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Beat Saber Early Access Review: Like DDR With Light Sabers

by David Jagneaux • May 2nd, 2018
Platforms: Rift, Vive
Positives

- Addictive, adrenaline-pumping gameplay
- Intense, hyperactive soundtrack
- Satisfying difficulty curve
- Neon-soaked visual style

Negatives

- Only 10 songs for Early Access launch
- Limited game modes
- How to get higher score is unclear at first

Growing up, I was a DDR kid. I was never good enough to draw a crowd at arcades, but I could hang on most songs on any difficulty level and even owned a pad at home with several PS2 versions. After that I moved on to Guitar Hero and eventually Rock Band to scratch that rhythm game (and rock star fantasy) itch, further proving that it’s impossible to look cool with plastic instruments.

When Audioshield came out, I was a fan, but I’ve always felt like games that automatically generate levels based on any random song you pick just never feel as polished or cohesive. What made DDR and Rock Band great is how handcrafted and precise everything was. Now with Beat Saber, we’ve finally got that in an ultra-stylish package complete with glowing laser swords, banging music, and super addictive levels that are nearly impossible to put down.

The basic premise in Beat Saber is that you have two light saber-esque laser swords (one red and one blue) that you must use to slice boxes to the rhythm of the music. As the boxes approach they’ll either be red or blue in color, so you must slice the box with the right corresponding color saber. This is complicated further because each box also has an arrow showing you which direction you must slice it, plus large obstacles show up from time to time that you need to evade while still slicing boxes.

Throw in a handful of other curveballs like boxes that switch which side they’re on and it’s a perfect recipe for a game that’s dead simple to pick up and play on easy difficulties but nearly impossible to master on the highest settings.

In its current state Beat Saber only has 10 tracks. That isn’t very many, but every single one of them was custom-made for this game and each of them does a magnificent job of really bringing out what makes Beat Saber so addictive and fun.

Beat Saber works because the developers clearly put a lot of care into mapping each song to make sure it felt just right on all four (Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert) difficulty settings without being unfair. They’ve all got different speeds and beats per minute, ensuring that there’s something here to draw everyone in at least for a while.

Playing a song on Beat Saber for me usually involved a few different steps of mastery. I’d try it on Normal first, just so I could hear what it sounded like without much challenge. Then I’d step up to Hard and repeat it over and over until I got either a solid B or an A. Finally, I’d try and tackle the song on Expert and do my best.

If you miss too many boxes, slice them with the wrong saber, slice the wrong direction, or run into obstacles then all of those factors drain your energy meter. In order to get a higher score you’ve got to maintain your combo (that means not missing any) and — most importantly — you need to be accurate with your swings, making sure the angle is precise and you’re hitting the arrow on each box.

That sort of pixel-perfect accuracy isn’t a big deal on the lower settings, but when you’ve got a dozen boxes flying at you in all directions it becomes a bit harder to pay attention to the angle of your saber. Before I ever finished a single song on Expert I had finished all of them on Hard, which makes me feel like the difficulty curve is balanced — but not forgiving.

What It’s Missing in Early Access

Since this is an Early Access game, it’s important to talk about  what’s missing and will hopefully be added later. For example, with only 10 songs, you can blow through that track list, beating most all of them on at least Hard, in a single afternoon. Mastering them on Expert takes time, but it gets repetitive. The only game modes are an arcade-style Solo and a pass-the-headset-style Party Mode. We’d love to see a campaign (which is mentioned on the Steam page) as well as more robust multiplayer features.

The developers have also planned to release a level editor that would allow players to upload custom-made levels for any song they’d like. This would dramatically expand the amount of levels without falling victim to the auto-generation trap that hinders other rhythm games like Audioshield.

Final Score: TBD

Since this is an Early Access game, we are not issuing a final score. The game is still in development and is not officially “finished” so we are withholding final judgment. However, in its current state, we absolutely recommend Beat Saber wholeheartedly.

Beat Saber is now available in Early Access. Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrive at our review scores.

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