead of ‘Normal’ tests your ability to quickly read complex scores, and translate the result into button presses; playing charts on ‘6K’ instead of ‘4K’ tests your ability to deal with more possible combinations, and jump between different thumb positions on the fly. You’re likely to be better at one of these skills than the other — we encounter no problems on ‘Hard’ charts from the start but struggle immensely with 6K — so it’s wonderful to be able to tailor the challenge to your abilities and work up to mastery.
So far we’ve only talked about Musynx in terms of buttons, but it’s also possible to undock your Switch and play Musynx entirely with the touchscreen. Its touch interface is as seamless and straightforward as you’d expect — just tap the bottom of each lane when a note comes across its line. We don't have any trouble with timing or missed taps, though we do wish the outer-most lanes were a little further from the edge of the screen on 6K mode. It certainly feels natural — Musynx started out as a mobile game, after all — and the Switch’s screen is a great size for the game, but it’s also quite a bit easier with the touchscreen. In fact, because the mechanics are so simple, and the charts lack the dynamic movement of VOEZ or Lanota (or Deemo’s tactile keyboard metaphor), we find Musynx significantly more interesting with buttons. That said, we certainly appreciate having both options.
Musynx’s mechanics are solid, and its music is excellent, but an equally important part of what makes it so fun to play is its creative presentation, which varies based on the genre of song you’re playing. More than just key art or background colours, the entire interface changes to the fit the tune for each song category. Pop songs get a sunny sky, with each lane a different colour in the rainbow; Chinese-inspired tracks get a watery, ink-based canvas with scrolls for notes; the ‘viral hit’ tracks are drawn MS Paint-style with an unfurling toilet paper roll as the note field; and chiptunes are presented in a pixel-art restaurant, where notes fall as different plates on conveyor belt lanes. It isn’t just a graphical change, either; the chiptune songs’ top judgement level changes from ‘Exact!’ to ‘Delicious!’ (in Chinese) to suit its food court setting, while in the traditional Chinese songs, your combo count is kept in dàxiě numerals — the system of elaborate characters used in financial records to prevent forgeries. It’s thoroughly charming.
While Musynx’s gameplay structure is resolutely minimalist, it does allow for an impressive amount of customisation. You can change the speed at which notes fall (with faster speeds also meaning more space between notes to read complex patterns), as well as completely customise which buttons are assigned to each lane in both 4K and 6K modes. You can also independently adjust both the visual timing for notes crossing the bar, and the timing of the judgement system, nudging either one forward or back to match your TV setup and reflexes.
The customisation is also where one of our few issues with Musynx pops up, in the confusingly-named ‘Sound Enhancer’ setting. This option has four different levels — ‘Auto’, ‘Strong’, ‘Weak’, and ‘Off’ — and while it sounds like an equaliser, it actually has to do with whether or not parts of the music still play if you don’t hit the notes correctly. The minimally-translated manual does a poor job of explaining this, and the categories aren’t self-explanatory: ‘Auto’ means that the music will play unaltered even if you miss notes, while ‘Off’ means that missing a note will cause the relevant part of the song — like the vocal or guitar track — to drop out, and ‘Strong’ and ‘Weak’ seem to be variations on ‘Off’.
It’s confusing, and it also doesn’t work all that well. Instead of muting the track if you miss, for instance, the ‘Off’ mode simply plays each note right when you hit it. There doesn’t seem to be any quantisation to help smooth this process out, either, so on anything other than ‘Auto’ you’ll have a major line of the song at the metrical mercy of your button presses, spitting out syllables (or notes, or drum beats) exactly when you hit the button, rather than locked to the beat. Coupled with the generous timing windows for scoring, that means you can hit all ‘Exact!’ notes but still have the song sound like a choppy mess. It’s less jarring on Vocaloid-fronted songs, but on legato instrumental passages it’s an awful effect. This isn't an issue on ‘Auto’, of course, but it also means there’s no true ‘key sound’ option — to have a beep or cymbal crash of acknowledgment when you hit the button — and for some players, that could be a problem.
We also wish there was a way to sort through the extensive song list other than one-by-one in order. As it stands, the single-list system certainly emphasises the size of the library, but it’s difficult to find your favourites quickly, and hopping between a few songs can take longer than we’d like; being able to collapse genres, mark favourites, or switch to different list orders (alphabetically, or by difficulty, for instance) would make a big difference. It can also be frustrating to browse using the touchscreen interface; the on-screen arrows for scrolling left and right just don’t seem to work (though they respond visually to touch), so we had to resort to scrolling with the D-Pad.
Finally, while it’s currently empty, the ‘Shop’ option in Musynx offers the promise of good things to come; rather than paid DLC, PM Studios is planning continued support in the form of free post-launch tracks, along the lines of VOEZ and Deemo. We love that this has become a trend for Switch rhythm games, and more songs should give players an easy reason to keep coming back for more.
Barebones in organisation and structure but absolutely joyous in its presentation, Musynx is pure rhythm game fun. Excellent, upbeat music that focuses on lesser-exported areas of Asian pop, charming, cleverly creative visuals, and rock-solid gameplay in both button and touch modes all come together in a lovely, personality-filled package. If you like a strong sense of progression in your music games, Musynx’s straightforward setlist approach will leave you wanting; but if the idea of booting up into a free-play menu of 90+ songs and working to beat your personal bests sounds like your idea of a good time, you’ll be in rhythm heaven here.