Jumping the Soapbox: Games of 2019 (Part 3) – VR-A-PALOOZA!!

Back in November I finally took the VR plunge and got myself a (VERY EXPENSIVE) Oculus Quest.  Now sure, it may not be the BE ALL END ALL of interactive experiences, but it’s definitely the most interesting new gimmick for the medium in a while.  The best way I’ve been able to describe it is the difference between beer and hard liquor.  Both are unique in their own way with pros and cons to each, but there’s no doubt that one is a more POWERFUL experience and that you can’t have as much of it without getting sick.  It’s amazing to be immersed in the virtual world in a way that no other gaming console can adequately replicate, but the weight of the hardware itself as well as the strain on your senses trying to understand the disconnect between what you’re seeing and what’s in the real world means that it’s best for short bursts rather than longer sessions.  In any case, we’ll take a look at many of the games I’ve played for it as well as any other impressions I had of the hardware.  Some games are from the built in Oculus store, some were side-loaded to the console through other means, all are worth talking about today!  Let’s get started!!

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Beat Saber

GAMES2019-18

Develop by Beat Games

Alright, I’ll admit it!  I mostly bought this ridiculous headset just to play this one game!  ARE YOU HAPPY!?  I’ve always been a huge fan of rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and after playing this at a convention a year or so back I knew I had to get it as well.  The gameplay is ridiculously intuitive with the many slash patters becoming second nature after a surprising short amount of time; though some of that might be due to my experience with other rhythm games.  I don’t want to BRAG and say that I’m an AMAZING arm waver, but over time the connection between the visual cues and the body movement become more and more abstracted and the thought process between seeing a block on screen and knowing what to do with my arms became instantaneous and I was racking up high scores in no time; even if I STILL can’t do a good chunk of those absurdly difficult EXPERT+ songs, and that brings me to something worth discussing about this game.  The big elephant in the room is the custom songs you can add to the game through mods with very little effort; even on the Quest which is designed to be much more self-contained and therefore harder to mod.  Look, I love the game play on its own, but if I couldn’t play Shut Up And Dance, You Get What You Give, and Eating Food In The shower, my interest would have faded away almost instantaneously.  People uploading tracks that they do not have the right to upload is frankly the lifeblood of this game and the paltry tracks that come with your thirty dollar purchase as well as the small handful of downloadable tracks are simply not enough to sustain interest.  I don’t know if Beat Games has said much on the use of unlicensed music in their game, but they sure haven’t fixed the “problem” yet and I’m curious if this is a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off.  Until it does though, this is easily the most fun experience there is to find in VR, and the first thing you should buy if you get a headset!

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Crisis VRigade

GAMES2019-19

Developed by Sumalab

If the title didn’t make it obvious enough, this is a game that is heavily influenced by classic arcade light gun shooters of yore; in all the best AND all the worst ways.  Ducking behind objects like you’re playing Time Crisis 3 with the pedal, aiming down your sights to get the perfect headshot, even the somewhat overcomplicated reload system (which can be turned off) genuinely made me feel like I was INSIDE of a video game which very few games, as impressive as some of them are, have been able to manage, and enjoyed the overall retro feel to this.  However, there are some things that were better left in the past, and the difficulty being so high is either a misguided attempt to recreate the quarter munching feel of those original games or to disguise how short this one is; the latter of which I’m perfectly fine with considering they’re giving it away for free on the Quest.  Or at least I THINK they are?  It’s not on the official store which means it has to be side-loaded and I’m not sure if the developers themselves were the ones who put it up there.  Anyways, as far as the game goes, there’s nothing quite as disheartening as getting shot within a nanosecond of peeking your head out of cover and knowing you’re still way too early into the level so there’s no point in continuing this run; not helped at all when the not that great voice actor (presumably one of the developers) talks smack at you on the game over screen.  Also, and this may just be because I’m getting old, there is WAY too much ducking behind cover as opposed to standing behind it.  There are like THREE screens in the entire first level where you peek out to the side of an obstacle to shoot while the rest have you crouching, and not just bending slightly downwards; you have to take an actual knee for long periods of time just to get through these parts.  It makes a bit of sense since ducking requires less room space than side stepping would, but I was REALLY tired of going up and down when having to replay the same five scenes over and over again because you ate three points of damage in four seconds.  Even with these issues I still recommend this game for anyone who loves the old school arcade light gun games from the nineties and early 2000s, and the biggest takeaway from this is that arcade shooters are a heck of a lot of fun in VR!  If SEGA and Namco aren’t working on ports of their classic shooters, they are just leaving money on the table.  PLEASE GIVE ME CARNEVIL IN VR!!

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Lambda1VR (Half Life) & Quake Quest

GAMES2019-20

Both ports developed by Simon Brown

The biggest stumbling block with the current iteration of VR technology is the motion sickness which is why most VR games try to cater to experiences that reduce the disconnect between your real life meat body and your fake body in the virtual world.  I’m sure it’s something that we’ll get used to eventually, but these fan made ports of the classic PC shooters aren’t waiting for the rest of us to play catchup.  I played Quake for five minutes and I thought I was going to DIE the dizziness was so ad  Half Life is infinitely better being at something of a slower pace (the opening train ride is pretty awesome in VR and doesn’t require any real movement) but even that I can only handle in short bursts before my brain starts to violent protest against the whole thing.  It’ commendable that people are so dedicated to these games that we get such amazing ports, and if you’re someone who doesn’t get sick then these are FANTASTIC experiences, but this also shows the inherent danger as it were with third party software side-loaded onto the Quest. Sure, this stuff is free and there are some great experiences to discover, but you’re definitely taking a risk with your stomach every time you start something from any random somebody with a vision that won’t be deterred by people projectile vomiting when they try it out!

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PokerStars VR

GAMES2019-21

Developed by Lucky VR Inc

Outside of Beat Saber, this is the VR game I’ve probably spent the most time with which either indicates a well-crafted experience or a burgeoning gambling problem.  I definitely enjoy playing a few hands of Texas Hold’em from time to time with my forty hours in Poker Night 2 as ample evidence of that, so they’re already at an advantage if they can replicate the mechanics well enough.  Perhaps its most endearing quality though is just how low impact of a game it is to play as you can comfortably sit in a chair instead of standing up, and the motions involved aren’t so extravagant as to tire you out; even if the weight and pressure of the headset itself will still get to you have a while.  The simplicity of sitting there, looking at my cards, gesturing to bet, to check, to fold, to go all in, and even throwing a few jokes out in the chat managed to create an immersive experience that I had a lot of fun with, but I do have a few gripes.  As far as a I could tell there was no built in tutorial to teach you how to do certain things, and many times someone either had to tell me or I had to tell someone else which button to press and which movements to do for certain actions.  I knew which button it was to grip the corner of my card, but it took me forever to realize you twist you wrist instead of lifting your hand up.  To play devil’s advocate, it DOES encourage communication with the rest of your table to learn the little intricacies of the interface, but that leads into my other major issue which is… well playing with people.  Playing cards with other people is more than just making sure you match in regards to skill as you bring your personality to the table as well, and I had a few instances where a couple twelve year old brats with no sense of respect for anyone else got in on a table I was playing, and they wanted to sling slurs and play with the silly user items instead of play the game itself, and that does not make for a fun card playing experience.  Oh yeah, the user items!  I still don’t get how they work exactly or why you would WANT to buy them, but on top of simple things like cigars or silly hats, you can get REALLY obnoxious things like drones, swords, spinning tops that go all around the table, it’s just a mess and thankfully the game lets you turn them off so that you can’t see them, but then you have people pantomiming odd gestures as they use items that you can’t see.  I guess if you cut down the social features TOO much you start discouraging communication between players, but they went way too far in the other direction for my liking.  Still, if you’re looking for a nice and easy going VR experience, then this is perhaps the best that the platform has to offer even if the interface and social tools could use a bit of refinement.

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Superhot VR

GAMES2019-22

Developed by SUPERHOT Team

I talked about this game all the way back in 2016 and what stuck out the most for me was how badly the story integrated with what was an AMAZING gameplay mechanic.  This version that you can get for VR not only expands upon the gameplay with full body movement (or at least the simulation of it), it also integrates the story more elegantly into the gameplay loop.  You OCCASIONALLY get booted back to the real world or have to do some in-game bit of story progression, but it comes infrequently enough that you get into a really nice groove with the stages that introduce fun mechanics, weapons, and environments at a satisfying clip.  Also, what might be the most shocking thing about this, is that the story that IS there is one that I like!  The game doesn’t stop completely in its tracks to tell it like the text screens did in the original Superhot as the narrative cleverly uses VR technology itself to get the point across.  Where the previous game endlessly TOLD you about the dangers you as the main character were playing with by going further and further into the game, this one makes you genuinely FEEL that with some fun “in game” as it were set piece moments (the bit where you fall still makes my heart race) and the out of game parts where you’re inside a small room with a bunch of computers and a VR headset you have to manually put on to keep playing the game.  It’s not particularly subtle and frankly it isn’t too deep, but there’s enough engaging little tidbits here and there as well as the novelty of doing all this in VR that kept me invested and enhanced the game rather than taking me out of it completely.  If there’s one problem with the game, and this is a frequent one with the platform, it’s that the game is too short.  I could use at least TWICE as many levels and would gladly pay for some DLC packs, but nothing has come out since its release to expand on the experience and so we’re left replaying the same levels over and over again; really GOOD levels to be sure, but VR’s stingy attitude towards content has become one of the more obnoxious thorns in my side.  Perhaps there’s WAY more involved with VR games than ones we get with current gen consoles, and the smaller user base doesn’t justify spending as much money to develop these games, but it’s something that they’re gonna have to grow past and hopefully will with the Quest being so much more affordable and accessible than previous iterations of the technology.  As much as I complain about how much I paid for this thing, it’s still cheaper than the other headsets out there, it doesn’t require a ridiculously powerful computer to use, and the lack of wires makes it that much easier to get immersed in the amazing worlds that it brings to life.

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Tea For God

GAMES2019-23

Developed by Void Room

Sadly I didn’t get to play this as much as I should have, but I really enjoyed the ingenious gimmick behind it where it will take almost any size play area and create a fully realized world within it that you can walk around in.  Sure, if you go REALLY small it starts to break at the seams, but if you have a decent sized room to try it in, it’s absolutely amazing how it can make an ultimately small amount of space feel absolutely giant with clever uses of intertwining tunnels as well moving platforms that take you forward, backward, up, and down.  The problem with the game though is… well I just couldn’t get into the GAME part of it.  It certainly FEELS like a rouge like with the random dungeons and whatnot, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was I was trying to do or how the vending machines worked. I liked using a shield in conjunction with a gun, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of satisfying gameplay to be found from simply shooting the robots that littered the hallways from time to time.  This technology though could be used to make some amazing games and I hope we get to see more stuff like this in the future!

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Virtual Boy Go

GAMES2019-24

Emulator developed by CidVonHighwind

And after all that we’ll end this on an emulator of all things, but I feel it’s an IMPORTANT emulator if nothing else!  Nintendo, despite having the 3DS which could theoretically run ALL of these games, has yet to give modern day audiences meaningful access to the Virtual Boy catalog which is disheartening considering how good the company has usually been about preserving its previous consoles’ legacies.  Backwards compatibility was a greatly appreciated feature for the Wii and Wii U, and the Virtual Console has made many of their previous titles available on modern consoles; at a price to be sure and not always fair ones, but available nonetheless.  Due to the unique nature of the hardware it’s been difficult (or at least woefully incomplete) for fans to keep the games alive through PC emulators, but finally we have the technology with these VR headsets to recreate the experience of those games with fun little tweaks here and there.  I haven’t gone through ALL the games in the library, but I’ve had a lot of fun with the Wario Land game as well as a survival horror game of all things called Innsmouth no Yakata; only released in Japan naturally.  Say what you will about the console and its games, but I still feel it’s important that there’s SOME way to experience them even if the original creators are no longer interested in making that possible.

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So that’s it for the games of 2019!  Did you like the list?  Did you hate everything I had to say?  Let me know in the comments below!!

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