As a fairly casual Star Wars fan, I’ve always loved the idea of the lightsaber, a beam of pure plasma energy capable of cutting through almost anything. At the same time, I’ve always felt something vital was missing from the series. All this time and it took until 2018 for someone to finally ask the question we’ve all been wondering. What if, instead of fighting each other head-on, the Sith Lords and Jedi Masters settled their differences by slicing floating cubes in rhythmic fashion backed by an energetic EDM track? I think we can all agree the idea has been on our collective minds for years, right? Well, finally the team at Hyperbolic Magnetism decided to ask and answer the burning question and bring this dream into reality.
Well, virtual reality at least. Beat Saber is a VR rhythm game where the goal is to slash incoming colored cubes to the beat of the backing music track while avoiding obstacles. Using VR motion controllers, you’re given a red and blue saber and tasked with slicing the beats matching the color of each beam. The cubes will also display an arrow indicating the direction it needs to be cut (except cubes with a dot, which can be cut from any direction), so prepare to flail your arms in a myriad of directions while trying unsuccessfully to keep your balance. On top of committing mass cubic genocide, you will also be asked to dodge incoming bombs and walls. Bombs simply need to not touch either saber, and walls will require you to sidestep, lean, and crouch to avoid contact. The game is very simple to play and is hands down one of the fastest and most satisfying rhythm games I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. The various game modes and difficulty settings add a layer of replayability that acts as flavorful icing to the cake.
Full disclosure, I’m horribly out of shape these days. After playing Beat Saber for the better part of a single day, I felt like my back and shoulder muscles wanted to murder me in my sleep, hungry for the sweet taste of freedom. On higher difficulty settings this is less of a game and more of a fitness plan written by a computer that hates you. Each song has a total of four difficulty settings ranging from Easy to Expert, each adding extra cubes, and obstacles to deal with. The better you play, the higher your combo counter and score multiplier grow. If you manage to make it to the end of the song without depleting the energy meter by missing too many notes or hitting walls and bombs, your final score is posted to the online leaderboard. In addition to the standard mode explained above, there are two other options: No Arrows, and One Saber. No Arrows forgoes the requirement of slicing cubes in a specific direction with the trade-off of more complex patterns. One Saber is exactly as it sounds, tossing aside the red saber altogether, but can only be played on Expert difficulty and features a limited selection of the ten playable songs as of now.
The few songs available are all well produced and wonderful, however, with a surprising range of styles from Hip Hop to Rock to Celtic. The sound producer, Jaroslav Beck, has contributed music to a variety of different game projects, including trailers for Battlefield, Starcraft, and the Overwatch short films, so you may have heard his songs before. It really would be nice if there were more tracks to play, so if the shortlist is a deal breaker for you, I understand. Granted, the game is still in development with promises of new songs and features, including custom songs, a level editor tool, and colorblind mode, in the near future. Admittedly, even with the sparse amount of current content, Beat Saber is absolutely worth the early access asking price of $20 and one of my new favorite VR rhythm games, joining the ranks of Airtone and Box VR. I’d even go as far to say this is one of the best VR titles period, and it’s only just beginning. If you have access to a VR headset I highly recommend it. If not, find someone who does and buy them various gifts in exchange for some sweet saber action. You don’t want to miss this one.