Doesn’t Skip A Beat
You’d be wrong to think Synth Riders is another Beat Saber clone. While Synth Riders shares a lot in common with its well-established all-dancing, all-light saber swinging sibling, its got a fair bit going for it to convince you to part with your hard-earned pennies.
At the very top of that list must be its core gameplay mechanics, which is a smorgasbord of similar rhythm-based games.
Yes, You’ve Got a Pair of Virtual Pom-Poms!
Key to Synth Riders is the glowing spheres in both of your hands – or pom-poms, as I’ll call them for the rest of this review. Like Beat Saber, you smash notes with your hands – except this time – there’s no slashing motion. You simply direct your pom-poms to the appropriately coloured orbs and bash them as the note reaches your hands.
Synth Riders mixes up the established Beat Saber note bashing formula with several noteworthy additions. First, it employs a holding note mechanic, like that of Guitar Hero or Rock Band ilk. It works by you hitting an initial ball with your pom-poms and then holding that note by ‘riding the rail’ that comes after it.
Next, it adds a mechanic where you must hit an orange coloured note by using both your pom-poms at the same time. Cross your arms, and you’ll get the idea.
Put all of this together, complete with the pumping electronic soundtrack, and you’ve got a rhythm game experience with real challenge and depth.
Great Tunes and Decent Visuals
The cornerstone of any rhythm-driven game is its soundtrack. And while it doesn’t have any of the bangers you’d get from a Rock Band 3 or Guitar Hero 3, its eclectic selection of synth-driven electronic music is punchy and well-suited to the cyberpunk aesthetic developer Kluge Interactive has curated.
At the time of writing, the game comes with 31 tracks – each with different challenges, difficulties, BPM, and quirks. Standout tracks include All Night – the delightfully poppy synthwave effort from PRIZM; Tonight – a throwback to 80s power rock – complete with obligatory guitar solo – from Sunset Neon; and Pursuit – a dark electronic track that could find itself at home easily on a DrDisRespect clip.
Continuing with the 80s throwback, Kluge Interactive has designed seven stages for you to wave your glorified pom-poms around. Neon lights and dystopian cities are on the menu, with frikkin’ LASERS all part of the experience. Overall, they’re well-designed, resemble scenes from Tron and Blade Runner, but won’t be anything you haven’t seen in any other VR rhythm-based game.
A Deep Level of Customisation and Difficulty Levels
Discussing difficulty is a bit more complicated for Synth Riders, compared to similar titles. First, it has three gameplay modes, designed to accommodate for how active you want to be. Normal is pretty standard, where all you need do is simply strike the appropriate coloured orb with your pom-poms, without moving too much.
Force is where things get a bit more interesting. You still need to hit the orbs to register notes, but this time you have to put a bit of effort into smashing the orbs. A force indicator on your left and right hands show you how much juice you need to put into breaking the orbs with your pom-poms. Weak punches mean you’ll end up with a lower score at the end.
Challenge is where things really heat up, where it combines both modes previously mentioned, as well as obstacles you must physically avoid as well as ups the number of notes you’ve gotta hit.
Once you’ve selected your gameplay mode, you can then pick a track and you’ll be able to then select its difficulty, from Easy all the way up to Master. Not only do these myriad options make playing Synth Riders lots of fun, but they also help you tailor the gameplay to match your current skill level much better than other VR rhythm-based games – decreasing frustration.
Isn’t Innovative, But Who Cares?
Synth Riders isn’t an innovative game – but does it really matter? It’s a well thought out and well-implemented entry into the rhythm-based VR experience. Arguably, with the additional gameplay modes, Synth Riders offers more depth than its contemporaries, allowing for much more challenging endgame experience.
The dancing simulator is also supported by a burgeoning mod community, ensuring a glut of new tracks will trickle their way into the game on a consistent basis. Also, if you’re one to monitor your health and fitness, Synth Riders also has a calorie tracking feature – invaluable for those challenge mode tracks.
Where Synth Riders excels is bottling up that feeling of the 1980s. You know the one I’m on about – the poppy, carefree, upbeat, and confident attitude of a simpler time. If cyberpunk and the ’80s is your thing (Let’s face it, it should be) – grab your aviators, baggy trousers, pom-poms and dive straight into Synth Riders! You won’t be disappointed.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Oculus Rift (reviewed); Publisher: Kluge Interactive; Developer: Kluge Interactive; Players: 1; Released: October 31st, 2019; MSRP: $19.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Synth Riders given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher.