Remember a few years ago when it was nigh-on impossible to go to a party without someone pulling out the plastic guitars and engaging in some Guitar Hero? Developer Hyperbolic Magnetism are trying to bring about a new golden age for the rhythm game genre with Beat Saber.
Beat Saber is a rhythm game, but one which works in a slightly different way to Guitar Hero or Rock Band. There are no additional plastic peripherals required, just tracked motion controllers and a sense of timing.
There are two things people tend to do when first picking up a motion controller for the first time. One is pretend it is a gun. The other is pretend it is a lightsaber. The developers of Beat Saber encourage the latter by essentially giving you a pair of lightsabers. These are used to slice at the block which hurtle towards you.
The trick is to cut in the right direction (as indicated by markers on the blocks), with the right coloured saber (as indicated by the colour of the block) and at the same beat as the music. This gameplay mechanic quickly becomes second nature, and you find yourself smoothly slicing your way through blocks in a way that makes you feel quite cool.
As you progress, additional complications enter into the mix, such as impenetrable walls that much be ducked under or side-stepped, and bombs that you need to avoid cutting into lest they blow up in your face. For anyone who has ever done any fencing or sword-based martial art, it starts to become like a drill or kata, only with a deeply satisfying visual and audio accompaniment.
The graphics are bright, smooth and clear, with nary a flicker in the flawless neon of the blocks and the background. Perhaps the only flaw here is that the backgrounds of the stages are a bit bland, looking like a little laserlight display, but you won’t be spending that much time looking at the background anyway.
The music is great and works excellently with the gameplay as well as suiting the neon-lit aesthetic of the title. The only slight shame is that there aren’t that many tracks to try out. Though this is an Early Access title and the developers have promised more songs later. It is exactly the sort of title that would benefit from some licensed music, but it is understandably difficult for an independent developer. There are plans to add a level editor which will allow you to add your own music.
Beat Saber works excellently at everything it sets out to do. It can easily eat vast amounts of your time without you even realising it as you fight to get a perfect score. The gameplay is extremely satisfying while still being very simple and is the sort of thing that would serve as a great introduction to VR.
With a bit more content and some more polish, and the level editor it will be a truly stupendous title once it leaves Early Access and a worthy addition to anyone’s VR library.