Synth Riders offers a unique approach to the rhythm genre with a fresh, new take on beat-mapped gameplay and a soundtrack that features some of the best tracks to groove to.
Every new rhythm game — especially in VR — has to deal with the eight-hundred pound gorilla that is Beat Saber in regards to the style, gameplay, and most importantly: the soundtrack. Thankfully, Synth Riders come into the game with a banging soundtrack, spanning multiple genres — anything from Synthwave to Dubstep — and a fun, nuanced target system that helps set it apart from all the other dance/rhythm games out there.
Gameplay in Synth Riders is very easy to understand, but as is in most rhythm games, it’s the memorization and perception of upcoming targets or notes that allows you to achieve top scores. Orbs are your targets here, with different, customizable colors that are designated to left, right, both and single hand hits. Simply hitting the orbs with your respective hands isn’t enough — it’s about hitting the center of them that awards you ‘perfect’ hits, worth more points. The reason behind the riding part of the game’s namesake is the paths you follow with your hands while sustaining notes, which is very similar to the Rock Band and Guitar Heroes of old. Each beatmapped song offers a layer of orbs in particular patterns to naturally have the player dance to the rhythm from the movements between positions and excels pretty well at making the songs feel like an experience rather than a ‘level’ you need to complete.
Lighting reacts to your performance and scenery from each of the selectable environments zooms past as you get lost in breaking orbs and following the beat. For those that find the experience a bit jarring with the motion of the background, you can turn that off. In fact, you can customize almost every aspect of your experience, from the color of the orbs to the sound effect and music volumes. I did find that the music on my Oculus Quest version started off too low for my liking, but it was an easily fixed problem via the full suite of audio options within the settings menu. Having accessibility options is something that I feel really shows that the developers care about appealing to everyone, ensuring anyone can enjoy their game at a comfort that works for them.
One thing that might set players apart, however, is the difficulty levels. There are varying levels of difficulty, ranging from ‘Easy’ to ‘Master’, but some levels only offer ‘Hard’ and above. Easy and Normal levels give you an opportunity to get your feet wet, while the hardest difficulties have you all over the place, doing crazy switchovers and providing more acrobatic feats as compared to the easier levels. There is certainly a vast jump on some of the songs compared to others, but it’s nothing new compared to other games in this genre. Experts who practice will be able to excel in the later, blisteringly difficult tracks, just the same.
Those looking to show off their skills will be happy to hear that Synth Riders offers a worldwide, cross-platform leaderboard. I personally have trouble focusing visually due to an astigmatism, so I don’t foresee me topping any of them any time soon, but it’s neat to see how your ‘perfect’ score ranks compared to top players, in any regard. There are individual rankings for each of the difficulty levels, so even a peon like me can see how I stack up. Additional modes such as force and challenge give players other options to expand the variety of play. Force mode rewards additional points for the recorded dance or impact of each hit note and challenge gives random modifiers, making for a good choice for party play with friends.
Whatever mode you choose to play, it really comes down to the music that can make or break a rhythm game and Synth Riders offers one of the best soundtracks that I’ve seen so far. While the tracks don’t necessarily feature world-renowned EDM artists, the music all has a fervent energy that drives each level and ramps up the excitement of the play. I can’t express enough how well the tracks are mapped to the notes within the level and the game just feels good to play because of the meticulously crafted orb layouts. Haptic feedback from hitting notes makes the experience additionally surreal as you feel each note as you hit them, furthering the nirvana of knocking out a perfect combo while jamming and dancing to the killer beats.
One of the most requested features in the genre for dancing/rhythm games is the ability to map your own songs. Synth Riders offers you not only the ability to map out your own tracks to play with the game, but with a fully-featured, intelligent app that makes the whole process beautifully simple. Mapping a song is still an arduous process, but their map editor is one of the best I’ve seen, and certainly gives reason to check out the game for the fact that they are willing to support custom songs from the start.
While there are plenty of rhythm games out there worth your time, Synth Riders offers a breath of fresh air to those that might find the track offerings from Beat Saber or similar games stagnant after a couple of plays. The thirty-one songs in Synth Riders offered from the beginning are full of hits and will never leave you wanting more. The motions are unique, the UI and settings customization is unreal and the whole experience overall is a joy to play. You’ll find yourself coming back to each track, over and over again, just to push yourself a little higher on the leaderboards and get into the flow of the song once more.