Since the days of Rock Band and Guitar Hero are long behind us, I had to find another place to get my rhythm game fix. It turns out virtual reality was the answer. There are many virtual reality rhythm games, with Beat Saber being the undisputed champion. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across Ragnarock, and it blew me away. Since its release a short while ago it’s been my go-to VR game—and now that it’s also on Oculus Quest. (check out my original review here)
Ragnarock is a virtual reality rhythm game where you play as a drummer on a Viking boat. It’s literally a race, either against your best distance or another player in real time player versus player. As stand at the foot of the boat, notes comes flying at you—each etched with runes indicating its place in the musical measure (on beat, off-beat, etc.) Your goal is to hit these notes while stamping the etched rune as close to the center of the drum as possible. It’s not really possible to outright “fail” a song—rather, if you miss a lot of notes you just won’t do as well as if you hit them. You can fail to gain a medal however, as there are three benchmarks per level to hit: bronze, silver, and gold. To help speed things along, and get greater distances, you can “spend” accumulated combo points to inspire your rowers, and give your boat a speed boost.
I haven’t played a game since Rock Band that really makes you feel immersed in the drumming experience in quite the same way as Ragnarock. The songs on the Ragnarock soundtrack are super fun, but they’re also set up in a way that really immerses you in drumming. Unlike Beat Saber where you have to hit the same colored blocks with your colored swords, Ragnarock allows you to tackle and stretch notes as you see fit. And not only that, but the game makes it feel like you’re really drumming, with creative and absolutely fun patterns. If anyone is a drummer in real life, you probably already know it can be a crazy workout—so don’t dismiss Ragnarock for its exercise value. It’s such an intense drumming experience that I end each session dripping with sweat like Lars Ulrich after a Metallica concert.
I also really appreciate how Ragnarock handles difficulty levels. Unlike Beat Saber that has the same “Easy, Medium, Hard, Expert, Expert +” for every song despite some songs inherently being more difficult than others, Ragnarock more accurately portrays its difficulty on a scale of 1-10. While each song has three difficulties, its hardest difficulty won’t always be a “10” but sometimes caps much lower at 7 or so. I find this system much more informative than Beat Saber’s, and it can help direct new players to more suitable songs.
As much as I love Ragnarock (and boy, do I love Ragnarock) it’s not perfect. Its system of runes to inform players about its place in the measure is not intuitive, and until you get a feel for the system, it’s possible you’ll struggle with knowing exactly when to hit a certain note in a fast section. It’s also possible to overshoot or undershoot the drums if you shift slightly while playing, making the need to plant your feet in a single place a larger burden in Ragnarock than Beat Saber that encourages more movement. Also, the gongs in Ragnarock—the ones that you hit to “spend” your combo points—are sometimes hard to find since they’re behind you to your right and left—and sometimes I lost my combo when trying to spend it because of the timing. But that is arguably one of the skills of Ragnarock: knowing exactly when in the song to hit your gong.
If you want a practice mode, Ragnarock delivers, with the ability to play a song at a slower pace, or just focus on a section you want to work on. It hasn’t been since Guitar Hero have I had the desire to slow down and really learn certain sections to perform them flawlessly. Not only is it stupid fun to successfully play a long run, but the more accurate you are, the further your boat will go, making you that much more of a challenge to face in PvP.
As far as the experience on Oculus Quest 2, it’s phenomenal. Ragnarock is technically an “app lab” game, meaning it’s still in active development. It really shows no signs of this, and is almost a perfect experience. I say almost because I did experience a few slowdowns and tracking issues—one of which destroyed an amazing combo I had going. But the Quest 2 is an impressive bit of hardware, and Ragnarock is a perfect fit for that headset.
I really love Ragnarock. It’s easily one of my favorite games to come out recently, let alone favorite rhythm game. Its soundtrack is full of fun, driving music that fits the ongoing Viking metal meets nautical theme. Sure, Alestorm tends to lean a little pirate-themed and whatnot, but the selection of music in Ragnarock is so damn good and fun, you won’t care. If you’re on the fence at all about this virtual reality rhythm game, don’t wait—just play it.
Ragnarock is available now through the App Lab for Oculus Quest and Quest 2.
An Oculus Store key was provided to us for the purposes of this review.
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