I don’t toss the word “hate” around lightly, so let me just say I really, REALLY dislike Imagine Dragons’ music. It’s not personal; it’s 100% business. When part of your many talents involves editing videos for a living, you start to notice the glaring lack of “Recently-released motivational rock music with no swearing or slurs” that every corporate client wants as the soundtrack to their next project. It’s a square hole that Imagine Dragons fits very squarely into with seemingly few competitors, and certainly none with so many singles fitting that micro-genre. So in any given week, at some point, I am putting pictures to this over-produced, lyrically-cliche music and it eats my soul both as an editor and a former musician/composer.
So when I say that I went into Beat Saber’s Imagine Dragons music pack with a negative bias, I want you to understand my full meaning, and when I say my bias was completely unfounded I want you to be open to this truth. At a little over a month since it’s June 10th release date, it is no small testament to the team at Beat Games and to Imagine Dragons themselves that I have to begrudgingly but truthfully admit that this music pack is the BEST experience playing the game. Not just that, but it is the most intense workout I’ve clocked in Beat Saber to date. Fellow haters, hear me out, and try to keep an open mind.
About Imagine Dragons
Love em or hate em, Imagine Dragons figured out a formula that makes them the Multi-nominated/Multi-award winning act that they are today. That formula is a secret sauce of syncopated inspirational lyrics from frontman Dan Reynolds, earwormy choruses with chugging rock overtones, weird-but-still-safe electronic hooks, oh and LOTS of bass drum. Since their hit “Radioactive” held No. 1 on the Hot Rock Songs chart for a record-breaking 23 weeks, they’ve cranked out several more hit singles many of which are represented in this pack. You can almost picture each track was manufactured by men in lab coats not 4 scruffy looking guys from Vegas, but whether with cold scientific intent or not, therein lies the power. These tracks are designed to elicit maximum emotional response and they work. Sell out bands sell out for a reason!
So what does this have to do with VR gaming and VR fitness? Well as it turns out the team at Beat Games approached this music pack with the same attention to detail and creativity that they have with the Monstercat Vol 1 pack and each single released before it, but it turns out with this new music they’ve really outdone themselves! Let’s break down the reasons this pack is a must-have for any serious Beat Saber fitness pro:
1. The difficulty is challenging but attainable.
When I first fired up the pack on the PSVR, I was determined to quickly ace each track, do the math on how many MET/cals I reached, and never pick it up again. In alphabetical order, we start with “Bad Liar“, which is definitely not the worst song the band ever recorded. It travels places even if it’s a little corny. It was also really easy to ace (or should I say “S”) on the first try. Don’t get me wrong, I had to catch my breath a bit by the end and I didn’t destroy the leaderboards, but one gets a certain smug satisfaction out of pwning the first track, and really of making it any distance on any of these. Overall that’s a huge aspect of what this pack offers, it allows the player to feel innately talented and take to these tracks very easily while still providing a challenge at higher difficulties. Beat Saber’s original soundtrack frequently felt not just difficult but almost unfair when trying a new song or expert level. Monstercat Vol. 1 mitigated this some and the mappings felt much more rewarding. Suffice it to say the Imagine Dragons mappings, much like the music, really do appeal to the widest range of players whether you’re a beginner or an expert+.
2. The music motivates you… one way or another
It wasn’t long after that first track that I found myself on that familiar “Level Failed” screen. It’s a common sight to any rhythm Jedi tackling a new song, but with this pack, it feels different. If you like the track (and I’ll admit… some of these are growing on me), there’s a wholesome feeling in defeat. It feels all in good fun and that if you just try again immediately, you’ll know what to expect and can push past it. If you dislike the track (and I’ll admit… some of these are still obnoxious), there’s an overwhelming feeling of motivated rage. I almost found myself yelling “how dare you!” at my HMD. It makes you immediately want to fire up the track again just to punch it in the face. After a while, the song transforms from nails-on-a-chalkboard into a worthy opponent, a boss fight with yourself. I can’t really describe or explain why that is other than the genius of the mappings. You can see where you went wrong and, whether stoked or enraged, you want to keep going and fix it.
3. The numbers don’t lie
I’ve clocked a lot of VR workouts over the past now 7+ months. The main criticism of VR fitness as a format is that without resistance and relying mostly on upper body movement, it’s really difficult to tax muscles enough to facilitate growth or keep a heart-rate elevation comparable to other forms of cardio like running. Play Beat Saber long enough and these things become a non-issue. Towards the end of a 30-60min session, almost anyone will start to get into that cardio zone. Comparing my previously recorded data with the data I clocked on the Imagine Dragons pack was downright startling: a 30% increase in caloric consumption and overall nearly 60% of time spent in-game lands in the ideal cardio range for my body type (as opposed to low-to-mid activity range: just enough to burn fat but not a true cardio workout). My conclusions are that this pack and these mappings are really good at getting your heart pumping harder, sooner making for a much more rewarding workout experience!
4. The mappings really are just that good.
A couple more things about the mappings worth pointing out. If you’ve played “Angel Voices” on any of the higher difficulties, you’re probably familiar with the shoulder soreness or even injuries that come from taking on such an intense and long song. Several of the original tracks come with this danger. They force a lot of lightning-fast movements to stop mid-swing and change direction, making it hard to safely play at maximum exertion. As new official music has come out, more and more we’ve seen the mappings carry motion differently and Imagine Dragons is no exception. Even after a full 30-45 mins of slashing out each song, shoulder and back pain is all but non-existent. They just do a very good job of ensuring that if you have to slash quickly or forcefully, the next cut will flow with that motion safely. As pointed out in item 3 though, they don’t compromise on overall intensity! The amount of diagonal and cross-body movement is actually much more increased and provides great engagement and range of motion for chest, deltoid, and trapezius muscles to engage instead of just relying on shoulder/bicep/tricep movement. The one downside is the lack of leg activity involved compared to past tracks but several times per song you will be engaging the core leaning side to side around obstacles or to reach blocks in the corners, and at least 2-3 times per song there’s a moment to do an explosive squat from the bottom to the top of the slashing range. From both a fitness and a gaming standpoint, this pack shows that Beat Games has really upped their game in crafting fun, difficult-but-attainable, and physically-engaging mappings.
Look, you can’t please all people all the time. Beat Games went with a mass-appeal pop/rock band for their first mainstream music pack. That really shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone with a pulse on the gaming scene. What is surprising is that, just like that secret sauce that makes Imagine Dragons the piles of money that they do, the combination of their uplifting rock music, the brilliant mappings, and Beat Saber’s winning fitness format just works. It may get cringey, it may get enraging, but one thing it never stops being is a great workout and undeniably FUN. If you’ve been trying to freshen up your VR workouts and jonesing for some new official Beat Saber tracks, this pack is well worth the money, time, and effort.
To claim your own copy of the music pack check out the following links:
Oculus Rift – https://www.oculus.com/experiences/rift/464577247677632
Oculus Quest – https://www.oculus.com/experiences/quest/435750360556101