TL;DR – One of the best rhythm games I have ever played, challenging but in a mostly fair way, and might be the first video game to ever give me a proper workout.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
I have a sort of love/hate relationship when it comes to rhythm games in general, I get the appeal of them, and I enjoy watching others play them, like LoadingReadyRun’s Rhythm Café. However, no matter how many times I have tried to get into them they never seem to click with my head. Now I was prepared for this just to be the reality of my existence because not every genre of game is going to work for every person, that’s just life. Well, that might be about to change as I was introduced today to a game that not only is a ball of laughs to watch people play, but it is also a game that I want to play, over and over again.
So to set the scene, Beat Saber is a rhythm game from Hyperbolic Magnetism a small two man-sized development team from the Czech Republic. This is a Virtual Reality (VR) game for the Oculus Rift (and I believe it is also going to come out on the PlayStation VR system as well) where, as the title states, you use sabers to hit coloured boxes on the beat. In the VR setting, you use two controllers to create virtual sabers in the digital world, a red saber and a blue one. Once the music starts red and blue coloured boxes with arrows displaying the direction come racing towards the screen and you have to use the right saber to hit the right coloured box in the right direction the arrow is pointing. The boxes come flying at you in patterns that are reminiscent of the music being played. It all starts off quite pedestrian, and then the walls come and the bombs, and I am crouching on the ground dodging bombs while trying to hit all the boxes in the right pattern, and oh did they just spin around … You can see an example of the gameplay HERE.
The first thing you notice about Beat Saber is just how tight all the controls are, the sabers moved where I thought they should move and hit in the direction they should, in a way that really felt quite natural. Controls in games like this are so important because the challenge should always be from you not getting the pattern right and not because it is or not a fluke depending on the whims of some controller input. Add to this all the little touches, like that you get feedback in the controllers if the two sabers touch in the digital world giving the kind of feedback that just helps bring you into that world. You also see it in how they have designed the puzzles, each difficult feels like a fair progression and it allows you to build up confidence. Though how are those small circles on the boxes not an icon for a stab, just a small issue. So yes you could jump into expert and be game over in a few seconds, or you could work up to it. Also, it didn’t make me feel motion sick which is not always the case when it comes to VR games.
Add to this, Beat Saber is a game that works both in a group setting but also when you are just by yourself. Now as it is VR most people would only really have the room for the one person option but I don’t think I have ever had as much fun watching someone play a video game before. There is an electricity in the crowd as everyone cheers them on, clapping along with the music, hoping that they will make it to the end, or sharing in the defeat, and egging you on to give it one more go because maybe this is the time you crack it. It is one of those games that you can get out at a party (before too much alcohol has been consumed) and as long as you have someone who knows how the system works and can do a quick setup/take down between people it just works. Part of this is that no matter what difficulty someone is playing on it is still engaging because you are always trying to challenge yourself. This means that you are always trying to cheer them on to get to the end and add to this you can play it in ‘party mode’ which gives a leaderboard that everyone can sign once they have finished their run, which adds more incentive to try and beat everyone else.
As well as this, it also is a game that works if you are just by yourself because more than anything it can be a really good cardio exercise, especially on some of the more difficult settings. Video games can be a very sedentary experience, especially the long turn-based strategy games that I am in to. At the very least it is getting you up off the couch and moving around, and yes you could put a small amount of effort into it and still get a good score, but when the music is pumping and the lure of a higher score is out there, well there is a drive to put that extra effort in. I have some friends that have become so good at the game they have been working out ways to make it even harder than it already is, so they can get a bigger workout.
VR as a technology has had several attempts to make a lasting impression on the digital landscape and at the moment we are living through their most successful push so far. For the first time, you can actually get some decent quality systems into the lounge rooms of people with the Oculus and also PlayStation VR. So with that in mind, we are really starting to see developers actually start taking some risks and developing for the platforms, as distribution platforms allow it to get your game out there and Beat Saber is a good example of this.
In the end, do we recommend Beat Saber? Yes, yes we do. Even though the game is still in early access at the time of writing it is still well worth the $20 price even in its current state. It would be nice to see it take that step and officially incorporate some more licenced songs that people know into the mix of created ones. I had a lot of fun watching people play Beat Saber and more importantly, I had a lot of fun playing it myself and I want to go back now and beat that high score, which a good sign for any game. Though this is for someone who already owns a VR system, I don’t think you would go out and purchase one just for this game.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the staff of Beat Saber
Game Design – Lokiman and Split
Developer – Hyperbolic Magnetism