Feel the Music
In making the jump to VR, some styles of games are having a much easier time than others. On one end of the spectrum, you have first-person shooters, which virtual reality practically feels it was made for. Others like platformers take a bit more alteration and experimentation, but some are making the jump with decent success.
Then you have one of my favorite genres – rhythm and music. Aside from motion-based dance games like the Dance Central and Just Dance series, most rhythm games rely on physical button presses in some way or another. While, yes, this can be replicated in VR (the game Thumper comes to mind), it’s not attempting to take advantage of what current VR systems have to offer. Things like motion tracking and room-scale movement.
As such, it feels like rhythm games are struggling with the VR leap. While there are a small number of these games available on Steam for VR, I’ve yet to find one that really satisfies what I look for in the genre while also feeling like it belongs in virtual reality. There are a few interesting experiments (one game, AudioBeats, requires you to strike drumpads to hit notes), but that’s all they really feel like – experiments.
As a fan of the Hatsune Miku rhythm games on console and handheld, I was quite intrigued when a VR rhythm game featuring the character was announced. When I saw the game was developed by Crypton Future Media, one of the developers behind the Project Diva games and the creator of the character herself, I started getting a bit hyped for the game. After all, these developers already know how to create a great rhythm game, so maybe they’ll be able to work their magic in VR.
Developed by Crypton Future Media and published by Degica Games, Hatsune Miku VR was released on PC via Steam on March 8th, 2018, for exclusive use on VR headsets. We played this game using an HTC Vive.
Do the Wave
Hatsune Miku VR is presented from a first-person perspective, with the gameplay being entirely motion-based. As a song plays, note targets will appear from speakers in the background, making their way toward you. In each of your hands is a star-tipped baton, and as the targets approach, you have to hold one of these batons in front of the target to hit it as it passes you. Some notes have trails behind them that you have to trace with your baton as well.
And that right there is 99% of the game. You wave your arms in front of targets to the rhythm of the music. Honestly, if you break down any rhythm game like this, they’ll all sound boring – these kind of games are essentially just performing lists of commands given to you. Unfortunately, though, the gameplay here really is as dull as it sounds.
This setup also has a couple annoying issues just from the nature of it being a VR game. One of the biggest I noticed is that, unless you are standing in juuust the right place in your room-scale setup, the note targets are going to feel like they’re off rhythm. Most rhythm games have some kind of stationary hit zone that targets move to, but in Miku VR, that hit zone is your very mobile body, so standing too close to or too far from the speakers can affect your accuracy.
The game seems to fight this, though, by seemingly getting rid of accuracy altogether. You can either hit a note or miss a note – scoring doesn’t appear to be effected by how accurate you are. Oh, and it doesn’t seem that you can fail either, so if you don’t feel like hitting some notes, don’t worry about it!
Another issue arises from the locations that note targets move to for you to hit them, namely, into your peripheral vision. Most of the screen is taken up by a model of Miku singing and dancing, with note targets moving past her sides. By the time they reach your area to be hit, they are far off to your sides as well. Most commonly available VR headsets, the Vive included, don’t exactly offer great peripheral vision. As such, you rarely actually see the note targets when they’re in your hit zones; you just have to be holding one of your batons in the general area and hope it connects.
I ended up growing bored quickly on the game’s normal difficulty, so I decided to spike it up to hard and try a couple songs. The game managed to become more fun on this difficulty, with more challenging note patterns and having note trails crossing across your body and in various directions. However, it was here that I was introduced to the other 1% of the gameplay. In the midst of a song, a graphic popped up in the corner showing a person standing on an arrow on the ground. My immediate thought was that the game noticed I was moving out of my room-scale area and telling me to step back. Not one second later, though, a giant ball of spikes rolled right at me.
Yup, in hard mode, while you’re focused on trying to hit all of the notes, you also have to physically dodge massive balls of death. This means stepping off to the side, which immediately makes notes in the opposite direction you stepped much harder to hit. Even better, these obstacles seem to roll at you at random, so get ready to have your combos broken by what has to be one of the most annoying “features” I’ve ever encountered in a rhythm game.
A Concert Cut Short
Much of the appeal of a rhythm game is going to come down to its soundtrack, which is going to be a very subjective thing to most people. However, I think there’s one thing pretty much everyone will be able to agree on.
Eight songs is not nearly enough for a rhythm game.
When you first load into Miku VR, you’re presented with eight songs to play. This is all you’re going to get. There’s nothing to unlock, no extra songs currently available to download, just these eight. Also, personally, the soundtrack here isn’t exactly the best that Miku’s extensive library has to offer. Luckily, the Steam page for the game lists what these songs are, so you can easily decide before purchasing if you like the soundtrack or not.
To be fair, Degica states that they plan to release more songs in the future, but there’s no indication whether these will be free additions or paid DLC. Either way, in the form the game is now, you’ll be paying $20 (at the time of writing) for a paltry eight songs.
If there’s one positive thing I can say about Miku VR up to this point, it’s that Crypton at least knows how to present their flagship character. Miku and her dancing are the star of the show here (as I mentioned, most of your vision is taken up by a model of her), and she is animated incredibly well, with each song having its own choreography. There are some occasional clipping issues on her model, but nothing major that really spoils the show.
Overall, unfortunately, Hastune Miku VR falls into the ever-growing pile of disappointing VR rhythm games I’ve attempted to play. The actual gameplay is dull and feels unpolished, with its heavy reliance on peripheral vision that most VR headsets lack. Weird design decisions like having to dodge obstacles on hard mode mute any enjoyment I was getting out of playing on higher difficulties.
This isn’t even the first time Miku has been featured in a disappointing VR game. Crypton was also behind VR Future Live, a “game” on Playstation VR which was really nothing but watching a model of Miku perform a few songs. For being the company’s pride and joy, the developers don’t seem to be making the best decisions trying to bring Miku into virtual reality gaming.
If plans to add more songs to the game pan out, and they’re released for free, Hatsune Miku VR might be worth a look in the future, if only for hardcore Vocaloid fans. As it stands right now, for both rhythm gamers and Miku aficionados, this game really isn’t worth your time or money.
~ Final Score: 4/10 ~
Review copy provided by Degica Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.