If there’s any genre of game that has saturated VR to the point of drowning, it’s the time rhythm game genre. It feels like many VR developers are trying to cut their teeth on experiences that have brought continued success and acclaim to the likes of beat saber – perhaps the most ubiquitous of the lot.
Beat Saber, arguably the pioneer of the VR rhythm game genre, was a phenomenon that has proven time and time again to be queen bee, whose reign at this point feels almost impervious to threat or competition. It just seems to know how to do everything right.
SoundArt VR by Mercury Studios feels distinctly similar in many ways, but where it differs in an effort to carve its own niche identity is also sadly where it feels inferior – which makes it feel like a bit of a “me-too, but not quite” – rather than being elevated by its own innovation.
So it plays a bit like this:
Imagine if you will, a large, stylised 8-petal flower in front of you, arched inwards so as to act as a series of “drums”, arranged in a gaping ring formation. Much like many rhythm games, this is the point of interaction that marks the business end of a tunnel-like “track” stretched out into the distance.
As often house, techno or electronic dance music thumps away (at least from the stock track library) patterned configurations of “cubes” rocket towards you, and your job is to hit or swipe the corresponding petal as the cube passes through it. At certain intervals there are also specific multiplier “moves” that require parrying or thrusting forward, often at moments of crescendo in the music, and often resulting in a cascading flurry of neon to indicate success.
To perform these hits, you have an elongated baton or jousting rod in each hand that function as a sort’ve drumstick or wand. These can be selected from a number of designs, but ultimately don’t affect the gameplay.
The problem is, there’s a bit of a margin of error provided for accuracy to compensate for a lack of clarity over when a perfect hit is made, making the game feel a little less precise and a little more chaotic than other games in the genre. Furthermore, you are sort’ve dynamically scored by the nature of your interactions, though it’s never really clear what you are being scored for, or how to improve on a second pass. This may be a personal choice thing, as perhaps it allows greater access for those more, errr, rhythmically challenged, but it just felt a little less graceful than it perhaps should during the busier moments.
It’s beautiful though – if you like the neon future-punk aesthetics of say, Tron, but perhaps a bit less retro and a bit more late 90’s trippy media player visual equaliser, akin to a kaleidoscope of pulsating neon. It definitely has that club-vibe, but could be a little busy for some. Thankfully, adjusting the graphic settings can reduce this effect if need-be.
Music will come down to personal preference – I would’ve loved to see some more contemporary tracks included, but the game does allow you to configure your own tracks much like other rhythm games on PC – though whether people will bother with this is another thing. The tracks I could appreciate for their own merits, but none I played really had the dance along toe-tapping catchiness of many of the licensed Beat Saber tracks – in my opinion an impeccably curated library.
I also found the “shattering glass” sound for a successful hit just created too much filler noise and interfered with the music track a bit. I would’ve preferred to have a short, sharp hit indicator so each successful hit was more pronounced, and the music therefore not muddied by the constant shattering.
But criticism out of the way, that’s not to say the game isn’t fun – as the rhythm genre game is perhaps one of the most accessible in VR. It’s just at this point the benchmark is so high it’s hard not to make direct comparisons. SoundArt VR is fun, frantic, and may be an absolute joy to those who find incentive in the likes of leaderboard competition, or improving on personal bests etc. Also, your mileage will vary based on whether you enjoy the music itself.
I enjoyed playing it while I was in the headset, but I never felt myself wanting to extend beyond short bursts before feeling there was nothing further to be gained from longer play sessions.
If you like this genre – it definitely wouldn’t hurt to check it out, and you may even find the things it didn’t quite do right for me, it does a lot more right for you.