Beat Saber gets a lot of love as the “active” virtual reality gaming experience. But hold on to your light sword — we have a new contender and it suits this middle-aged gamer just fine.
My lifestyle changed over a year ago (90 pounds lost — and continuing) and I added virtual reality to my workout regiment. I fell in love with music-based rhythm games (alright, I’ll say it … Beat Saber … I even wrote about it before Forbes did …) and started looking for something similar that scratches a different itch.
I’m a child of the 80s. Neon, retro synth music, David Hasselhoff … So once I heard about a music game that featured these things (yes, even The Hoff is there … unofficially, of course) and was well under $20?
That’s an impulse buy in my book.
Alas, it will be compared and contrasted to Beat Saber — which does it a great disservice. Yes, it has two-colored “hands” that dispatch similar colored items flying at you — all synced to music. That’s where the comparison needs to end.
Before I get into details — let me tell you something very important. IMHO, any music game without this feature is pointless.
Custom songs are supported. Natively.
What does that mean? NO MODS REQUIRED. That’s right. Custom songs can be easily dropped right into a folder and be picked up on next run. What’s more — there is a vendor-provided map editor included! Correct — no weird trips to GIT HUB to start making maps of your own songs. There is a lot of value in this.
Now, the custom song maps are in their infancy — but the community is ALIVE with Synth Riders; new maps are coming out all the time (in fact, in another window … I’m creating my first song). If you’ve mapped with Beat Saber — you should be quite at home here. The editor isn’t without its quirks (the community is reporting bugs and they are getting squashed quickly) but it is fully serviceable.
Oh, and the community is quite active on Discord. The developers are there — answering questions and taking bug reports and a growing fan base is there too; helping newbies out so the developers can — you know, write code.
Alright, now let’s talk about the game and how it serves a different purpose than Beat Saber.
Beat Saber is always a high-energy experience. In my experience, slow songs simply don’t translate well there. After all — it is about “impact and striking” — so if you don’t have a constant beat or rhythm? Well, you get the idea.
Synth Riders opens the doors for pretty much any song and this is due to a couple of simple but important differences from Beat Saber.
First, there is a feeling of motion through some really cool landscapes (mods are going to produce some INSANE worlds to play in) which allows the game to have a sort of “journey” feeling to it while you play. This creates a more “experience” with the song rather than just a “beat sim”.
Rails are just what they sound like — colored rails you “grind” on with your hands as you travel. This seemingly small addition really adds something to the game. I’ve suggested some ways to make rails even more exciting (hitting those dopamine receptors) — but they allow you do something that is not “hitting” which gives maps something to do during the lulls in the song (or those annoying hard-to-map song bridges).
As with Beat Saber, there are varying degrees of difficulty for each map and world leaderboards for each one. There are some unique scoring opportunities that keeps things interesting and keeps YOU replaying the levels.
The built-in maps are more suited to my “middle-aged gamer” tastes too. I love the track “Tonight” and would probably play it in my car. I can’t say that about any Beat Saber built-in maps. I threw on a couple of custom maps too; Danger Zone, Holding Out For A Hero, Take on Me … I miss the 80s.
We are in the early stages of the potential of Synth Riders and it is already well worth your $17 (at the time of writing). It is going to get even better as the mod community starts in on it and custom maps of songs YOU care about become easily available.