The VR Conundrum


there's a frog in my snake oil
The Mage's Tale

Really conflicted on this. On one hand it's a 10 hour dungeon-diving adventure, with some lovely comic and quality touches throughout. On the other hand it sometimes degenerates into a crappy wave shooter (99 carbon copy opponents, seriously? ), hobbles along with slightly dated mechanics, and wobbles wildly on the puzzle quality.

To break it down though:

Full of quality of life touches, especially early on. From cheeky dialogue asides and throwaway characters, to the litany of arcane objects, menus and settings, there's a real attempt to lavish some AAA quality. Who doesn't love stashing ornate potions in a giant mystical frog?. (The floating guide character is naturally very annoying though...)

The puzzles are uneven, sometimes uniquely engineered just for a novelty collectible, sometimes feeling rehashed for a key piece of progression. They're at their best when they use VR in a novel way, such as when you suddenly realise your gaze is important, or when challenged to hurl planets into the gravity wells of a living orrery. But these moments seem like rare (and sometimes glitchy) experiments amongst the more standard fare. The safe tumbler technique for collectibles stood up to constant use though.

The dungeon designs show similar cracks. At points they're great, looming over you with cartoonish eeriness or closing in claustrophobically. But others felt like the filler of a game that's over-reached itself. The 'airlock' style double door sections that separated zones could get tiresome to backtrack through, and didn't lend themselves to the more spread out puzzles. (Several times I was left foraging around large, fairly empty, multi-tier rooms, wondering what the hell to do, and idly setting fire to bats with fireballs, in case that was it). Did love the giant talking mouths though, with their kitsch vibe of TV show Knightmare (a D&D oddity with blinded participants).

It shows its age with the clunky motion options (not transitioning smoothly when changing directions of travel); strange interaction points to pick up objects; and unreliable physics reactions. But kudos for adding the first modernisation, and for having the last two at all.

Creating your own twists on the core magic spells via the potion cauldron is a fun combination of two VR staples. Swooshing a new mix together and trying it out on the next level works well by the final chapters. But on that note...

Combat levelling is poor. With little threat felt early on, and the Emperor-style lightning spell being the no-brainer combat crutch for many levels, it all feels a bit samey. Ice, wind and fire remain a novelty used more for puzzles. They mix the threat up to good effect for a while, with increasing tiers of complementary enemies, then bizarrely turn to endurance wave shooter mechanics instead. Tuning up all of the spells does become useful at this point, but the attrition combat is ultimately tedious.



Dreams of Dali

A short teleport dash around some Dali motifs in a pretty desert expanse. Very slender, but seeing the giraffean elephants totter past was certainly cool.

- [FREE]
Virtual Reality chatter on a movie site? Got endless amounts of it here. Reviews over here

there's a frog in my snake oil
Short Story: The Book of Distance

An impressionistic recreation of Japanese Canadian internments during WW2, told through the lense of one family's experiences.

As the viewer you are invited somewhat into this world, taking photos, packing bags, perusing imagined family notes, or hard bureaucratic evidence.

The factual content bites the hardest in many ways, with the 'all people of the Japanese race' phrasings cutting through the years. But it's the wisps of familial recollections, as technologies, then family members, then the possessions of a lifetime get stripped away, that brings it all home.

Always a bit under-cut by the cartoony depictions of internment and 1930s Japan, the mix of audio, softened visuals, hard facts, and personal tales still work as a whole though. Effective and touching at points, both as a reminder of a forgotten tragedy amongst a larger one, and as a personal take on it all. (Even if not all of the lines he draws around his ideas are successful overall)

(+) [FREE]

there's a frog in my snake oil
As always, I have mainly been playing War Dust

The Adventure Starts Here!
I feel compelled to always give a thumbs-up to your posts here, mainly because I applaud your consistent use of VR to play games. I have ot try to find TIME to get back into the VR stuff, but, unlike you, I can't play half the stuff out there due to issues with motion sickness (or just fear of heights--so anything that LOOKS realistically like heights freaks me out).

I did, though, find Moss an enchanting game and would love to get back into that, if nothing else. Plus, I finally bought Beat Saber and want to start playing that too. (Playing Beat Saber at a friend's house in Texas is what hooked me on getting a headset as soon as I got home from that trip two years ago.)

there's a frog in my snake oil
I feel compelled to always give a thumbs-up to your posts here, mainly because I applaud your consistent use of VR to play games. I have ot try to find TIME to get back into the VR stuff, but, unlike you, I can't play half the stuff out there due to issues with motion sickness (or just fear of heights--so anything that LOOKS realistically like heights freaks me out).

I did, though, find Moss an enchanting game and would love to get back into that, if nothing else. Plus, I finally bought Beat Saber and want to start playing that too. (Playing Beat Saber at a friend's house in Texas is what hooked me on getting a headset as soon as I got home from that trip two years ago.)
Cheers Aus

It's honestly not even like a choice in a sense, because I'd grown bored of games until VR came along, so it's the only thing that really interests me about them at the mo.

(I tried mucking around with the Elite alpha on flatscreen, because I got it with the lifetime pass, but even though I'd been waiting for that for ages, and was having a genuinely fun time trying stuff out... it was still like, half the fun I could have been having parachuting around 'inside' that janky game in the vid above . So I went back to that...)

Like other than playing a bit of Minecraft or Lego with my kidling, games on a screen just always have that 'could be having more fun' deficit now.

I think you're right that not having any limits to which games I can play definitely helps, especially with the slimmer pickings out there. (And the whole 'standing in the middle of the game' has been the killer VR hook for me. Although zero-locomotion stuff like Beat Sabre definitely captures a lot of that still)

I'll try and think of some other puzzlers that might be good fits for you, because like VR needs more advocates . But increasingly they are becoming 'worlds' now, with at least teleport locomotion within them. (Rather than just roomscale 'poke around the room ones' or 3rd person platformers).

(The only other 3rd person ones springing to mind are more on the fighty end - if both with lauded stories. Chronos and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.)

The Adventure Starts Here!
It'll take a bit of doing for me to fight anything in VR.

I like Moss and I've played Lucky's Tale, Deisim, and, of course, Butts: The VR Experience.

I own a bunch more that I haven't tried out (can't pass up a good sale), but none of them are "fighty."

there's a frog in my snake oil
Tried out the RDR2 mod. The guy seems to have worked his magic again. The whole damn giant story world is there, functional, and pretty darn pretty with it too even on the 'Medium' preset he provides. (It crashed on 'High' preset, go guess that's where I'll stay )

The cut scenes are still a bit odd, but improved a lot on his initial GTA V attempts. The cuts between scenes are pretty sharp, which can be disorientating, but being able to look around each scene is pretty crazy in its own way (especially in the outdoor settings, with freezing brooks bubbling past and storm buffeted mountains behind you etc). Although I did notice a corpse breathing out steam, which I don't think was intended

There are various oddities in there, like when you're holding a lamp on horseback, it's basically attached to your view. Lamp face. And the golden snow flurries looked more like the overlay they are than 3D flurries.

But despite little understandable issues like that, it all works surprisingly well and robustly.

The headlook aiming is again a decent solution. (Although it may take me a while to be completely comfortable shooting things behind me on horseback )

Could totally see playing the whole game through, if it holds my interest.

Look ma, I can see my feet!

These kinds of reviews are really only useful if you're interested in the casual side of the game -- campaign and skirmishes -- and if we're being honest here (as opposed to pre-order evangelists) then the PC Gamer and the PC Invasion (in particular) pieces are the fairest so far. Read them all the way through instead of basing your decision on the score like an illiterate pleb or you'll deserve whatever you get. The other reviews I read (only read English ones) the journalists didn't even properly research the game and they're talking out their asses.

On the other hand if you're interested in the competitive/multiplayer side of the game then these reviews are pretty useless. Go look through the Steam reviews to find someone who's reviewing from this perspective, or better yet watch some pro streams and VODs and make up your own mind. AoA deserves that much from you at least. Also realize that it's early days and there's no telling how the MP will mature over time, though in my worthless opinion the current indicators augur well.

Wait and see... i'll try to update with the most serious sites i know about. please do the same with your best and respected sites.

there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Buzludzha VR

A very slick little tourism title, this recreation of the abandoned Buzludzha building allows you to nose around it in its pomp, while hearing about its past, and revealing its current state with sweeps of your magic torch.

Bizarrely they also included flight physics via dual wielding fire extinguishers, and a fairly functional helicopter!

Wouldn't pay full price for it necessarily, but poking around the interior, and swooping around the blue skies, was definitely intriguing.


there's a frog in my snake oil
First Look: Eye of the Temple (demo)

I genuinely liked the Indiana Jones trappings here, from the teetering on rolling stone barrels in roomscale, to realising you could grab levers with your pliable whip.

Throw in some mid-puzzle fights with flying scarab beetles, and the general 'piece together the zone' puzzle approach, and it was all pretty pleasing.

Unfortunately they were absolutely right to insist on 2mx2m playspaces as a minimum, and my 1.5mx1.5m just wasn't cutting it. (It's a shame, as if they'd just allowed some snap turn I reckon I could have kept myself within the play area pretty easily. But they only allow a 'rotate room' option in the menu, and it didn't work in all locations, so I just ended up wedged in corners or bumping into stuff. Ultimately unplayable :/)

there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: The Room VR: A Dark Matter

Another slick, 4 hour, escape the room adventure. Very much built on the 'move between puzzle hubs, gaining tools to progress them a step' school.

It's well presented, with a Holmes meets baby's-first-Cthulhu vibe. The puzzles are probably on the easy end all told, with the challenge coming more in figuring out what to do, rather than how to do it. This of course does lend itself to occasional roadblocks. I ended up checking a walkthrough on a few occasions. Once while just not being persistent / inquisitive enough with an object, once when the visual queue for an object's placement was pretty vague, (and once when the left-handed support proved lacking [NON SPOILER: The lockpick doesn't turn in your left hand. It is supposed to..])

The game generally does a good job of closing off avenues once they're exhausted though. So although it doesn't go the whole hog on the experimental interactions, say, letting you set fire to things with the puzzle-solving flame, it does let you know that opening and closing the ornate hearth multiple times isn't part of the puzzle now. It was just there to give you fire in the first place.

The use of altered scales is pretty effective, if not as fancifully or creatively done as A Fisherman's Tale say, where it was the central mechanic.

Although the teleport system was fine for zapping between the puzzle stations, it did seem to orientate you in perplexing directions at each node, which got a bit annoying when covering larger distances.

Overall though I enjoyed the musty police station, storm-shrouded museum, and other assorted period locales. The final scene, a familiar game trope of sorts, was still a nicely effective moment in the imagined dimensions of VR land...


The Adventure Starts Here!
Have you played the four other The Room incarnations for PC (not VR)? I have this on my Steam wishlist but haven't purchased it yet. (I have the other four regular games via Steam and have played two of them through and have just started the third.)

I figured one of these beautiful games in VR would be lovely. Is it free-roaming? I guess I see you mention nodes so I'm guessing no?

there's a frog in my snake oil
Have you played the four other The Room incarnations for PC (not VR)? I have this on my Steam wishlist but haven't purchased it yet. (I have the other four regular games via Steam and have played two of them through and have just started the third.)

I figured one of these beautiful games in VR would be lovely. Is it free-roaming? I guess I see you mention nodes so I'm guessing no?
Haven't played any of the prior ones nope. (Someone mentioned it gave them a Myst vibe, which could be a good sign for you . But haven't actually played that either so can't confirm )

It's all teleport yeah, so pretty comfy. Although I did find it was orientating me in strange directions. (Like teleporting to a door, and it faces you towards the frame rather than into the room, or whatever). Possibly a side-effect the experimental Rift 2-sensors, not sure. It meant it might get a bit woo at points when teleporting over distances, but think if you take it slow it'd be super fine. It didn't feel too restricting not being able to free roam, the locations are relatively small, and all about the small detail, and poking things til they worked

there's a frog in my snake oil

This mod is pretty exceptional. The opening sections and tutorials have all played like a native VR game. And a pretty great native VR game at that.

There wasn't one function, from hopping free-form around the starter village, to tracking distant audio signals via handtools, to repairing satellites in a zero-G cave, that didn't feel totally robust.

You soon forgive the little budget aspects of the core game, like characters communicating through text alone, as the little living solar system, and the little lore world you inhabit, are all so damn charming. With just the right amount of lurking danger, seemingly

There are a few oddities though. The controls in the star map are a complete mystery. Getting seemingly flung out of a telescope catapault into this was disconcerting

Mod here:

First attempts at flight here

there's a frog in my snake oil
Trip Report: Outer Wilds

This is just so ******* awesome. But unfortunately there's no way to discuss that without spoilers...

WARNING: spoilers below
Was sliding and hopping around the tiny icy comet when I suddenly found myself sucked into space towards sounds of terrifying fury. Turns out the comet had completed its close pass near the sun, and the giant gravity source had nearly yanked me into its maw. I managed to slam the jetpack on in time, suspended between worlds for a heart-wrenching moment, before rustically guiding myself back to the comet, cushioning the landing just enough to avoid breaking all of my bones. Both terrifying and awesome

Loving the use of curving 'magnetic' floors, the wild storms of the water planet, the honeycombs of knowledge in the architectural ruins. I've still got far too many plans on the back of a postcard to tick off. But it's all working out just fine. If the inertia of my path takes me past an intended spot, there's always another delight revealed in its shadow, another place nearby I've been meaning to get back to...

Some handy tips for any future VR users though:
  • There's a 'mesh' in the system map which denotes where you're focusing. You can use that to select a specific body. And then even auto-pilot into its orbit if you fancy, once back in the ship. (Although it's not perfect, and watch out for any bodies on the flight path )
  • The little 'record players' which can be translated have multiple entries. (Right stick on rift to select). I totally missed that at first... Was just reading the first line and moving on :/

I have absolutely no problem revisiting every little site though. Because it's not revealing too much to say that this little clockwork orrery has really made each location a unique mix of environments and challenges...

(VR legs definitely required for some of the smaller bodies which whizz and spin through the solar system with wild delight, holding onto you with only the lightest of gravitational touches . But that's almost half the fun )

^^ I parked in a tree and that's fine ^^

there's a frog in my snake oil
Second Look: Townsmen VR

Just messing around with the sudden content dump. I'm on the 5th challenge island or so, and enjoying the format.

There were times early on where it felt like I was ferrying tiny items with my giant hands a bit too much, but that actually became enjoyable again once I had a larger village sprawling around the place. (Sending a hungry worker back to his station by flinging a fish at him etc).

I'd still like to see them add a free mode with randomised islands. It would be cool to have a reason to really 'perfect' a small city, rather than moving on to the next challenge set. But I'm still essentially in the tutorial phase, so will see what the other levels bring.

The scaling (while still very impactful when you do it) is a bit clunky at points. But there is something very cool about ascending to total god height to clamber around the place quickly. I'm just not sure if there's an actual need to go down to the lowest scales (beyond poking things for fun, and checking where the villager you backhanded ended up...)

Lots of quality of life touches in there, like the semi-dynamic music. Still EA perhaps, but found myself getting lost in it pretty happily this time...

there's a frog in my snake oil
Ok I'm tempted

Still in a fuge state building little villages in Townsmen VR. It's not the most complex under the hood, (and think it needs an more than just 10+ tutorial/challenge maps to really earn its current price tag), but it is super cute to poke the living diaorma into life.

there's a frog in my snake oil
Review: Townsmen VR

Despite an ultimate lack of depth, the tactile nature of this God-gameís interactions, and the self-sustaining bustle of the towns that you create, make it a little joy in many ways.

The zoomed-in world of tinkering that existed in the demo has been lost to a degree, now that you can't get as close as you could in the early builds. (You'd never know that you can play games with your fish food). But its legacy remains in the playful physics interactions between the various materials and beasts. (It is just a shame that some fun ideas, like squeezing lightning from clouds, have been seemingly shed along the way).

Iím actually fine with the build trees being on the 'arcade' end of the scale, and the strategic supply of constructions being just stone-ferrying busy-work at points. Because itís often zen to execute in practice, and pleasingly automated once your towns start to flourish. (If anything you find yourself having to grab resources back off over-eager citizens as they try and lend a helping hand).

The biggest issue is the lack of a true, challenging, end-game mode. The 12 levels provided are glorified tutorials right up until the last handful. (You shouldnít really have to build up from scratch again just to learn how to make cakes for some knights. It feels like filler.)

The challenge scenarios that finally arrive down stream are better, but don't feel like they have great replayability. It really begs for an open ended conquest mode. (Something with warring local islands feels like it would be particularly solid.)

Their system isnít designed for proc gen maps, and their future plans are unclear, so an endless/challenge mode seems unlikely. And itís perhaps hard to justify the £20+ price tag on those grounds.

But I had a lot of fun under these miniature clouds ultimately. (Although I did get it for EA prices, which always helps ).