Any discussion about virtual reality (VR) rhythm-action games tends to involve Beat Saber. However, before everyone was furiously swinging lightsabers around another title was aiming for the genre crown, Synth Riders. The work of Kluge Interactive, Synth Riders was released 5 years ago this week, offering up a slice of retro synthwave tunes. Standing the test of time to become a fan favourite, XR Source looks back on the last half-decade of Synth Riders‘ rhythm-action gaming.
Rhythm action phenomenon
2018 was a strange time for VR gaming. The hype from 2016 – when Oculus Rift, HTC Vive & PSVR launched – had now faded and the industry was looking for killer apps to reignite excitement. This was an era before the likes of Half-Life: Alyx (2020) and Oculus Quest (2019) when Resident Evil 7 (2017) was the biggest VR-compatible game but only available for PSVR.
Rhythm games for VR headsets did already exist – does anyone remember Rock Band VR? – but hadn’t yet found their place. That was until the like of Synth Riders and Beat Saber appeared, offering two different styles of gameplay. The latter had a sharper edge to it, slicing and chopping away. Synth Riders, in contrast, was smoother and more dance-like, almost as if you were simulating Tai Chi movements.
The videogame also stood out thanks to its namesake collection of synthwave tracks. Of which only 13 songs were available initially.
Synth Riders is born
The brainchild of Kluge Interactive’s Creative Director Abraham Aguero and Lead Developer Jhean Ceballos, Synth Riders offered a bold new direction for rhythm-action fans. A single-player experience initially, the team realised the potential (and difficulties) of adding new features like multiplayer early on. But they did it, becoming the first major VR rhythm game to offer cross-platform multiplayer for up to 10 players in 2020.
They didn’t stop there either. Multiplayer was further enhanced with the addition of powerups to make the gameplay even more intense. And let’s not forget gameplay modifiers like the Spin and Spiral modes. The former spins you horizontally on the spot while the latter is set on a cylindrical level that turns underfoot.
Naturally, new gameplay modes need to be supported by more songs, which Synth Riders greatly expanded upon. Moving beyond synthwave into EDM, electro swing, pop, rock, funk, ska, k-pop, and punk. There are now 125 tracks available, 68 are included with the base game and 57 are add-ons.
Official songs are all well and good but to foster a community you require player participation. Which is why the Synth Riders Beatmap Editor was created. For PC-only, with the free tool you can take your own music and choreograph movements to match. Opening up limitless possibilities in the process!
Not content with all of that, one of its unique features is the Synth Riders Experiences. Specially built levels which are almost like immersive music videos, the first arrived in 2021 created for Muse’s “Algorithm”. During the level, players enjoy a very special blend of sight, sound, and movement not found anywhere else.
Synth Riders Future
In 2023 Kluge Interactive brought Synth Riders to PSVR 2. A completely remastered game, all the visuals were overhauled to make extensive use of PlayStation 5’s processing power. There was a free upgrade for PSVR owners who owned the original and had now moved over to PSVR 2.
Celebrating Synth Riders at 5 years, Kluge Interactive will be releasing a brand-new music pack, Synthwave Essentials 3. Featuring 10 tracks paying homage to the game’s roots, five will be free and five will be paid DLC. There will also be a revamped version of the classic default stage.