Synth Riders is a VR rhythm action game, but instead waving lightsabers around as in Beat Saber, you’ve got balls. Big, glowing, spinning balls that you use to hit notes and ride lines rather than slice boxes in twain. While the comparisons are inevitable, it means that Synth Riders manages to feel more like a dancing game than a Jedi training simulator, even if both could reasonably be described as “kinda like Guitar Hero, but it’s a VR thingy.”
You should be dancing, yeah!
Your big glowing balls basically take the place of your hands, one purple and one blue, and you have to then make your handballs meet notes of the corresponding colour as they zoom towards you. So far, so Beat Saber, but here you don’t have to hit them from a specific direction, just hit them as accurately as possible. Then there are lines, which you’ll need to trace in the air as they pass by, spiralling around you and rising and falling with the music. Some sequences of notes need to be done with both hands and are represented with yellow notes, while green notes let you choose which hand to use through that particular sequence.
It sounds complex, but there’s a nice tutorial to explain it to you before you start playing the game proper. Once you’ve adjusted a bit, it almost feels like dancing, the hand movements that you make to hit all the notes are often reminiscent of dance move and once you get comfortable you could even dance along. Before that point, you’ll be too busy to notice.
Synth Riders is fast, so you’ll be most likely be focused on not tying your arms up in knots as you hit notes and trace lines in the air. It’s like you’re doing some kind of super fast yoga, which is what dancing is really, when you think about it. When you find a song you love and have grown comfortable with the gameplay you’ll end up bopping along having the time of your life, except for the occasional panic when a few more notes than expected appear.
Get into the Electro Swing of things
That library is made up of mostly unrecogniseable names to me, though Muse and The Offspring show up in the music packs. The Electro Swing Essentials pack in particular is fantastic, especially Delight by Jamie Berry Ft. Octavia Rose, and Caravan Palace has now found their way into my master Spotify playlist.
However, there’s also a few duff notes. Some songs lack variation and have no real crescendo to build up to. These songs feel a bit boring, like you’re not moving as much as you’d expect even on higher difficulties. You can always go through and add all the songs you like to favourites and never even look at the others again and there’ll be plenty to choose from as future music packs are added.
Rhythm, Force, Spin
Alongside the main Rhythm mode, where you’re judged on how accurately you hit the notes, you have two other modes. The first is Force, which judges you based on how hard to hit the notes and significantly changes how I was playing the game. Needing to actually hit the notes makes for a more difficult and rewarding game, adding a little oomph that can elevate even a one of the less interesting tracks. Then there’s Spin mode, where you now turn left and right whilst you’re playing, remarkably similarly to the 90° mode in Beat Saber. The PSVR version you can only rotate 90 degrees, with higher rotations only available on other headsets due to how PSVR’s tracking works.
You can tailor the difficulty yourself as well, with options like disappearing notes or colour changing notes so you need to remember them by the time they get to you, or smaller notes, and so on. There really are a lot of options to tailor the experience to your preferences.
PSVR is also missing the online multiplayer mode at launch, which is a shame, instead coming with solo mode, where you pick songs to play from the library, and a party mode that lets you take turns with people in the same room and compare scores. Considering the wealth of options to customising your gameplay there isn’t really a lack of options for playing, but a “campaign” mode similar to Beat Saber’s that has variations of songs that are in the game with different rules wouldn’t have hurt, especially since there’s only the one mode if you’re alone.
Experience the music
One area in which Synth Riders excels is with its visuals. The game is full of neon colours and gorgeous style for each of its stages, even though you’re usually a bit too distracted to enjoy it. Nowhere is this more clear than in the songs that come with “experiences.” An experience strips away all the UI and has you playing the game with just balls, notes, lines, and a stunning music video that’s specific to the song. There are only three of these in the game I think, but each of them is genuinely, and I don’t mean for this to sound corny, an experience. Muse’s Algorithm (Alternate Reality Version) has you playing the game against what appears to be a huge star in the distance whilst Borg-y boxes float around in sync. It’s difficult to describe, but these really are excellent and it’s just a shame there’s so few of them.
Thankfully, Synth Riders avoids having any tracking issues on PSVR, and it doesn’t even wiggle my head around when I’m spiralling my hands around in front of my face like a ghost in a dream I once had. There’s also colourblind options in the menus, which gets another big thumbs up from me (because I’m slightly colourblind). One area that could us polish is the loading screen, where there’s quite a lot of flickering in the headset whilst it loads, which could be problematic for some.