I spent a good chunk of my teens and 20s striving to master games like Dance Dance Revolution, DrumMania and Beatmania IIDX (not to mention your Guitar Heroes and Rock Bands), and I’ve been a vocal champion of virtual reality since the early “Project Morpheus” days. Beat Saber combines these two passions in an addictive, “why-did-it-take-this-long-for-someone-to-do-this” experience that — yeah, I’ll say it — is a mandatory addition to any PlayStation VR owner’s library.
You probably know the gist of this one, as it’s been making the rounds on YouTube for a while: the player, equipped with dual sabers, slashes through oncoming blocks to the beat of high-energy tunes — many composed in-house by Jaroslav Beck. Beck, co-founder of Beat Games, has contributed his musical talents to big properties including Blizzard’s Overwatch and Hollywood juggernauts like Star Wars and Terminator..
Witnessing expert players at work in Beat Saber can be daunting, but I posit that Beat Saber is one of the most accessible rhythm games of all time. Stay with me here.
Mechanically speaking, Beat Saber isn’t an especially complicated game, but rhythm games are almost always confusing when you first start trying to learn them. For some reason though, every time I’ve showed someone Beat Saber and watched them play their first song, they’ve picked it up almost immediately.
The one-to-one control setup of Beat Saber goes a long way. Take DDR as an example: stepping on arrows as the corresponding on-screen arrows get to the right spot seems simple enough, but there’s a disconnect between the digital arrow on the screen and the physical one you need to step on. It feels great once you clear that mental hurdle, but connecting those metaphorical dots takes some time. In Beat Saber, you are literally slashing through a “physical” object that exists directly in front of you. Removing that step of the learning process gets new players straight to the “Wow, this game is really fun!” part.
It helps, too, that many of the songs on the game’s electronic / techno-heavy soundtrack are especially well-suited to its slash-dancing gameplay. This is accentuated by expertly crafted note charts for each song: Regardless of which difficulty you play on, moving as the game instructs you to makes you feel like you’re, well… dancing. And as it turns out, dancing is a pretty good way to burn some calories! My smart watch has gotten used to me being a pretty sedentary person, so this sudden shift toward a more active lifestyle (some of the expert-level songs are intense) is probably pretty confusing for it. Sorry, little buddy!
Beat Saber is the first new music game I’ve played since Rock Band that feels this fresh and promising. It’s rekindled my love for the genre, reinforced my belief in the future of virtual reality, and, with any luck, will help me live a healthier life. How many Game of the Year nominees can claim that?
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