Virtual reality games are at their best when they give you highly responsive controls that are a blast to use. Beat Saber brought this simple concept to the forefront of VR gaming with a musical, rhythmic theme and now Synth Riders aims to refine and improve the formula. It does this by bringing some fresh new ideas to the movement intensive gameplay that make it proudly stand on its two feet and even surpass the main competitor in some aspects.
Playing Synth Riders if a very simple affair -- especially if you are familiar with how Beat Saber works. Instead of having two lightsabers, here you have two different colored orbs with which you need to touch the oncoming notes of a song playing in the background that are represented by more orbs.
The game further spices this formula up by adding note sections that need to be completed all the way through with only one arm of your choice as well as notes that need to be hit by putting your hands together. The game also offers the appropriately named “Force mode” where you need to put some force behind your movements and actually punch the orbs.
The unique thing about Synth Riders is how you hit the notes. In Beat Saber, it was all about the directional swinging and that cutting motion. In Synth Riders you can, in theory, hit the notes from any direction you choose to. However, they’ll mostly be coming your way from a direction where the most efficient way to hit them will give a dance-like appearance to your movements. There’s also an added element where you need to sustain certain notes by holding and making your hands follow lines that will swerve across the screen.
This wealth of mechanically different ways to hit the notes is what elevates Synth Riders above the competition. The notes line up well with the oncoming orbs and the feeling the music is where the game absolutely nails it. This is especially true when it comes to transitions between different segments of a song where each will require you to hit the notes in a different way. This is especially the case on higher difficulties where quick transitions between the different combinations of hands used change by the second.
What the game somewhat lacks is the satisfaction and feedback of successfully hitting a note. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still very satisfying to finish a segment without mistakes, but it lacks that immediate satisfaction of Beat Saber. There you had a satisfying feeling of cutting through a block to hit a note but here you only need to touch it and for that, you are awarded by only a slight controller vibration. Still, there’s no denying that Synth Riders is ultimately a very fun game and one with which you can get a serious workout -- especially on the higher difficulties.
The game can quickly go from a round of cheerleading exercise on the hard difficulty of the normal mode to an intense punchout on the extreme of the force mode. Much of your initial success will depend on how much experience you have with similar games. I still had my muscle memory conditioned by Beat Saber and found anything below extreme to be very easy but this might not be the case for you.
The game does feature a tutorial -- of sorts. It’s essentially an image showing you what you need to do for each different colored orb coming your way and won’t prepare you for the actual game. Instead, it’s a case of learning by doing and jumping into any level on easy will do a better job of teaching you the basics.
Should you find the levels too easy or too difficult, the game also comes equipped with an easy to use level editor. Not only can you use it to place orbs and obstacles, but you can also choose and upload custom songs which is a great thing for the sake of variety. I expect the levels on offer to grow as more players join the fray, considerably boosting the game’s longevity.
VISUALS AND AUDIO
Playing a game of Synth Riders is like jumping inside the Grid of the popular Tron franchise. What this entails is a world where everything of note is made out of bright and colorful neon. The orbs that represent your hands, the notes themselves and even entire stages are made of the stuff and set against the black background to create an awesome retro-futuristic look. The only variety comes in the form of the ability to select one of 8 visually distinct stages. While they look really interesting, they don’t affect gameplay in any way and you’ll often barely even notice them due to the nature of the game itself.
Performance-wise -- the game runs smoothly and almost completely bug-free. The only issue I ever had was where the laser pointer disappearing in the game menus but nothing that was game-breaking or that impacted the actual gameplay.
When it comes to music, the songs on offer are predominantly electronic with a focus on the retro-futuristic synthwave and dubstep. I feel like they are a bit more niche than what’s on offer in the often pop filled competition and how much you like them will definitely depend on your personal taste. I personally found them to be awesome and more importantly, perfectly in line with its visual aesthetic. Should you find yourself disliking the songs that ship with the game, you always have the aforementioned level editor to make the game truly yours in that regard.