I enjoy rhythm games in VR despite not being that great at them. Maybe that means I don’t like them enough to continue to play them, which is obviously how you get good at something, or maybe I just suck. Who Knows? I do not live under a rock, however, which is to say I’ve played (and reviewed) Beat Saber, the granddaddy of all VR rhythm games, and one in which all newcomers are inevitably compared to. I’m not going to spend this entire review talking about Beat Saber, but it is the elephant in the room, so I’ll get it out of the way now. I like Beat Saber quit a bit. I’m a drummer who loves VR, likes rhythm games and loves Star Wars, so I’m pretty much the exact target demographic. Playing that game feels like one part lightsaber dueling and one part drumming. Despite Synth Riders featuring basically the same style gameplay, it feels completely different to play.
This isn’t combat or drumming, this is dancing. Although come to think of it, my dancing could be used as an attack, I suppose. Instead of sabers, you have spinning colored orbs in each hand that you need to correspond to the “notes” that are hurtling towards you. Instead of chopping at them, you simply touch them. Sometimes the notes are accompanied by a long twisting line that you need to follow. It was after an hour of “riding” these lines and dodging obstacles to the hypnotic beat of over 30 impressive techno tracks that I realized that developer Kluge Interactive had tricked me into dancing.
Despite being a self-described anti-dancer and not a fan of techno music, I really enjoy playing Synth Riders. Maybe I have a tiny dancer in me trying to get out, or maybe it’s just a really fun game? As you can see from the game’s logo, they’re leaning hard into an ’80’s motif, full of neon lights, lasers, and all of the Tron imagery they could legally cram in. It looks great and helps set it apart from the more modern and futuristic vibe of Beat Saber.
As I already mentioned, the gameplay is instantly recognizable for anyone who has ever played a Rockband, Guitar Hero, or any other rhythm game. You have a blue orb in your right hand and a pink orb in your left hand. Throughout each song, four different colored notes will fly towards you. In addition to the pink and blue, you’ll also get some yellow and green. What to do with the pink and blue notes is obvious, but how the hell do you hit green and yellow with your pink and blue orbs? Simple really. The yellow notes you hit with both of your hands together, while the green notes you can hit with either one. But the catch is you have to stick with whichever color you chose until that section is complete. These two different colors add a little extra challenge, but mostly it’s there to spice up the gameplay and to add to your growing list of dance moves.
So how does a guy who doesn’t like to dance or listen to techno music like playing this game so much? Good question. For starters, despite every song being heavily techno, almost every one of the 30 plus songs was fun to play. I preferred the heavier ones, however, and I’m glad to say there were a lot of them. For me, the heavier – more industrial – songs have more satisfying sections when you really nail the notes. I suspect it feels that way for me, simply because I prefer heavy music, but I’m not sure. I am sure that there is a lot of traditional techno and a fair bit of that ’80’s style pop music as well. And like I said, every song I played had a few sections that were extremely cool to play, even the songs I didn’t care for and would never listen to outside of this game. I obviously need to mention that Synth Riders also supports a custom song mapping program that you can upload if you just can’t get enough.
It’s not perfect, of course. First of all, you’ll need to go into the settings right away. The music is set to only 50% and is way too quiet. It also doesn’t have a noise marker for when you hit a note set to default. I personally need this noise and controller feedback when I hit a note. When it’s there, you feel like an integral part of the song. Like if you weren’t there, the song would fall apart. When there is no indicator that you hit the note just right? Well, you’re just flailing about your living room, right? Thankfully, they have a few different sounds and volume levels for this setting. I’m not sure why these are set this way as the default setting, but the game is better in my opinion with the music turned up and the hit markers loud and proud. You can also change the color of the orbs so they aren’t basically the opposite of Beat Saber if you just can’t bother to unlearn that color scheme. Also, the screen goes extremely dark during load screens and always makes me think there is something wrong. It doesn’t go black, it just goes dark with the previous screen still glowing dimly in the background. It doesn’t really affect anything, but it doesn’t look right.
It doesn’t have a campaign shoehorned in, but it does have three different modes. Normal mode, which I just described with 900 words, a force mode, and a challenge mode. The force mode gives you more points for basically punching the notes, and the challenge mode just adds more challenges. The other two modes are fine, but the normal mode is the most fun for me. Those other two modes will probably appeal to the gamer who will want to up the challenge after they have mastered the already five different difficulty methods.
I feel like Synth Riders is a must-buy for fans of rhythm games, or techno music. It honestly surprised me how much I enjoyed playing the game. This is one of those titles where gameplay videos don’t do an accurate job of how fun the games are to actually play. My favorite part of Synth Riders is replaying a song I particularly liked only to see my name rise up the global leaderboard, and eventually remember that I’m getting a hell of a workout too. Not bad for less than $20!
Synth Riders Oculus Quest/Oculus Rift Review
Overall - Fantastic - 8/10
Synth Riders is an absolute must-buy for rhythm game fans or fans of techno music. It has over 30 tracks, more on the way, and it supports a custom song mapping program. What more do you want? I mean, they did trick me into dancing, but it turns out I had a tiny dancer inside me the whole time. Who knew?
- It has a ton of fun tracks to play at launch with more on the way
- Fun and addictive gameplay
- A hell of a workout
- A custom song mapping program
- Some weird default settings
- If you hate techno music or have no rhythm, sorry
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using Oculus Quest.
Also available on:
Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, HTC Vive, Vive Index
October 31st, 2019 (Oculus Quest)
July 12th, 2018 (PCVR)