Nothing beats a game that makes you feel like a rock star. The idea of picking up an instrument that you have never played and somehow making music with it just feels rewarding. Traditional flat screen games have given gamers this feeling for years. Now, IMEX Media, wants to bring that feeling to VR with Riff VR.
While Riff VR isn’t the first music VR game, it is one of the first to give you a varied experience. Drums, guitar, and vocals are all playable options, giving you access to the full rock band experience. However, capturing that magic mixture of polish and mechanics that makes gamers feel amazing is no small task. So, let’s take a look and see how Riff VR stacks up against the legends of rock.
The concept behind Riff VR is simple. This game wants to make you feel good while playing a virtual instrument. To do this, you select a song and do your best to hit the correct notes at the right time in order to produce a nice sound. If you manage to maintain a rhythm and hit the correct notes, you are rewarded with flashy lights, points, and sweet music.
While this concept sounds simple, it’s easy to stray too far off the path of your design goal. If the game is too hard it will just be frustrating for players. Too simple and players get bored and move on. If the game lacks the right levels of audio and visual feedback, the game feels hollow or confusing. Right now, Riff VR has a solid foundation, but still needs to find that sweet spot for each instrument as each one seems to succeed in one area but fall short in another.
For example, the drums are at a solid place for someone with experience to thoroughly enjoy them, but completely devastate a novice’s ego by having the default gameplay feel extremely difficult. The guitar is at a great place for an intermediate challenge but falls short on delivering a satisfying sound and clear visual feedback. The vocals work perfectly but lack any method of scoring so I can’t hide my horrid attempts at singing behind the false need to attain a high score. The good news is, they all have a strong foundation built on the games concept. They just need that fine tuning to really shine.
The First Gig
If you have ever played, or even watched someone play, a Rock Band or Guitar Hero type game, then you understand the basics of Riff VR. The game takes a tried and true gameplay style and puts it into VR. Unfortunately, some things just end up feeling a little weird in VR. Take the guitar for instance. The notes you need hit are displayed below the neck of the guitar. This means that you will need to hold it at an angle so you can see the notes and keep looking down the entire time you’re playing. The end result is an unnatural feeling that has me struggling to find a comfortable position.
This also seemed to bleed into the drumming experience. The notes need to be struck when they land on the drum, resulting in me constantly looking at specific notes and missing other notes all together. Now, all the notes are color coded to match up with the input the player needs to hit but when the timing is forcing my attention elsewhere, the end result is frustration. If they could find a way to keep the players attention focused on a point that allows them to take in multiple lines of information while only needing to translate that info into color coded goodness, the end result might give the player a more natural interaction with the instruments.
Last but not least, Riff VR has a points system that is built around a multiplier. The more notes you hit in a row, the higher the multiplier goes. This system works well enough but could use more of a visual representation while you play. Watching my score climb and have an impact on the stage or with the audience would do wonders at driving me to do better. At its current state, it just feels like a number.
Let Your Fingers Do the Talking
Controlling Riff VR’s instruments is a pretty solid experience. Each instrument has it’s on little mixing board that allows you to adjust the volume, track volume, start/stop track, home button, and instrument lock button. This was a great touch that makes everything you need easily accessible during gameplay. Having the ability to lock the guitar pick/drumsticks/microphone in your hand is very handy for people that tend to release buttons in the heat of gameplay.
Interacting with the instruments is a pretty natural affair. You hit the drums with drumsticks, strum the guitar with a pick, and hold the mic up to your mouth and sing. Everything about this felt natural. The games menu system is clear and responsive and laid out in a simple to pick up style. Any movement in game is done through teleportation and works well enough.
The game does not give the player any difficulty settings to adjust, which is a little surprising. Luckily, they have included a fairly comprehensive tutorial that covers the basics. This one is pretty difficult from the start and you have to pick it up as you go or give up on it. This is a tough position to be in as a new player because you want to ease into the game. This could be done with across the board difficultly settings, or songs geared towards difficultly levels. Unfortunately, nothing indicated that this was the case with the existing track list.
Graphically, Riff VR has some strong points and some weak points. The instruments all look great and your bandmates, while a motley crew, do bring a little life to the stage. The stages themselves all look adequate but lack any real ambiance of their own.
One area that could use a little work, is the visual feedback for successfully hitting and holding a note on the guitar. You do get a little glow around the finger but having the note itself light up might provide a more solid level of feedback to the player during the heat of the moment. The absolute highlight had to be the karaoke screen. That one touch turned the vocals gameplay up to eleven for me. Just all around good fucking fun in a smart design.
As for the games audio, the song selection is off to a great start. You get a nice mix of classic and alt rock and the sound quality is perfect. The drums are another highlight of the audio department. They sound great in the game, even if you are just screwing around on them during a song. Unfortunately, the guitar is this games weak point when it comes to sound. At times it sounds good. However, fast, repeated notes sound choppy and out of place against the actual track. You can get around this, to some degree, by lowering your guitar level but it’s still an issue that should not be. If you can turn down the track volume and hear a guitar riff that sounds like poo, something has to be addressed.
Right now, Riff VR is still in Early Access and it shows in some areas more than others. While each instrument has its flaws, none are broken. They each have a strong platform to expand upon and that makes me very optimistic about Riff VR’s future. While this game is still developing its secret sauce of sexy feel goodness, its core gameplay nails the most important part of any good music game. That is to say, that it is extremely addictive. When you hit a note streak, you want to hit more. That’s good design at work.
Enough out of me, I have shared my thoughts and opinions and now it’s time for you to make your own. If you would like to check out Riff VR, you can pick it up on Steam for $19.99, and yes it’s worth it just for the VR karaoke in my opinion. You can play it on the Rift or Vive and if you do, feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree with any of my comments. Better yet, let the developers know what you think and help make a good game even better. Until next time, keep on rocking VR gamers!