Does VR finally have its killer app?
Originally published 30 October, 2018 at Doublejump.co
The PlayStation VR, and virtual reality gaming as a whole, struggles to find its killer apps. Again and again, VR games release to quiet acclaim but, as VR games, they’re treated as curiosities. Like Wii Sports or Fruit Ninja for their respective tech, even the most successful VR games are rarely seen beyond their gimmick.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission proves otherwise. A remarkably polished and lovingly crafted 3D platformer, it makes one of the best cases for VR gaming yet.
Breathing new life into the genre
Developed by SIE Japan Studio and exclusive to the PlayStation 4’s PSVR virtual reality headset, Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a pretty traditional 3D platformer. Expanding on the single level seen in 2016’s The Playroom VR, it’s a short campaign of simple but inventive levels with the camera set in one direction behind the player, moving forwards like a rail shooter. Controlling the little bot hero is simple: it can jump (cross button), hover (hold cross button), punch (square button), and that’s about it.
That’s where the virtual reality aspect comes in, and it breathes new life into the genre.
Through virtual reality, Astro Bot gives players an extra role as the hero’s taller assistant, where you technically follow yourself as you jump your way through each level. Playing as the game’s camera and using controller-attached tools like a grappling hook and water hose, you cooperate with yourself. It’s not an entirely new concept, Astro Bot just pulls it off brilliantly.
Virtual reality is a must in Astro Bot and it can’t be played without PSVR, but it isn’t too heavy or involved compared to other more intense VR games. It isn’t stressful or exhausting and simply weaves virtual reality through a 3D platformer. If anything, Astro Bot is a relaxed and comfortable experience – which is the game’s ultimate strength.
By using virtual reality in this passive way, Astro Bot immerses the player far more organically. Its smallest moments are its most charming and absorbing, like following yourself around a corner by leaning around it or spotting a secret by peeking over a ledge. In these moments, SIE Japan Studio perfectly compliments the 3D platformer with virtual reality. They create something that’s most affecting and convincing in its subtlety than the intense experiences of other VR games.
It reminded me of motion controls in console gaming, which is so often clunky and irritating but works well when it’s passive and less obnoxious. Like Splatoon’s gyro-assisted aiming or, ironically, staying still and motionless in Until Dawn, virtual reality is most exciting when it’s intuitive and natural, complimenting a familiar experience.
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