Beat Saber came out of nowhere and rocked my world with its unrelenting audiovisual barrage of rhythm-game-meets-jedi-knight action.
This is a game I didn’t expect to be more than an intriguing off-kilter VR take on the rhythm game genre, fun for a single try at best – little did I know it would join my favorites in its niche. Beat Saber became the highest rated game on Steam on its release week, so it seems I’m not alone in my opinion. The recipe for success includes seamlessly meshing together Star Wars -like lightsabers with elements from Guitar Hero or Rock Band – especially the drumming, since Beat Saber also consists of hitting things to a beat.
As a drummer myself, I wouldn’t have thought this would capture the visceral feeling of playing drums better than games specifically dedicated to the task. But that it did. I played it with the Acer Windows MR Headset, and the controllers’ haptic feedback added just the right touch (pun intended) to the experience. And I can’t deny the Tron-esque aesthetics coupled with the swordplay played a part. I mean, come on.
In the game, you slice differently colored blocks in half in time to a beat, their color corresponding to a lightsaber in your left or right hand. Each block is marked with an arrow, dictating the direction to strike from: left, right, below, or above. The blocks, and thus the slashes, can be diagonal as well, spicing things up even more. There are also special blocks that don’t require any specific direction, along with bombs and walls to avoid. Add to the mix a hefty helping of futuristic visuals with a banger soundtrack and you have Beat Saber.
Did I mention it also has a mod for custom songs? Here the game really starts to shine. Sure, fan-made Beat Saberifications of real-world songs are great, but they also bring out the full potential of the mechanics, mixing up the game’s elements in unpredictable and interesting ways. This has its drawbacks, since at times the game does require learning songs by heart – some block sequences being impossible to nail without trial and error. Some songs are less polished than others (bad music-block rhythm synchronization really kills the fun!) but on the other hand, the more well-refined songs contain masterfully crafted sequences that connect the individual strikes into patterns, keeping the gameplay flowing. Time and again I found myself dancing, even though there’s no step choreography of any sort. You CAN play Beat Saber passively, but I found it more enjoyable once I played physically and moved around.
Reaching a sweet spot difficulty-wise is surprisingly fast – so that the game presents just enough challenge but remains far from an uphill struggle. The learning curve is perfect: easy to pick up after some practice and rhythm game experience but mastering the higher difficulties takes serious effort and commitment. All in all, it is one of the best rhythm games to date and surely one of my top games of 2018.
Platforms: PC (Windows, reviewed), PS4
Developer: Beat Games
Publisher: Beat Games
Release Date: 1 May 2018
PEGI Rating: 3+