When virtual reality first debuted for consumers, and Audioshield released, it was almost like a transcendental experience. And it’s been getting even better since then with games like Audio Trip and Beat Saber becoming popular. Beat Saber is considered the standard for rhythm games in virtual reality, and I haven’t played a game that has the same addictive draw—until Ragnarock.
Ragnarock is a virtual reality rhythm game in which you play as a Viking drummer banging four drums to motivate his rowers. Each note comes in, etched with a rune, and must be smashed onto the drum in rhythm to the song. The better you do, the faster (and therefore, further) the boat goes by the end of the song. You can further speed up the boat by spending combo points and smashing a gong to motivate your rowers. It’s set up like a Dragon boat race—drummers sit at the bow, drumming to synchronize the rowers. Except in this case, the drummer is playing Viking and Pirate inspired music.
At first glance, Ragnarock looks a little bit like Beat Saber—notes come flying towards you, that you must then strike. But that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Ragnarock doesn’t require you to hit specific notes with one hand or the other—instead, you can decide to attack Ragnarock’s licks anyway you’d like—by crossing over arms, or using your left hand for the two left drums, and your right hand for the two right drums. Each drum has a circular bullseye-like target in the middle that rewards you with extra points and speed if hit, and is considered a “perfect” hit. Hits register if the rune is anywhere above the drumhead while struck—unlike Beat Saber which rewards you for just hitting the target. Ragnarock doesn’t really have a failure state, however. Even in versus modes—whether you’re racing against ghost ships or real players—you can’t “fail” the song prematurely, only lose the race in the end. This is great for players who struggle with certain sections, because missing several notes in a row won’t disqualify you from finishing. The combo system provides a layer of strategy, too. Hitting either the left or right sided gongs “spends” your combo meter, speeding up the rowing or your Vikings. This is a bit risk vs. reward, as attempting to hit either gong may cause you to miss a note, and lose your combo. Hitting the combo gongs (whether during a combo or not) gets a satisfying “a woo!” from your rowers. Sometimes I hit the gong just to get some encouragement, or to punctuate the music at an appropriate moment.
Another huge difference between Beat Saber and Ragnarock is how it feels to play. While my Beat Saber-primed brain wanted to play them similarly, by the time I got into it more, Ragnarock felt more akin to playing an actual instrument than other virtual reality-based rhythm games. Comparisons to Beat Saber started to leave my mind, and I felt like I was drumming away in Rock Band again—a feeling I haven’t really had in over a decade, and something that other virtual reality rhythm games haven’t really come close to. If you’re worried that Ragnarock wouldn’t be a good substitute or supplement to your virtual reality workout routine, virtual reality drumming is extremely physical—it’ll definitely give you a workout, especially on the harder difficulties.
Difficulty in Ragnarock is handled a little bit more like Japanese-style rhythm games, with some songs having an inherently harder difficulty than others—which is shown by a number, 1-10, with 10 being the most difficult. This is a little more informative than Beat Saber’s difficuilty, than can vary wildly between song to song in the same difficulty level. This can help inform you about how crazy Ragnarock Vr’s drum beats are going to get.
While it certainly rivals Beat Saber in terms of fun, It should be noted that Ragnarock might not be as approachable as Beat Saber to those new to rhythm games. Ragnarock isn’t as intuitive as Beat Saber, despite both revolving around extremely primal gameplay, as they’re both games where you’re essentially banging on things with sticks. In Ragnarock’s case, consideration has to be taken to positioning. There are a ton of options to be able to move the height of the drums in Ragnarock, as well as a number of different mallet designs and configurations. Even so, it’s easy to lose track of where your drums are when heavily concentrating on Ragnarock’s harder licks.
There are some things that Ragnarock has done to make its style of rhythm game a little easier to parse. For instance, each of the notes are etched with runes that indicate where in they measure they should be hit– whether on beat, off beat, etc. This is a great idea in theory, however, in practice it doesn’t’ really work out that well without practice. In fact, I think it really only helps in the practice modes, as the notes often come in too quickly to ascertain their position in the music. Practice mode is great for harder songs, and even essential to get down tricky, repeating rhythms or drum breaks that might be giving you issues. In practice mode you can start a song where you want and set the playback speed so you can work on harder sections at your own pace.
As far as the selection of songs available, I don’t think I would have organically discovered Ragnarock’s music, but I’m glad that I have. It launched with about 30 songs, and a lot of them are surprisingly fantastic. While some are Viking themed, there seems to be a mix of other nautical themes. While most of the music available works well, Ragnarock works best when the songs are heavy and thumping. You can also add your own custom songs to use in single player if you get bored of the available selection.
I didn’t expect to like Ragnarock as much as I have. It’s genuinely good, and rivals Beat Saber, which is the gold standard for VR rhythm games. If you have a SteamVR compatible headset, you should really just get this game—it’s definitely one of the best virtual games I’ve played, and easily the best I’ve played this year.
Ragnarock is out of Early Access, and available on SteamVR now.
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