The world of VR rhythm games gets more crowded each week it seems. While some put their stamp on the genre in unique and exciting ways, others seem to half-ass it and expect to be the new BeatSaber. The key to becoming part of the superstars in this genre is taking the basic idea of a rhythm game and figuring out a way to spin it so that it becomes your own. As good as the titans of the genre are, copying them just gets you nowhere, which brings us to Synth Riders. Luckily for us, Kluge Interactive‘s Synth Riders is interested in creating a spot in the genre all for itself and the sheer variety and addictive loop it throws at you is something that can surely find its way into your daily VR workout.
Synth Riders starts off a bit differently than most rhythm games. You have to calibrate yourself, which is standard, but then you’re able to immediately decide on your play space area in-game and this is a fantastic option that changes a lot during gameplay in that the distance you’re going to have to reach to hit the icons or the distance you’re going to need to dodge will vary accordingly. At the main menu, you’re presented with three modes. Multiplayer, Solo, and Party mode. The star of the show is undoubtedly the multiplayer. It’s here where you can join a room of your choosing and compete against tons of other players all at the same time. That’s a first for this genre in my experience and it wasn’t uncommon to face off against 8 people at the same time in one room. The catch is that the game can’t start unless all players have downloaded the song being used, so those without the recent DLC will be on the short end of the stick here, but most hosts are generous enough to switch it up if this occurs. Gameplay has you attacking different colored orbs, one color for each hand and dodging different shaped walls and ducking under them. This all goes down in varied sci-fi looking environments that have different flavors to them, though they all kind of feel like different parts of the same area. There are 48 free songs available, along with 10 DLC as well as the option to upload your own music and have it mapped accordingly.
What it Feels like to play
Synth Riders takes a different route than most rhythm games by forgoing the boxing only feel and instead, injecting it with something that feels more like the VR version of a dancing game. The result means you’re going to be far more active body wise than if you were just doing another boxing rhythm game. Motions will range all over the place and I can only venture to think of how ridiculous I might’ve looked during my time with the game. The gameplay is broken up into two different modes, rhythm and force. These are a bit confusing because, by the names, you’d assume force requires you to become more of a boxer while rhythm is more dance-focused. It’s actually the other way around. Rhythm mode works by scoring you based on how accurately you hit each note. This means the best way to score high in this mode is by using a measured punch which usually requires you to put some force behind it and it works effectively as a boxing workout as you’ll be hitting targets in ways that will mimic uppercuts, jabs, and everything in between if you so choose. The force mode is a bit more interesting as it focuses on your ability to swipe through icons instead of hit them directly. This creates the feeling that you’re dancing over the force focused method of the rhythm mode…stay with me here. The way the icons come at you can vary wildly from song to song and the difficulty modes just completely change up the levels creating a ton of variety and some incredibly intense workouts that will leave you exhausted.
What will keep you playing
As with most rhythm games, the key to longevity relies on the customization and variety you can use to keep the gameplay fun and fresh. Luckily, Synth Riders is incredible in this department. You have the option to play with 48 different songs to start off. From there, you can tweak the stages in a variety of ways including the ability to make the stages go 360 degrees, change the size of the notes, the colors, it’s pretty great stuff. With all of these settings on you can create a much different experience than if they were turned off and that adds a ton of variety. Ultimately, it will be the multiplayer that keeps you coming back as the opportunity to challenge players across the world to the ultimate dance-off is something that just doesn’t get old.
Seeing as Synth Riders can quickly turn from a normal rhythm game into a spinning tornado of madness, make sure your immediate area is clear of any breakable objects.
I recorded my 30-minute workout with a Fitbit and played on Samsung Odyssey Plus Windows Mixed Reality Headset.
Calories burned: 207
Calories burned per minute: 7
Average Heart Rate: 103
Max Heart Rate: 130
Active Minutes: 30
Synth Riders caught me by surprise with an insane amount of customization that can generate one of the more intense workouts you can experience in VR. The rhythm mode presented the best workout for me as it let me utilize a type of boxing workout while still requiring me to jump and dodge all over the place. I was able to get a great sweat going during the normal mode too. When you decide that’s not enough for you, the higher difficulties will just blow you away and I’m honestly not sure who is capable of completing these but it sure as hell isn’t me.
For the love of all that is holy, stretch your arms before you jump into Synth Riders. I was simply not prepared for the burn that awaited my arms here and paid the price for it. You’re going to swinging and reaching and punching and swiping in directions and angles that you likely haven’t needed to cover in VR before. Certain songs will have you smashing vertically to the beat and then all of a sudden you’ll be swirling your arms around like you’re using streamers at a music festival. It’s crazy stuff and it provides an amazing workout that gets all the more fun when competing online.
Synth Riders has no qualms about getting every body part into the mix and legs are no exception. Depending on the speed or modifiers you have on, the walls will be coming at you from all angles causing you to duck, dodge, jump, do whatever you can to get away from them properly. Using the spin modifier will turn the normal straightforward notion of rhythm games into a whirling storm of limbs that will give your legs an amazing workout comparable to anything you’d find at a gym.
Depending on how you play, your core can become incredibly engaged or more of a passive group of muscles during this workout. The difficulty modes on their own give you plenty of flexibility here, but it’s the spin modifier that fully engages your core as the torque you’ll feel when spinning around trying to hit all the icons while ducking and dodging will eventually get a solid ab burn going. This only increases by using the level editor to use more walls to dodge as you can create entire levels consisting of ducking walls and hitting targets that are only accessible while crouching.
Time Perception- 9/10
As with most workouts, you get yourself in the zone and there’s likely no looking back. With Synth Riders, the result is likely the same. If you dig the techno beats coming at you and can get into the multiplayer rooms with ease, you’ll be able to spend plenty of time within the game without a care in the world. Where the time perception comes in though is your physical endurance level. You likely won’t be able to play for more than an hour even if you’re playing on normal. It’s a truly intense game and I honestly wouldn’t recommend more than 30 minutes at a time unless you’re playing on easy mode. It’s an aerobic assault on your body and it feels like the game should almost suggest breaks in between each session in case your body forgets to do so for you.
The variety in the gameplay with Synth Riders may appear to be the same thing every time, but when you consider that each song presents a different level and each difficulty mode presents a different level within each song, you start to realize the possibilities of replayability here. The variety in songs and levels should be enough to keep you entertained for quite some time if rhythm games are your thing, but the real value here comes in the workout. Synth Riders can be an essential workout tool in these uncertain times where gyms are most likely closed down and it becomes much more than just a game when you commit to it in this way. There is also the ability to connect to YUR, which tracks your calories, heart rate, and more. It’s equipped to give you a fun experience, a social experience, and a healthy experience and that’s a tough trifecta to come by in the world of VR.
Fitness Scalability- 9/10
This is among the most customizable experiences in all of VR. Whether you want an intense experience consisting of only a leg workout or a furious, spinning workout that will leave you sweating, it’s all there for you to experiment with. You can use several game modifiers to make the experience easier, or you can turn on things like sudden death mode that really amp the challenge up. That’s without even mentioning the difficulty modes which offer their own flexibility with the easy mode being a total breeze and the hardest mode being an absolute assault on your sense that I don’t think humans were meant to complete.
Lack of Nausea- 7/10
I’ll be honest here, flying at high speeds in VR irks me. The second the motion starts it’s a jarring experience for me and my stomach but I usually am able to push past it and here I thankfully was able to, but it is not a smooth start. On each stage, you’re set off flying on a path at high speed before the beats come flying at you. I understand that this is a way to get the adrenaline pumping, but for me, it was the path for me to reach for my ginger chews (an absolute must-have for VR sickness). Luckily, you have an option to turn this off in the settings menu under gameplay at the very bottom. You also have the ability to turn on water break reminders which will do wonders in alleviating any sickening feelings you might have. I was able to overcome the moving track anyway though and I get used to the speed I was moving, and eventually, the nausea went away completely, but this was a bit of a struggle for me and I can only give you how I felt playing it. You may have a seamless experience and feel totally fine, and I believe many will do just that.
Social Competition- 9/10
Finally, an excellent multiplayer for a rhythm game. It’s hard to find a half-competent multiplayer in this genre let alone an exemplary one, but here I believe we’ve got the scream of the crop in Synth Riders. You’re able to use matchmaking to find rooms or create a private room to play against friends if you’d like. Each room comes with an easy to navigate readying system as well as a way to choose which songs or maps you’d like to play in as well. I have played in games with 8 people and it’s exciting to hear the other players as well as seeing their scores right next to yours as you battle throughout the cyberpunk worlds and high energy songs. Voice chat is supported as well and can be used to encourage and coordinate your workouts to your fellow Synth Riders around the world.
VR Fit Score- 8.8/10
Amazing physical experience.
Tons of ways to customize your workout.
Involves the entire body.
Game Score- 8/10
Great fun with friends in person, or online.
Endless ways to tweak gameplay to your liking and support for custom songs/
Synth Riders is an excellent rhythm game that utilizes your entire body and gives you the ability to bust out your dancing chops in cyberpunk levels that are a feast for the eyes. The multiplayer aspect gives the game near unlimited replayability as long as the player base stays constant. The ability to modify just about every aspect of the game gives you so many different ways to play and the support of custom songs means you can dance it out to your favorite tunes if the techno-laden soundtrack isn’t to your liking.
Hard to say anything bad here, the customization is excellent and the gameplay is addicting and physically rewarding. If we’re being picky, the speed you start out flying along the level track is a bit much for me but other than that, this is one of the best rhythm games out there. The price tag may be more than you’re willing to spend though.