After vibin' on PCs for over two years, Synth Riders is finally coming to PSVR - albeit after a few postponements. We're having a look at the final version.
The top-selling game of the current VR generation is undoubtedly Beat Saber, in which we chop up flying cubes with our lightsabers in sync to throbbing beats. Of course, this success story has inspired all kinds of other VR music games in recent years, and one of the best of those is Synth Riders. Instead of lightsabers, we have disco balls in our hands - one is glowing in neon cyan, the other in pink. Similarly coloured balls come towards us from the depths of space, which have to be touched with the corresponding colour/hand. Unsurprisingly, the score for each hit depends on its accuracy. Elements typical of the genre, such as a multiplier and of course a "game over" screen that appears if too many mistakes are made within a certain time frame, are also featured. On top of that, we have to avoid obstacles from time to time, which is obviously inspired by Beat Saber, too.
The biggest unique selling point of Synth Riders is a long note line, which comes from the void. We have to constantly follow that path with our hands and that feels really fun and even innovative for virtual reality standards. Occasionally, there will be a sequence of green notes appearing on your screen and you have to hit and follow them with one of your hands. Similarly, there is a chain of golden notes, that have to be touched with both hands simultaneously. If we finish such a sequence without errors, there's big score bonus waiting for us.
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A decisive factor in rhythm games is of course the selection of the music. The title of Synth Riders already hints towards its main genre and the '80s-inspired design isn't just for show: In the basic version we find a whopping 55 synthesizer tracks, most of which come from the popular retro genre Synthwave, and are therefore reminiscent of classics from Jean-Michele Jarre, enriched with modern beats. Sometimes it gets a bit harder, in the vein of dark wave or industrial, and occasional drum'n'bass or dubstep beats can also happen. So far, Synth Riders provides a great range, and all these titles can be approached in numerous levels of difficulty, which can be further refined using all kinds of modifiers.
Also, we have the choice of whether we play in "normal" mode, where it's enough to touch the approaching balls, or whether we prefer to really punch the notes with as much force as possible, which turns out to be a real workout. Indeed, any fat deposits that may or may not have been put on during the lockdown periods we managed so far can be tackled really well with these modes: From my experience with the PC version, I know that with 5 x 40 minutes of Synth Riders in "Force Mode" on hard or higher difficulty, around 2500 additional calories can easily be burnt off in a single week - a recommended amount if you want to lose weight gently through exercise.
Of course, most people will be more interested in the normal high score hunt, and Synth Riders offers a wide range of options here, too. You find online rankings and many difficulty modifiers to increase the challenge. Motivational rivalry is encouraged, especially in duels with PlayStation friends. In contrast to other versions of the game for Steam, Viveport and Oculus, the leaderboards here are not designed for crossplay though, so we only see the results of other PSVR fans. This has certainly been done to honour the fact that the game plays and feels a little different on the Sony console.
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The stylized neon graphics come across beautifully and classy on PSVR as they hit the targeted '80s aesthetic in a nutshell. The so-called "Experiences", which are offered for some (DLC) songs, in which we fly through some kind of choreographed music video world that feels really trippy, are the cherry on the cake here. However, for people who are susceptible to motion sickness from demanding VR experiences, the normal scenarios can be switched to standstill mode, so the game should be comfortable to anyone. We can also adjust a lot of other things, like flashing light effects or the colours of the balls, so that there are no barriers to players with impaired colour perception.
A bit of a pity is that detection of the impact force in "Force Mode" feels sketchy at times, but this is probably due to the technology of the (at this point) old fashioned Move controllers. On the plus side, they have the advantage that you can safely smash them together at their rubber ends to hit the "golden notes", without having to worry about them breaking, as is the case with the other VR systems. Aside from the controllers, however, the PSVR version lacks a bit of polish here and there, despite the long wait. That begins with the somewhat beastly "OK" button that you have to press to get into the game, and it goes on with all sorts of flickering in the transitions from menus to game scenes and vice versa. The launch postponement indicates that there were some difficulties porting the game to PSVR, but the last wrinkles will hopefully be ironed out soon, with further updates.
Overall, Synth Riders is definitely a great VR game that shines on PSVR with little restriction. For my personal taste, its rich content gives it a significantly better value than what Beat Saber offers. The basic version costs just €24.99 and the large bundle with 25 additional DLC songs, some of which also come with their own stages or even Experiences, is available for €54.99. Subscribers to PS Plus are particularly well off here, as they get the package of their choice with a 20% discount during launch week. In my opinion, if you like the overall style of music, you can go for the deluxe package without hesitation. And everyone else might be comforted a little with the small collection of punk-rock titles from the "Adrenaline Pack", in which legends like The Offspring and Bad Religion provide some shredding riffs.
8 / 10
One of the best virtual reality music games, extensive content.