Oh no, you must be thinking, is this yet another rhythm game review in VR? Well, yes, but trust me when I tell you this isn’t just another indie developer throwing together a vaguely impressive Beat Saber clone, Five Mind Creations’ PowerBeats VR has been fine-tuning its formula for a couple of years and is fully out of Early Access and ready to present its product to you. The result is one of my favorite rhythm games to date and it comes in a package that’s easy to digest, incredibly tough to master, and visually appealing in ways that its’ competition just can’t touch. Although the offering on hand isn’t the most robust we’ve seen in this genre, the presentation, and contagious energy that it brings to the table simply can’t be ignored if you’re into VR rhythm games.
As with most rhythm games, you’re going to be tasked with punching and hitting a variety of different icons to the beat of a soundtrack. That’s the ultimate simplification of what’s happening here because when you really get into PowerBeats VR, there’s a wealth of variety to keep this title in your daily workout for quite a bit. First off, the soundtrack is incredibly varied and each song essentially acts as its own level. The beat mapping here is unbelievably good and is right on par with titans like Beatsaber and Audioshield. Depending on the track or difficulty level you’ve chosen, the spheres coming at you will either be a relaxed, manageable pace or an insane barrage of colors and effects that are almost overwhelming. As you complete levels and get new high scores, you will gradually start unlocking different weapons to use which change up the gameplay considerably as well, changing up both the way you play and the way you work out.
What it feels like to play
The presentation is the first thing that jumps at you when you start the game. The menus are presented very slickly and there’s a little tutorial to go through before you get started. At the beginning of your PowerBeats VR journey, you’re only going to have access to your fists. These are all we need to get into the core gameplay though and once you pick a song and a difficulty, you’re thrust into your first session. The challenge that awaits you can be palpable and it’s all based on how much physical effort you’re putting into it. Smashing the balls that come flying at you as the beat of whatever song you start is simple, but that becomes quickly complicated by balls that are marked with special effects which means you have to hit them harder to get them to break. Once you get this concept down, you have to contend with walls that fly at you, forcing you to duck, dodge, or even jump from side to side to avoid taking damage. There are also several balls that come at you that you have to avoid or else they’ll explode, causing your score to drop significantly. I have not experienced any sort of fail state from this, but I’ve seen it significantly affect my score at the end of a level.
The actual action taking place is pretty unique compare to other rhythm games because you’re not only going to be boxing here. It’s going to be a variety of attacks from you that will get the job done here. I was doing everything from boxing to karate chopping to hammer fisting to complete levels and that’s not even factoring in the immense leg workout taking place as well. Levels will through loops at you to mimic certain rope workouts that will have you ducking and raising over and over and it creates a hell of a physical burn. The various weapons change up how you attack the balls too as you’re going to need to attack them from different angles or use more force to break them than you would with your bare hands. The action is fast and incredibly intense requiring your physical and mental reflexes to be at their highest capability if you hope to achieve the elusive A+ store. Thankfully, there are several visual and audio clues to keep updated on how you’re doing during your session so you’re never too unsure about if this is going to be a good run for you.
What keeps you playing
The amount of customization is simply incredible and should be the bar going forward for games in this genre. You can adjust your height, adjust the width and height of the balls coming at you as well as your play space and this accommodation to all kinds of players with all kinds of space available is something that endears you to the game right off the bat. There is a calorie counter, the ability to hook up Bluetooth to use a heart rate monitor, and also an entire goals system in place to track your progress. You can also edit what kind of levels you have, for example, if you want fewer walls to dodge? You can turn that option off, you can do the same for every single game mechanic as well to give you a wealth of options to customize the workout you’re going to get. Add to this the ability to put in any song you want into the game’s impressive beat mapping system and you have simply an infinite amount of replayability and variety. There is also a level editor where you can specify the exact kind of challenges you want to face whether that be infinite walls, strictly hitting the balls, or any combo of the two in the order you choose. The gameplay itself will keep you hooked for its amazing workout capability, but the customization is what will give this title legs for years to come.
This isn’t your normal rhythm game and you’re going to be asked to reach to some very high and low places throughout your playtime, so even more than usual, clear the area of any breakable objects, keep your distance from your TV or computer screen and give yourself ample space to move around in your play area.
I recorded my workout using a Fitbit on Samsung Odyssey Plus Windows Mixed Reality Headset
Calories burned: 348
Calories burned per minute: 11
Average Heart Rate: 133
Max Heart Rate: 145
Active Minutes: 28
PowerBeats VR is not for those looking for a nice, casual rhythm game. You can do that for a time with the beginner mode, but once you amp things up, even the normal mode will send you challenges unlike anything you’ve experienced in VR physically speaking. The different songs present 50+ workouts that can vary wildly even within the same difficulty level. For the bold, the hardest difficulty will have you dripping sweat as you navigate the insane pace and variety of challenges thrown at you and it’s among one of the crazier experiences I’ve had in a VR game. I wouldn’t recommend playing on the hardest difficulty for too long though as it truly is a physical beatdown.
As far as VR games go, PowerBeats stands alone as the best arm workout I’ve experienced. Despite looking like you’ll only be asked to box to destroy the balls coming at you, this quickly changes into forcing you to come at them with different angles including uppercuts, jabs and then it throws the boxing out the window in a split second requiring you to do a bizarre double punch to hit the balls that come at you in twos. There is also a meter that you can add to your HUD that shows you how hard you’re punching every time you attack. You should absolutely stretch before starting a workout here as you’re going to be sore as hell after even just 30 minutes with PowerBeats VR.
How often can you say a VR game will leave your legs sore? PowerBeats VR is one of the only VR games out there that fully embraces leg day and it doesn’t throw it in as an occasional gimmick, here it is a primary piece of the puzzle. The walls that come at you from multiple different directions forcing you to literally jump from side to side or duck. This is often mixed with the punching and you can be pushed into a punch, duck and dodge loop that is incredibly tiring. You’re also going to have to crouch down for several seconds at a time as you’re often thrust into tunnel segments that also thrust the orbs at you as well. The mix is incredibly intense and will result in a great leg workout regardless of the songs or difficulty you’ve chosen.
While there aren’t specific core-centric exercises thrown at you in PowerBeats VR, the basic actions themselves will engage your core as is. Whether you’re having to throw tons of double punches while crouching and twisting to avoid the walls that you must dodge, you’re going to feel that torquing motion in your core constantly and it’s as full body of a workout that you can get in VR.
Time Perception- 8/10
Because the nature of the game is basically rooted in its workout benefits, you’re going to be pretty aware of the time while you’re in PowerBeats VR. This willbeco0me apparent when you’re exhausted after trying out the hardest difficulty a couple of times in a row, but while you’re in the actual levels, you’re going to be swept up in the music and rhythm and it becomes a furious experience that can feel almost meditative at the same time. Luckily, sessions aren’t even really needed to be too long and your playtime shouldn’t really exceed 30 minutes a day anyway.
If this gameplay loop grips you and you feel like you’re getting a good workout out of it, PowerBeats VR can engrain itself in your VR library for a long while. With the ability to put your own songs into the game and have them mapped accordingly, you’re essentially provided an almost endless amount of gameplay. It’s never a game that you’re going to spend hours at a time in, but as an experience that’s best experienced 30 minutes at a time, I can see myself and many others making part of their daily workout routines.
Fitness Scalability- 9/10
The customization here is absolutely fantastic. Depending on your level of fitness, you may want a harder or easier time and luckily there are options here to satisfy just about body type. If you want to ramp up the amount of dodging and ducking you do to get a better leg and core workout, that option is there. If you want nonstop orb punching, that’s there too. Do you want the orbs to come at you straight up and down instead of all over the place? That’s doable too. The actual difficulty settings themselves create the biggest option for fitness scalability as the easiest mode is quite calm while the hardest is complete insanity that I honestly couldn’t even finish because of how daunting it is. Consider that one a goal while playing PowerBeats VR.
Lack of Nausea- 10/10
Despite the crazy visual cues coming at you nonstop, I never experienced an ounce of VR motion sickness while playing. You’re going to be moving all around your play area during your time with this game and typically this has been a cause of some nausea in VR but here, the experience is seamless. The visuals are also crystal clear and I didn’t experience an ounce of stutter while playing. PowerBeats VR is very well optimized and plays like a dream.
Social Competition- 7/10
There isn’t any active multiplayer at the time, but there are leaderboards available that you can use both to compare yourself to others and to motivate yourself as well. Speaking from experience, it’s a great thing for a workout routine to have someone in it with you, and even if that person is halfway across the world, knowing that you’re keeping up with the other players is gratifying.
VR Fit Score- 9/10
Customization keeps gameplay fresh for a long time.
Game Score- 7.5/10
The hunt for the top score is the only motivation to keep playing if the workout aspect isn’t for you. Fun enough, but nothing too unique outside of the workout aspect.
PowerBeats VR is among the very best rhythm games available and makes itself a standout with its amazing workout capability. The action is smooth and exciting and fully relies on your physical abilities to complete levels. The customization available allows you to tailor your gameplay experience to your liking and it gives the game nearly endless replayability. The soundtrack fits incredibly well with the action on screen and the beat mapping is among the best available. The more time you spend with the game, the more varied the gameplay gets as each song acts as its own level and each weapon changes up the experience considerably as well.
There are only 4 environments available right now, so the settings might get a little repetitive. There is a decent amount of tweaking involved to get things exactly as you’d like them gameplay-wise and this can be a bit of a hassle. If workouts in VR aren’t your thing, there isn’t really enough of an actual game here to keep you occupied past a few sessions.
PowerBeats VR is currently on sale for $11.99 on Steam and playable on Oculus Rift, HTV Vive, Valve Index, and Windows Mixed Reality headsets.