Spin Rhythm XD review: a rhythm game like no other

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Rhythm games are an interesting genre and most fall into one of two categories.

You have games like Dance Dance Revolution, which rely on the overall rhythm of a song to provide players with a guideline to use when dancing, pressing buttons, or whatever way they interact with the game. Then you have more technical titles like Guitar Hero that attempt to mimic the feel of playing music. XD Rotation Rhythmreleased this week on Steam Early Access, is a blend of both styles of rhythm games in a way that makes a lot more sense than it should.

XD Rotation Rhythm is also unique in that it provides a joyful experience using only two buttons. I wasn’t convinced that I could feel like I was “making” music, or even jamming along to the soundtrack of 15 modern electronic jam songs, just by pressing two buttons.

But I was wrong.

Positive comment

XD Rotation Rhythm uses a few simple gestures that, taken together, create an eerily effective simulation of the feelings you experience when playing music.

The first movement is tapping. As the notes scroll across my screen in time to the music, I can tap the blue and red bars, as well as the green lines that extend across the playing field. The blue and red notes are both activated with a single button, while green notes are assigned to another button. That’s it.

Unsurprisingly, these notes match the rhythm of the songs, pulsing in time with drumbeats, chords, and other musical flourishes. I can also press and hold the blue and red indicators when the game wants me to lengthen a note. While holding these notes, I slide the analog stick from left to right on my controller to mimic the pitch variation.

In fact, the analog stick is an essential aspect of the game. Since songs are only represented by two major notes, blues and reds, I have to spin the activator at the bottom of my screen to match the pitches marks. While other games may assign the blue and red notes to different buttons on the controller to break up the monotony of pressing a single button to the beat of the music, XD Rotation Rhythm uses the analog stick as a kind of selector that allows me to play the whole game, no matter how chaotic, with those same two buttons.

In practice, this means I move my analog stick left and right in time with the music as I line up the colored parts of my disc to tap the blue and red notes that roll down my screen (and I also press a separate button when a green bar appears). It’s hard to describe in words, but I hope it makes sense after watching the trailer.

This jostling of the analog stick creates a sense of movement that I’ve never experienced in any other rhythm game. Like physically moving my hands up and down the length of a keyboard, XD Rotation RhythmUsing a spinning disc adds momentum to the gameplay, making the otherwise simple button scheme much more involved. It’s rare to be able to feel the movement in a rhythm game when playing it with a standard gamepad, but the effect here is far more engaging than it looks.

That’s not all the analog stick does, however. The songs also require me to “spin” the playing field by flicking the analog stick quickly left or right, depending on the prompt. This spins the disk at the bottom of my screen and intelligently snaps it back into place when a note is about to appear in the field. It’s like spinning a turntable like a DJ would.

Digital super spin

However, one of my favorite aspects of this game is how smartly it adds complexity without forcing me to be a button-tapping virtuoso. Nestled between large blue, green, and red notes that I tap on are smaller dotted blue and red notes. I’m not supposed to press buttons to activate them; instead, I “trace” them. As they move around the playing field, as long as these indicators fall into the appropriate color on the disc at the bottom of the screen, they will be played along with the music. These sounds represent the musically and rhythmically densest parts of songs, such as arpeggios and fast hi-hat trills. To actually play those notes with the press of a single button would be a nightmare, but dragging the disc at the bottom of the screen to grab them still gives that feeling of satisfaction without increasing the difficulty to the impossible.

While other rhythm games would leave out these more complex patterns on easier difficulty levels, they exist in all the difficulties in XD Rotation Rhythm. Including these more involved elements in the songs and only asking me to trace their path is an effective way to stay engaged with the music, even if I’m just typing simple beats otherwise. On the harder difficulties, tapping, sliding, gliding, and tracing come together to create a musicality that I haven’t experienced in other rhythm games. And to get there, I don’t have to feel like I’m only playing “half” the song, which I get when playing most other music titles on easy or even medium difficulty.

I’ve been playing rhythm games for over two decades, and it’s always a pleasant surprise to see how game developers come up with new ways to enjoy playing a game to music. These games are close to my heart, but can be hard to recommend. the genre requires a good sense of rhythm and generally great physical dexterity to play, even at lower difficulty levels.

XD Rotation Rhythm, with its tapping, swiping, and tracing mechanisms, lowers that barrier of entry without dumbing down its design. Even though it involves far less button tapping that is the hallmark of other rhythm tracks, it’s just as engaging as its contemporaries. If this is your first time playing a rhythm game, I’m envious. If you’re an old pro, get ready for something different but very enjoyable.

XD Rotation Rhythm will be available on Windows PC in Steam Early Access on October 22 and on Nintendo Switch in 2020. The game was reviewed on PC using a Steam download code provided by Super Spin Digital. You can find additional information on Polygon’s ethics policy here.

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