I recently got an Oculus Quest 2, so when developer Kluge Interactive offered us a code to review their rhythm game Synth Riders, I was definitely intrigued. It came out in 2018, so has received a bunch of updates and some DLC - but most importantly, the Quest 2 wasn’t out in 2018. So how does the new hardware handle it?
Gaming isn’t starved for rhythm titles, going back to PaRappa The Rapper. That was over two decades and several console generations ago, so things have gotten a little stale. Putting a rhythm game in virtual reality, though, changes it from a frenetic button-mashing exercise in getting D-ranks. You’re not relying on input speeds, because you are the input.
This is especially noticeable in Synth Riders, because you don’t have anything to wave around at the coloured orbs flying towards you; you only have your fists. Your controllers are surrounded by spinning balls, and you have to make these balls hit the orbs as they reach you, in time to the music. You wind up moving a lot, and it’s actually easier if you dance! Moving your whole body is better for you than just reaching your arms, anyway.
There are five difficulties to keep you entertained, as well as two slightly different ways to play. Rhythm mode will score you based on how accurately you get in the middle of the orbs. This is the mode you’d expect there to be - the more perfect your collision, the higher the score. Then you have Force mode, which makes you actually punch the orbs - the harder you hit, the higher the score. At least in theory, because I found it difficult to get higher scores despite swinging my arms as hard as possible.
Synth Riders has a bunch of different ways to customise your experience with modifiers. Bigger or smaller orbs, change the shape of them, add or remove the barriers and No Fail Mode (which allows you to miss as many notes as you like) all adjust your score either up or down, depending on whether they make things easier or harder.
The most interesting modifier is Spin Mode. During normal play the notes coms straight towards you, but with Spin Mode turned on the direction changes gradually throughout the run. If you’ve got a big enough space and fancy a bigger challenge, set it to 360 degrees!
Some of the modifiers are actually used in multiplayer as power-ups, which increase the challenge for your opponents. Things like note size, notes that vanish as they approach, “prismatic notes” which randomly changes the colours…
Multiplayer can be a challenge to set up, because joining a private room requires pre-planning. In an Oculus party you can talk to everyone - until you enter a Synth Riders lobby, which stops you being able to communicate with your party, until you exit the game. It took me 15 minutes to arrange a private game with someone.
Public matches are easier, as you just join and wait for the host to choose a track - worth noting that only the host needs to own a DLC song for everyone to be able to use it! Power-ups are optional, so you might never encounter them, but do watch out for the space invaders! They fire at you, and you can have multiple invaders at once…
Out of the box, Synth Riders allows you to use custom songs - though not in multiplayer, unless they install the same song. Unfortunately, you can’t use any song that you want, unless you make the beatmap yourself using the free app on Steam. There are a bunch that people have made, of varying difficulties, on https://synthriderz.com/ . Be warned that the difficulties stated aren’t always true - City Escape (from Sonic Adventure 2) is down as easy, and it’s one of the most difficult songs I’ve constantly failed at.
The only negative I have to say, other than my initial multiplayer setup woes, is that there is a thing called Yur Watch in the game. I cannot get it to work, and the only settings I can find make it show up or not. Honestly, though, I probably get a better reading from my smart watch.
I’ve honestly loved playing Synth Riders, and use it in lieu of working out. A good 30-40 minutes on this is an ideal workout, and thanks to the number of difficulties I can make it harder for myself if I want, and just stick on an easy one to warm up and cool down.
I’m not a big music person, but I’ve found a lot of tracks that I really enjoy thanks for Synth Riders. I didn’t even know electro swing was a thing - turns out it’s amazing! There are regular content updates with each new DLC, and Kluge Interactive add free songs alongside the paid ones. Compared to release, Synth Riders is definitely better value for money than it used to be if you’ve been on the fence for a while.
Synth Riders is great fun, and a fantastic way to keep yourself moving even in a limited amount of space. I look forward to sweating my face off for a long time to come, and maybe I’ll get around to making a beatmap of Dare from The Transformers The Movie…
Synth Riders (Reviewed on Oculus Quest)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
A fantastic addition to your VR library, it will keep you moving even after a gaming session, when one of the fantastic selection of songs gets stuck in your head.