This VR theme month has really got us here at Built to Play thinking about the future. We were promised hovercars and cool robots by now, and the future has yet to deliver. But, in a mystifying coincidence, while we were sitting around complaining about our lame present, we got a missive from the future through one of the many pneumatic tubes set up in the recording booth. It told of a terrifying but wondrous future, mostly similar to our own, but where virtual reality technology had taken over video games, ushering in the anaglyphic age of gaming. As part of the time capsule, we also got a set of reviews set to go up the week of September 22nd, 2034. We’re pretty sure we can’t break embargo on games that don’t exist yet, and stable time loops are for wussies, so we’re gonna post them today. Unfortunately, as we have no photos of these future games, you'll have to make due to terrifying Google search results and atrocious artist's representations.
The Nintendo WiiR-U:
Nintendo, ever the bastion of old-school mechanics and gameplay styles, has been slow to catch up on the VR trends of the day. Their VS handheld from a few years back felt more like a novelty than anything- it wasn’t the main attraction, and the Nintendo WiiR had simple VR functionality, but it was more comparable to the PS5’s eyeTech than the PS6’s fully integrated VR suite. Last year saw the confusingly-named PlayStation X come out alongside Microsoft’s return to console manufacturing with the New Xbox, both powerful VR-based systems. For the first time in generations, Nintendo is launching after the competition, and finally has a chance to get a leg up on the competition with this new, atrociously named console.
In a lot of ways, the WiiR-U is Nintendo holding their course, they’re following, not leading. VR has been implemented in consoles for nearly a decade at this point, and Nintendo is basically last to the party. To be fair, their games haven’t really suffered. Mario and Wario Return was last year’s gigantic WiiR hit, and didn’t even use that console’s oft-ignored VR attachments. However, in many ways, the WiiR-U reminds me of a bygone, innovative, and even gimmicky Nintendo. The console’s big draw is meant to be its full face mask VR, which includes a smell generator. Nintendo calls it the OlFactory, which brings to mind images of little jumpsuited robots working on assembly lines to build the smell of Hyrule’s grassy plains. Unfortunately, the reality is a lot less cute. Two of the consoles big launch games, PikminR and Luigi’s Mansion: A Brother’s Shadow don’t use the smell generator at all. In fact, Luigi’s Mansion doesn’t even utilize the full effects of the VR mask- it’s playable entirely with the WiiR’s Vitality Sensor. Of course, these games started their development as WiiR games before being ported over late in life, so it’s hard to fault them. The big, original title is a little more impressive The Legend of Zelda: Veil of Reign is a beautifully realized VR game. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the few launch games that makes use of the smell generators, and it’s not pretty. When it works, it’s immersive in a way no game has been before. You can smell the dusty, stale heat of Hyrule Desert, and every time you bring rain and fauna back to its lands, the smell of grass and flowers is overwhelming and a reward in and of itself. But the moments where it works are few and far between. It’s glitchy, but sometimes it ends up generating smells for Link’s sweat, or the farm animals on Lon-Lon Ranch. Other times, it doesn’t generate any smell at all. Have you ever smelled nothingness? It’s horrifying. I found myself ripping off the mask whenever that happened just to make sure my nose still worked. It’s hard to know if it’s a software glitch, or a fundamental problem with the smell generation hardware, but either way, stay far away from it, unless you want to give yourself a bad case of existential olfactory dread.
In true Nintendo fashion, you can’t turn the smell generation off for the games that use it. They way they dictate the terms of how you get to play their games is increasingly frustrating, but I suppose they aren’t nearly as draconian as Sega’s recent slate of titles. If I could still smell the WiiR-U coming I’d run away. More like the WiiP-U, am I right?
Oh god I smelled the end and it smelled me back.
Gone Home IV:
I know what you’re thinking, another Gone Home? The Fullbright Company has been cranking these out like crazy the last couple of years. Ostensibly, this is the fourth game in the Gone Home series, but fans who count the spin-offs and rereleases know this is the twelfth Gone Home title, and the third to come out in as many years. I remember when the first one came out, it was hailed as a breath of fresh air in an industry inundated with shooters, and suffering from a dearth of solid narrative-focused games. Now, every game wants to be Gone Home, and Gone Home is satisfied being its unchanging self. That’s not to say it’s a bad game by any means. As a PSX exclusive, it takes advantage of the eyeSuite’s ability to create the illusion of interacting with digital objects in a physical space, so the core mechanic of picking up and examining objects is more immersive and detailed than ever before. “Perhaps the texture of an object might conceal a clue,” the back of the box suggests, “solve a mystery you can feel.” Unfortunately for Gone Home IV, it’s nothing Sony themselves haven’t done in various tech demos. It’s nice to see the tech implemented in a real game I suppose, but it lacks the freshness of, say, Quantic Dream’s upcoming Shadow of the Colossus title.
Otherwise though, this is the Gone Home you’ve come to know and tolerate over the last 12 entries. You go into a house, discover the story of what happened, and dig about for any dark secrets within. This time around, your player character can discover a Tamagotchi by the door of the house, which you can access at any time by pulling it out of your pocket. The Fullbright Company actually purchased the rights to Tamagotchi (they once belonged to Bandai, but ever since their collapse, I have no idea who had them until now), so you’re working with exactly what you remember (or don’t) from the 90s. It’s a cute little minigame, and the way the playfield blurs when you look at the Tamagotchi is undeniably impressive, but in the end, it’s just the cherry on a sundae I’ve eaten twelve times already Sure, it’s good, but I’d like something different for once.
The last of the big releases this week is Microsoft’s big first party Destiny reboot. I’m really not sure what happened here. After the collapse of Activision, Microsoft picked up the rights to Destiny and Guitar Hero, two defunct franchises no one had heard from in more than a decade. Then, they went silent, and instead of putting out two separate games, they put out one. What we have is the story of humanity, pushed to the brink of space by terrifying synth pop aliens, pulling themselves up by the guitar straps and reconquering the galaxy with the power of rock. The game uses the New Xbox’s Natal System to render a much larger virtual display than anything you’d find on the PSX, which is handy, considering the game expects you to watch both the aliens worlds you trek across, as well as the fretboard of your Battle Axe. For those too young to remember guitar hero, as each coloured button passes on the fretboard, you focus in on that colour in your mind and the Natal’s neural transmitter will play the note. It’s a lot to keep track of, and beyond the whole neural transmitter deal, it doesn’t really take advantage of the Natal’s special features. The VR treadmill goes unused, as do the pupil trackers, the manipulation gloves, and the Mountain Dew-sponsored isolation tank.
Seriously, Destiny Heroes is just weird. I’m not sure why this game exists. It doesn’t use a single traditional VR immersion trick, and the gameplay mostly serves to take you out of the world than to draw you in? Why is resected shakespearean actor Peter Dinklage voicing the guitar? Why is he talking to me about Rock Wizards? Who are the Stardust Legion? Or the Spiders from Mars? The game never attempts to explain any of it, and what’s there is mostly empty fields of proto-farms (space-themed games have gotten a lot less exciting ever since we actually reached mars) and the occasional Synth Demon. It’s big, empty, and so strange I’m fairly sure I hallucinated its existence as part of a bad case of VR withdrawal.
Other Games this Week:
Disney McDonald’s Pixar’s The Avengers vs X-Men game is out this week, and admittedly, having to raise up the VR headset to use Cyclops’ eye-beams is cool enough that it makes you forget the part where removing and replacing a VR headset repeatedly over a short period of time is a sure-fire way to vomit all over your carpet. The Kingdom Hearts III demo is finally out, showing off a Tron level that is probably a little too on the nose Stay far far away from the Virtual Console port of Virtual Bowling, which has your VR setup emulate the VR set up of using a Virtual Boy. It’s three layers of headache. And of course, everyone should look out for Star Wars: TIE Fighter VR, the seven-thousandth space combat sim for the PSX.