Rhythm games are a fun little niche of video games that seem to go in and out of fashion somewhat regularly. Dance Dance Revolution blew up in the early 2000s, while Guitar Hero and Rock Band dominated the latter half of the decade. I don’t know if Just Dance was ever actually popular, or if Ubisoft just spent billions of marketing dollars to make us think it was. Beat Saber was a massive thing for a while there, a few years ago. Maybe it still is and I just don’t follow the right socials.
In 2022, however, I have found the rhythm game that I believe must have been made specifically for me: Ragnarock. Picture this: a VR rhythm game about drumming, with a Viking aesthetic and a track list consisting almost entirely of metal. This perfect coalescence seems obvious on paper, so I have to wonder how it took so darn long to get it to market. The fact that it was released in late 2020 and it took me this long to discover it is equally mysterious.
Ragnarok is, as a rhythm game, fairly simple to comprehend. You sit at the stern of a Viking longboat, and drum along in time to the music, as runic notes flow towards you. Hitting the runes as they pass over your drums will make your crew row, and perfect timing makes the crew row faster. Hitting notes without missing any also charges your hammers (yes, you drum with hammers) with lightning energy, which fills your special gauge. Once the gauge is full, you can hit a gong to either side to make the crew row even faster for a while. Adding a little strategy, you can also continue to charge the special gauge for a bigger boost.
And that’s it. That’s the gameplay in its entirety. There are three difficulty levels for each song, and you can acquire bronze, silver, and gold medals depending on how far you travel before a song ends. There’s a multiplayer mode which I haven’t tried yet, and at least a dozen achievements, each of which unlocks a new hammer style. I really like that the achievements give tangible rewards. More games should do that, even if they are just meaningless cosmetic items.
Where a rhythm game truly shines, though, is in the music. Guitar Hero and Rock Band won my favour not only because playing a toy guitar is inherently more fun than any other type of input (to me), but also because the set lists were geared towards guitar-heavy rock music. Which is my jam. When they veered away from that and started doing including more “for everyone” kinds of stuff to attract more casuals because the fad was dying, that’s when my interest waned. There’s a good reason that I still hold Guitar Hero 2‘s soundtrack as the best licensed soundtrack in a video game of all time. The BLSIAVGOAT, if you will.
Ragnarock’s track list, if you can believe it, is entirely metal and hard rock. Fantastic! Obviously it pulls from different spectrums of the genres, and is vaguely focused on Nordic/Celtic folk metal, but it’s all sick! After playing literally every song, I said to myself “I’m going to have to look up that band later.” Every. Song. Well, except the glut of songs by Gloryhammer and Alestorm, because I’ve had a strong affinity for their work for some time now. I mean, I bought the game as soon as I saw the word “Gloryhammer” in the synopsis. That was it. That was literally all I needed. It also bears mentioning that none of the music in this game is by mainstream bands, and I very much appreciate that. Bands that don’t have giant labels backing them need love too!
Also, there is a 6-song Gloryhammer DLC pack, which I absolutely purchased as soon as I confirmed that Ragnarock was actually a fun game. It contains “The Land of Unicorns“, which is not only one of my favourite Gloryhammer songs, but one of my favourite songs period. I am a little sad that neither the base game nor DLC pack includes any songs from Tales From the Kingdom of Fife. But maybe that’s coming as another DLC pack later? Fingers crossed!
The Gloryhammer pack also includes “The Fires of Ancient Cosmic Destiny” which is a twelve-and-a-half minute tour-de-force that I haven’t had the nerve to pay yet, because it’s going to be an absolute beast on my arms and back, even on easy. Did I mention that Ragnarock is a physically demanding game? The easiest songs aren’t too bad, but I’ve found that songs with a difficulty rating of 3 (out of 10!) are intense enough to make me sweat. Playing for half an hour is currently more than enough to make me sore the following day. Good thing the Quest 2 has such terrible battery life! Though I have been playing with weighted gloves on to work my arms a little harder, so some of that is self-imposed.
I think that really the only complaint I have with Ragnarock, on a mechanical level, is that there is no tactile feedback from your actions. Rock Band had its plastic instruments, DJ Hero had a toy turntable, DDR is all about that dance pad, Taiko: Drum Master games often include an actual drum, Donkey Konga had its (in)famous bongos. Ragnarock, though, leaves you simply swinging your arms through the air at nothing. It’s a not actually a problem, because the motion control works perfectly well, but I can’t help but imagine how much more satisfying it would feel to actually be hitting physical drums. It would also be a lot louder, though. And that rig would be hella expensive and take up a ton of space, so we’re better off without. But it would be so cool!
I guess that the graphics are also kinda bad. I don’t think any of the models in the game have more than about twelve polygons. But that doesn’t really matter. And besides, the art direction is pretty cool, with all kinds of neat stuff in the backgrounds that are based on six (I think) of the Nine Realms. Not that you’ll have a chance to really see much of it while you’re laser-focused on your drumming. Nice that it’s all there, though!
While Ragnarock likely isn’t going to become a huge fad like some of its forebears, it’s still a pretty great little game. It’s certainly got its hooks into me, and I feel like this could be one that I really end up putting a lot of time into. The developer, WannadevStudio, has pledged to continue adding music and features throughout the year, which will definitely help to keep me coming back to it again and again.