Synth Riders Review: Beat Saber For the VHS Generation
Developed by Kluge Interactive, Synth Riders is sure to hook anyone with a fondness for Beat Saber. From their neon-saturated visuals to their pumping electro soundtracks, both VR rhythm games share a common DNA. However, while Beat Saber had you doing your best impersonation of an EDM-crazed Jedi as you slice and dice waves of oncoming notes, Synth Riders is more about gliding to the rhythm like a sentient light cycle straight out of Tron. With an outstanding tracklist filled with hits from some of the biggest names in Synthwave and easy to grasp yet difficult to master gameplay, it’s hands-down the most fun I’ve had with my PSVR in years.
Synth Riders‘ core mechanics are straightforward enough. Using the PlayStation Move controllers, your hands are represented by large blue and pink spheres. As the stage progresses, colored orbs representing notes will race across the screen, and you’ll need to touch them with the corresponding hand. Points are awarded for accuracy, so you’ll always want to try and hit the center of the orbs to rack up the most points. This sounds easy. But in the heat of a song where the notes are whizzing by at 150 beats per minute, it takes a keen eye and steady hand to score a perfect run.
In addition to blue and pink orbs, other targets pop up as well. For example, chains of green orbs can only be collected by the first hand that touches them. While orange orbs require your hands to be close together. In addition to orbs, you’ll also encounter rails that require you to use the Move controller to trace their path, as if grinding on a skateboard. I especially liked these and found the rumble the Move controller gives off when riding a rail to be immensely satisfying. Obstacles also appear from time to time in the form of walls that you need to sidestep or duck under.
As I said, Synth Riders’ mechanics aren’t the fanciest, but they’re perfectly serviceable. After all, the game’s pick-up-and-play nature makes it perfect for winding down after a long day at the office or firing up in the morning to get some quick cardio in before heading out the door.
That’s not to say Synth Riders lacks variety. Far from it –there are a ton of modifiers you can tweak to enhance the experience. For example, Force Mode requires you to actually strike notes rather than glide through them to score points. Which, as you can imagine, ups the challenge while turning the game into a much more intense workout. You can also change the size of the orbs or even have them become prismatic the closer they get to you, which will put both your memory and your reaction speed to the test.
Perhaps my favorite modifier is Swing Mode. Normally, orbs travel in a straight line from directly in front of you. However, in this mode, they race toward the player from a full 90 degrees. If you’re looking for a full-body workout, Swing Mode will probably be your go-to. It kicked my ass but kept me coming back for more. I probably drank about a gallon of water last night trying to ace Dance With The Dead’s “From Hell,” but it was worth all of the muscle pain I feel as I hammer out this review.
The ability to combine these different modifiers to craft your ideal dance routines and play style is one of Synth Riders‘ biggest draws and can make the game feel like a wildly different experience. Add to that five different difficulty modes to test your abilities, and you’ve got a game that will keep you coming back for more.
No Sunglasses, No Varsity Jacket, No Service
Of course, a rhythm game is only as good as its tracklist. And, as far as I’m concerned, Synth Riders hits it out of the park in that regard. The base game includes 55 licensed songs from some of the biggest names in the Synthwave scene, including The Midnight, Dance With The Dead, Robert Parker, and Scandroid. And each track fits the game’s 80s-tinged aesthetic like a well-worn racing glove.
While Synthwave fans will undoubtedly get the most out of what Synth Riders has to offer, that’s not to say there’s nothing for fans of other genres. There’s synthpop and synth-swing to groove to. And there are 25 DLC tracks across 5 song packs to flesh out the soundtrack even further. For example, the Caravan Palace pack adds five tracks from the eclectic French electronica group. Meanwhile, the Adrenaline Pack will have you moshing around to The Offspring’s “Come Out And Play,” Rancid’s “Time Bomb,” and Bad Religion’s “21st Century (Digital Boy)”, just to name a few. Just try not to break a leg (or your headset) trying to start a circle pit.
With 80 tracks available, there’s more than enough music to keep you moving for months on end. Just bear in mind you’re going to be shelling out $7.99 per pack if you want to get the total package.
I have to admit, it’d been a little while since I last fired up my PlayStation VR. However, now that I’ve experienced Synth Riders, I don’t plan on hanging it up anytime soon. It’s the kind of game you pick up and play for ten minutes and feel totally satisfied, or marathon for a solid hour and get a killer workout while soaking up all the sweet soundscapes. If I have one real complaint, it’s that the game only offers a handful of backgrounds to choose from. Still, with so much going on on-screen, you probably won’t be spending too much time taking in the scenery anyway.
Synth Riders is Beat Saber for the VHS generation. If you’re a rhythm game junkie with a soft spot for synthwave, this is a must-buy addition to your PSVR library.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: PS4 (reviewed), PC; Publisher: Kluge Interactive; Developer: Kluge Interactive; Players: 1-10 players (online); Released: August 10, 2021; MSRP: $24.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.