Synth Riders is a casual VR rhythm game and I will review the game from the point of view of a (competitive) arcade rhythm gamer that started playing VR games recently (or maybe I should say Beat Saber).
Many rhythm games are 'see a note, hit it at the correct time' type of a game and Synth Riders is one of those. In the non-VR world of games there is nothing wrong with this kind of approach because there can be various controllers that can make the game complex and deep be it a 'simulation' of musical instrument (see Gitadora) or a totally new controller (check Sound Voltex for example).
Apart from the controller part, the games often differ in scoring system. Some games are accuracy based (Beatmania IIDX) and some are combo based (DJMAX) which can make these game very different. Synth Riders is a combo based game meaning you need to full combo (hit all notes without missing any) in order to have a chance to get a good score. The higher the combo the higher a multiplier for the score you get. Then depending on which mode you choose the game has some kind of judgments and scoring system. In the default mode - Rhythm - you can get a Perfect (100% of the score), a Good (50%) or a Poor (25%) for hitting a note (perfect means hitting the center) Being accurate while missing a bit won't make you beat a bad full combo score.
The way how Force works is a mystery to me because 'hitting harder' while there is no resistance has no meaning to me (it does take speed and possibly range of motion into account). How successful you are with your punches, swings or whatever you do is shown in a bar which gives you pretty much no information about what was going on.
The problem with this kind of rhythm games in VR is that a VR game has to come up with something new that also works well. The controllers you'll be using to play the game will be the very same, be it two Oculus Touch controllers I use or Index knuckles you might use. So the games have to stand out in the game play mechanics and scoring system (and that is something Beat Saber does well). VR is not meant for accuracy and it shows. Synth Riders suffers from it a bit. It is very easy to confirm notes by accident and if you really wish to you can just punch through difficult parts because it tends to pick the correct 'touches' rather.
Game play, in Synth Riders you have colored orbs in your hands and a notes will come from further away to closer to you. When they reach you, you have to hit them with the corresponding colored orb. You have blue notes that you need to hit with a blue orb and magenta notes that you hit with the magenta orb. Then there are sections that you have to play with either of your hand (you start with one hand and have to finish with that hand, these parts are green by default) or you have to use both hands kept close to each other (gold parts). Apart from the single orb notes you have to hit there are 'rails'. Those are long notes and your hand has to follow them from start to finish.
If you miss a note you will lose certain amount of energy. That actually seems to be quite a drastic amount but I don't think it's more than in other rhythm games. Often four consecutive misses in a game kill you from 50% of your life bar and I don't think Synth Riders is any different (I don't know, just a guess).
One more aspect that can vary a lot in rhythm games is learning curve. Games that have a steep learning curve may cause players not want to even try them (Beatmania IIDX) while there are games that are very beginner friendly (Sound Voltex or Beat Saber) and still get very difficult at higher levels. Synth Riders is easy to learn but already requires more skill than Beat Saber at first. I don't think this is a big problem. On the other hand the fact that Synth Riders won't get too complex later on is something I find more problematic.
As for graphics, the game is set into a retro-futuristic setting which creates a good ambience but is not necessarily something you can visually enjoy or consider stunning. Synth Riders may not have the best graphics out there but it works, is flashy enough to catch your eye and is primarily functional.
The songs are mostly synth wave or how to call it (electronic music). Something you'd expect from a sci-fi movie from 80s and it will certainly remind you of (original) Tron. Some of the song packs are really great and I enjoyed the Electro Swing one a lot.
Maps are good (compared to Beat Saber officials). They are well done so there is a certain learning curve and that you have a lot of room to dance to the tunes. I haven't played on Easy or Normal but there is a difference between Hard, Expert and Master. The lower the difficulty to more straightforward the charts are and make you alternate your hands more while keeping your hands at their respective sides. On Expert the notes can be out of line so you might need to be crossing your arms and there are more patterns that you have to do with one hand. On Master you are required to do different kind of motion with each hand at times. You will also notice that the speed and density gets higher with each difficulty level.
The UI is good even though the game lacks an actual song manager (honestly I spent more time staring into a text editor do change stuff).
There are quality of life options that can make the game playable (if you suffer from visual effects like me) and streamable. It has everything you need for streaming in game! For example it has in-game support of VRM avatars and camera views. Everything is set so the community can customize the game and add other custom content - songs, platforms, mods etc.
Verdict: Synth Riders is a rhythm game that in its default settings doesn't bring anything new and is rather lacking both in game mechanics and score system. The game though will bring you as much fun as you manage to get out of it - be it by actually dancing, using various mods to spice up the game or modes to enlarge the play area or be able to play in (up to) 360 degrees.
This means that if you don't want move to move you don't need to and this way you can find the game very boring. This is the kind of the game you need to be in flow with otherwise it won't give you anything. If you wish to get good at the game and excel you might also hit a ceiling quite fast because there simply isn't enough depth to the game and all it will come down is accuracy/force which is a very vague thing in this game. The game lacks clarity and feedback of other games which makes it difficult to try to get good. You won't feel rewarded for clearing a song or even feel much satisfaction hitting an orb.
The game features good music (even though it depends on your taste) and very well done maps. There are leaderboards for the songs. The game has a nice community and gets a lot of love from it. The community brings new content and there are always people around for multiplayer.
I see this game as a hit or miss because it's more about you than the game itself. I enjoyed the game a lot because I like to move to the rhythm of songs and I was looking for something that would allow me to freely move and exercise. If I can hit some notes while at it I'm happy. I felt the game lacking on many fronts though very quickly and I doubt the replayability of the game. It's a good workout if are someone who likes to move around a lot.
If you are looking for a competitive game, game with good or innovative game play, look elsewhere.
If you can feel the flow and enjoy it this game will provide enough entertainment and fun for hours.
S'Tsung (stsungjp @ Twitter)