About the game:
- Developer: Klunge Interactive
- Publisher: Klunge Interactive
- Platforms: Oculus Rift, Oculus Quest, HTC Vive, Valve Index
- Release Date: October 31st, 2019
- Price: $19.99
- Reviewed On: Oculus Quest
- Review Code Provided: Yes
There is a ridiculous amount of rhythm games on VR, yet I felt like Synth Riders stood out among them and offered a unique experience. For starters, it has a very neon-cyberpunk aesthetic, which is immediately shown by the menu alone. Synth Riders takes this theme and runs with it, with every stage, song, and detail keeping this synthwave style. Bright colors on black is a very common theme throughout, as well as space and unworldly backgrounds. These minimalistic graphics work especially well on the Oculus Quest, which already has limited graphics.
The game’s premise is simple: hit the notes to the rhythm of the song to get the best score. Certain notes are only able to be hit certain ways: blue have to be hit by the left hand, pink by the right, green only by one hand, and orange by both. Some notes are on rails that require the player to hold their controller against them as they wind and bend, though most are spread about sporadically. Notes come very fast, especially at later speeds, making reaction time key.
Each song allows you to select the stage, difficulty, and game mode. Stages don’t actually change the gameplay since you’re on a linear path at all times, but they add a nice mix to the game. Having a changeable difficulty definitely adds a lot more replay ability and accessibility. The Hard and Expert difficulties definitely earn their title, I found myself barely being able to get past the first few seconds of each. The easy difficulty helps with a few of the more difficult songs, and I found it useful when doing Challenge mode. You can also see the length of the song, the amount of notes and obstacles, the beats per minute, and your best score.
There are three game modes: Normal, Force, and Challenge.
Normal is the default way of playing, where you keep hitting notes so you don’t get a game over. For this mode, you’re judged only on accuracy and how well you hit each note. Keeping combos and streaks is key since that increases your multiplier. “Special moves” are also a factor, but I honestly never could tell what those actually were.
Force mode adds the amount of force used to hit each note as a factor to the scoring. While it’s an interesting twist, I found this mode to be unfair and messy. Synth Rider is fast-paced and focuses on accuracy, so there really isn’t time to ready a punch. A lot of notes are in immediate succession to each other, making it nearly impossible to actually punch them before you get to the next one.
Challenge mode seemingly functions identically to normal mode, but with a twist. Modifiers are added that can be used to affect your score. For example, the notes can be made smaller, which makes them more difficult to hit but racks in more points. I found Prismatic Notes to be the most interesting. As notes get closer to you they become covered in a rainbow color, making it so you have to look farther ahead of you to see what the actual color of the note is in order to hit it the proper way.
At the end of every level, you can see a leaderboard to the right of y.ou Not only does this show you the top of all time, but also how you compare to the rest. This felt like a really good feature for a game like this to have since it allows you to see your progress the more you play, which is very motivating.
The game features over thirty songs and seven stages. Even though there is a wide range of songs, I did feel they got a bit repetitive with a majority of them being punk or techno. As for the stages, I was very surprised by how much variety was on display. Despite every stage still keeping a cyberpunk theme, they all felt completely different and unique from each other while not being too distracting from the main gameplay. My favorite stage had to have been Glitch, which features a spider-like creature with a CRT TV for a head as its main set piece, which you travel under.
A minor issue I found was when the game loaded in certain areas, the player’s hands weren’t unloaded so they just end up freezing in place. This ends up being very immersion-breaking and I feel would be an easy fix. I also noticed that certain rooms would start very dark and then randomly become brighter, a visual quirk that felt janky. Additionally, I felt the designated area to stand was too close. It didn’t feel like I had enough time to see the notes then hit them before they went flying past me, so I found myself usually standing a few steps back.
Overall, Synth Riders is an excellent workout experience that definitely left me feeling tired. It does a fantastic job keeping its cyberpunk theme with both its song and stage choices and adds some unique twists to the rhythm genre. Would I recommend it over games like Beat Saber? Maybe not, but it still is a very enjoyable experience.