Earlier this month, a box showed up at my door. Main Event Entertainment, a family entertainment company that operates businesses throughout the US providing various video and real-world games, including billiards, bowling, arcade titles, laser tag, and rock climbing, has recently added Beat Saber as a starring attraction for its facilities. The box contained an Oculus Quest preloaded with Beat Saber Arcade, the same version of the game that the company has rolled out in its entertainment centers.
Beat Saber, for those of you that haven’t played it, is a rhythm game. In it, you slash red and blue boxes that approach you at speed, in time to the music. There are a variety of ways to modify a song to increase or decrease the difficulty, a practice mode to run through a song at a slower (or faster) speed than normal, and a campaign mode for those who don’t want to run songs one by one.
I’ve had fun with Beat Saber when I’ve played it, but I’ve always used an Oculus Rift tied to a PC. The Oculus Quest is different from the Rift in several respects. It has four corner cameras for tracking your controller locations, so it isn’t tied to the cameras that the Rift uses. The headset is a little heavier (20.1 ounces versus 17), but it feels better to wear and is more balanced overall. Internally, games are rendered on a Snapdragon 835.
While the screen resolution is slightly higher than the Rift, at 1600×1440, I was afraid the overall experience might not be as good as on the Rift. I needn’t have worried. If I liked Beat Saber on the Rift, being able to play it on the Quest has been transformative. The device’s cameras will switch to displaying a view of the room around you if you step outside the Guardian area defined for play, which makes it much easier to move confidently with a bulky, view-obscuring camera strapped to your face.
I’ve made it clear in my various writing that I prefer PC-based VR, and I was a bit dismissive of Quest when it launched. I can’t speak to how the headset works in other titles beyond the Apollo Creed boxing demo and Beat Saber itself, but in my experience, this headset is phenomenal. I’ve had far more fun with it than I’ve had on the Rift, because I don’t have to contend with the bulk of the PC-connected cable. I’ve been using it for exercise on a regular basis. And while I’m no kind of Beat Saber god, I’ve definitely improved at the game during the few weeks I’ve played it. Even without headphones, the Quest’s audio is more than loud enough for a fulfilling experience.
I can’t speak to the experience of playing the game at a Main Event, because there isn’t one near me. From the images the company sent over, it looks like they use a setup with a fair bit of extra hardware:
Including a display for other people to see makes sense — watching someone wave their arms around in the air probably isn’t all that much fun otherwise — but there’s a substantial bit of stabilizing headgear at the top of the Oculus Quest and the controllers are clearly tethered to the rest of the hardware in some fashion. The experience looks different enough that I don’t want to assume they’re identical in that regard.
But as far as the base game is concerned? Definitely great. Beat Saber is the closest thing to a killer app for VR that I’ve seen yet, and while I wouldn’t recommend dropping $ 400 (the base price of the Oculus Quest) to play any single title, it’s worth checking out a Main Event if there’s one near you just to get a taste of what good VR gameplay can look like. The game is easy to pick up and play and the cost of a visit to ME is smaller than the Quest itself.
I’m glad to see companies adding VR options like this because it helps overcome a major problem with VR adoption. Like 3D before it, VR is difficult to demonstrate to people if they can’t put a headset on and see it for themselves. And few people are willing to drop $ 400 for a product if they haven’t spent time with it. This is eminently reasonable, but it creates a chicken-and-egg problem without an easy solution. Putting VR gear into entertainment venues makes sense as a means of exposing folks to it, and if you’ve been curious about the medium, Beat Saber is a genuinely great game.