If you haven't heard of the original Beat Sports, don't worry - it was something of a sleeper hit. When the Apple TV first launched back in 2015, developer Harmonix was chosen to kickstart the device as a gaming platform with its rhythm-based sports compilation. From Rock Band to space sports it was a bit of a departure, but the release was still praised for its cutesy charm and addictive gameplay. Flash forward to the present day and Beat Sports is back - souped up and ready to compete in the big leagues.
Super Beat Sports is a Switch-exclusive remake of that original title, comprised of five separate mini games based around different sports, one of which is entirely new for this version. Stepping into the shoes of a nameless chibi humanoid, you're whisked off to a distant planet where a group of music-loving aliens have tried to replicate human sporting events, but end up turning everything into variations on a kind of musical baseball. This setup, while ultimately pretty irrelevant, provides a colourful backdrop for a plethora of different activities, and the bug-eyed beasties themselves are lovably fleshed out with fun artwork and cute flavour text during loading screens. From the moment the opening screen bursts into a joyous exclamation of the game's title, it's clear that you're in for a good time.
Fans of the Rhythm Heaven series will feel right at home due to the game's extremely simplistic control scheme, which is largely the same across all five events. Though they're all distinct from one another in a number of ways, nearly every one of the game modes can essentially be described as whalloping a ball in time with the music. Each true sporting champion must have a keen ear for disco beats and synth tunes you see, but that usually comes down to just hitting 'A' at the right moment. One of the game's main selling points is how easy this premise is to dive right into, but are all sports created equal?
Whacky Bat is the first of five options on the main menu, and is an excellent starting point for any potential athletes looking to test their reflexes. It's a simple game of repetition played across a number of lanes, as aliens drop down and begin a rally by pitching a ball for you to hit back. Everything is set to the beat of a song, so you'll need to match their pace in order to hop across the playing field, time your swings, and keep those aliens on their toes...or tentacles. Different creatures throw at different speeds, so you'll need to keep on top of things as later levels mix things up with complicated combos. Again, it's as simple as hitting 'A' and moving across lanes with either the control stick as a standard, or the shoulder buttons to jump two at a time.
Net Ball is a little more frantic, pitting the player against a team of aliens who throw a single ball around much faster, even passing amongst themselves at times. While Whacky Bat was all about repeating a rhythm, Net Ball is more about involving yourself in it by predicting an ongoing pattern. It's faster and twitchier, which is unfortunately not the case with Gobble Golf - perhaps the weakest of the five games on offer. This plays out a bit like Simon Says, where little blobby aliens chirp out a pattern across three platforms, prompting the player to mirror their song by hitting golf balls into their hungry gobs. The quicker you do it, and the less mistakes you make, the more points you'll rack up by the end. This just doesn't have the same energy as the other sports on offer, perhaps relying too heavily on simplistic tunes to keep our interest for more than a few stages.
It's worth mentioning now that all of these games can be played in either single-player or two-player modes, and with a lack of any real 'campaign', having a co-op partner along for the ride can definitely liven things up. Each sport has a couple dozen different levels to unlock, and performing well by stringing together combos will earn you a medal at the end of each stage. Racking up points also earns you a variety of cosmetic items for your character, such as different outfits or designs for what we can only assume is called your super special alien whack-stick™. Having spent far too many hours in the past strumming plastic instruments and taking on the role of an Elite Beat Agent, we were worried upon finding the initial difficulty setting to be far too slow-paced. Thankfully Harmonix has catered for this, and it's possible to toggle Pro Mode within any sport's level select screen. If you have previous experience with rhythm-based games of any kind then this offers a welcome challenge by immediately kicking things up a notch in terms of speed and variety, and we ended up playing exclusively under this difficulty setting.
The final two games are a real highlight, focusing more so on the multiplayer aspect with support for up to four players in total. Buddy Ball is an elimination-style competition, where players take it in turns to hit a ball towards an alien of their choice, trying to keep the beat while throwing off the next player in line. If you miss a beat then you lose a life until eventually there's only one musician standing. The key is to be as unpredictable as possible, which is emphasised by the fact that aliens will be knocked out if you overuse them, turning them into dangerous bombs or other items. It's like a more vicious take on Whacky Bat, and when it's down to just two players things can get pretty intense.
As a grand finale, Super Beat Sports features one entirely new game mode that's unique to this version, and we think that the best has been saved for last. Rhythm Racket is like an insane mix between Pong, Crossfire, Pinball, and a neon nightmare where you fire a ball around an ever-changing arena to try and score inside your opponent's goal. It's got the most elaborate setup too, with a full tutorial to explain some of the mechanics before you even get started. There are barriers to break down, aliens to control and bonus events to activate, but it's never enough to overwhelm you. As frantic as it is, the core concept is very familiar - you can move your paddle back and forth between your goal posts, and time your hits to shoot further - meaning that anyone can just grab a Joy-Con and make things even more hectic. With a full four players this is brilliant fun, and perhaps most impressively, each impact still manages to string notes together into a cohesive song as you play.
Speaking of the game's soundtrack, there are a slew of original music tracks for each of the different modes, all with an electronic, spacey kind of style. We never felt like there were any duds in the selection, but nothing really stood out to us during our time either. The aliens hum along with certain beats, some songs are faster or slower, and it all pretty much feels fit for purpose, even if you might not remember any of the tunes once you step away. The best musical moments come organically, usually as a result of a frenzied volley in Rhythm Racket.
With all of this fast-paced bopping going on, it's good to know that Super Beat Sports runs at 60fps whether in docked or handheld mode, and we didn't notice any dips in this performance. Loading is more of an issue, with even simple restarts taking slightly too long to warrant the score-chasing mentality that's encouraged. The 'pick up and play' element is hindered somewhat by this, and the general repetition of gameplay becomes more noticeable when you're left waiting on the next level to load, knowing that it's going to look the exact same as the last ten.
Thanks to Pro Mode, players of all skill levels will find hours of gameplay here even when going solo, but keep in mind that there isn't a lot of variety between the three main sports. Rhythm Racket and Buddy Ball can be played with bots, but are far far superior with an actual group of friends, and lack the score-based infrastructure of Whacky Bat for example. Since there isn't an online option, if you aren't going to be able to try out the local multiplayer then a large part of the game's appeal is lost, so do keep that in mind. Also worth mentioning; playing a game like this outside or on the move without headphones isn't really ideal given how important sound is to the experience, though many of the aliens do give visual cues to help alleviate this somewhat. It just feels as though the musical concept is at odds with the spontaneous multiplayer sessions made possible by the Switch itself, at least when you're using just the one console.
All of this is wrapped up in a bright veneer of cartoony visuals that do the job, but feel noticeably dated when blown up onto the TV. That being said, the interface is nice and clean, working perfectly well to convey your performance and provide those visual cues on alien maneuvers. There are really charming touches too; such as the fact that your character will cheer and clap for competitors when they win, rather than stomp their foot and mutter under their breath, Wario-style. It's a friendly, fun atmosphere that just fills our old, withered hearts with joy. Almost.
Super Beat Sports casts the player into a world ruled over by inhuman alien lifeforms, obsessed with physical, brutal gladiatorial events under the oppressive droning of a harsh synthetic rhythm, without any explanation of why or how things have come to be this way. Aside from all that though, actually it's really rather cute, the games are fun for newcomers or veterans alike, and the local multiplayer options are top-notch. While score-chasers will find plenty of medals to earn for perfect performances, casual play will end up being pretty repetitious, especially with the lengthy load times. Because of this, even though it's broken up into bite-sized chunks it isn't always an ideal single player experience. We'd still recommend it however, especially at a budget price, so if you're looking for a fun party game to try out then assemble your crew and go whack some spaceballs!