As we often cover VR titles, we thought it was high time that we dedicated another special feature to the medium. Today we’re taking a closer look at A Township Tale, The Wizards – Dark Times, Puzzle Bobble VR and the Oculus Rift version of Blair Witch, all of which were recently released.
A Township Tale review (Quest)
A Township Tale, which is being developed and published by Alta, recently launched for the Oculus Quest. It’ll come to other (PC-based) headsets as well, but for now it’s a Quest exclusive and feels like a good fit for the platform. As an open world RPG designed for solo and multiplayer play, it’s quite unique in the VR realm.
One thing that’s interesting about VR is that, even after all these years, it’s still a niche that’s grounded in both traditional gaming and in new technology. We’ve seen epic RPG experiences like Skyrim come to VR, but as immersive as that is it still feels like a port to VR and not something that works exactly because it’s in VR. A game like A Township Tale was built from the ground up for a new medium, and it shows. For better and for worse, but mostly for the better.
Early game tutorials guide you through some of the basics of the game, which includes crafting (a natural fit with motion controls) and mining – making resources a hands-on affair in the game. The motion controls can be a bit fiddly though, so there’s a bit of room for optimization there. Seeing as how Alta has defined its current version number as 0.0.1.1, we think that we might see plenty of that in the following months.
If you’re a traditional RPG player who plays games for their narrative and loot cycles, then A Township Tale might disappoint you with its reliance on survival and crafting. But where a lot of survival games quickly make me feel lost and give up, this one features a social element – other players will walk up to you and help you out when you appear to be struggling, which should be great down the line if the player base takes to the game.
Our early time with the game had a lot of moments where the experience was a co-created one, with people sharing tips they had figured out by just trying out new things in the game. Getting some basic tools in working order then lets you push on and explore, and curiosity is certainly a driving force here – as is the social interaction.
Part of that is that, outside of those mechanics, A Township Tale feels rather empty – there’s no epic quest or even fascinating tale to follow yet, so the bulk of your enjoyment comes from the experience of running into others and gradually building out what you know and have. There are parts when you can use resources to open up new paths, but we were just waiting for a big reason to make us want to push forward.
Until then, it’s those moments of shared exploration and discovery that make A Township Tale unique and fun. I’ve been visiting taverns in RPGs for decades, but they’ve never felt more alive than they do here, with people exchanging stories, tips and experiences. Let’s hope the world continues to be built out to make sure they keep coming back.
The Wizards – Dark Times review (Quest)
Back in 2019, we reviewed The Wizards – Enhanced Edition for the PSVR, which itself was a port of a 2018 PC title. Carbon Studio, which was behind the title, has now released a follow-up, which is available for both PC-based systems and the Oculus Quest – here’s our take on The Wizards – Dark Times.
As with the first game, spellcasting plays a larger role in Dark Times, once again casting you (pun intended!) into the role of a wizard, who is once again joined by the voice of Aurelius, the sarcastic narrator we met a few years ago. You’re back in Meloria, where a fairly generic plot sees you tasked with restoring light to a kingdom that’s awash with dark magic.
A lot of the gameplay revolves around gesture-based spellcasting, which is a good fit for the Quest’s motion controls. You have access to just over a handful of spells, gradually unlocking over time, with another five being extra powerful versions of what you already knew. Waving your hands around like a wizard/magician is very immersive and intuitive, and most of all – tons of fun, and that definitely applies to mixing things up a bit between the various spells for the odd combo.
The single player campaign in Dark Times runs for about five hours, which is decent for a VR action adventure. Any longer and the small roster of enemies would get repetitive, although the game does throw a few nice curveballs – including a level where your fireballs stop working due to the rain, just as you were starting to rely on them.
Visually, The Wizards – Dark Times feels like it stretches the Quest to its limits, with textures that pop into the screen just a little too late. The drawing distance is also limited on the Quest, with distant scenery vanishing into a sort of mist. It fits the dark fantasy setting, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that it was due to issues with a limited amount of processing power. Luckily, a purchase on the Oculus store also grants you access to the PC version, so if you connect your Quest to a PC there’s a free upgrade that fixes those issues instantly.
For a Quest title, the audiovisual presentation certainly isn’t bad though. First party Oculus titles, or ones with heavy support from Oculus, set the bar high, but if you ignore games like The Climb or Star Wars, this is a good looking game with excellent music to get you immersed into your fantasy adventure. It’s not radically different from The Wizards, but if you enjoyed that game you’ll certainly have a good time playing The Wizards – Dark Times.
Puzzle Bobble VR: Vacation Odyssey review (Quest)
Gamers who grew up in the 90s are probably as familiar with Puzzle Bobble as 80s gamers are with Bubble Bobble, the arcade game that introduced us to cute little dragons Bub and Bob. While the frantic 2D platforming of the original probably wouldn’t be a great match for VR, Survios has now given us a VR take on the spin-off with Puzzle Bobble VR:Vacation Odyssey, which lauched a little while ago for the Oculus Quest.
For those not aware of Puzzle Bubble – it’s a 2D arcade action/puzzle game where you launch colored bubbles upwards to try and create matches with existing bubbles in a wall that constantly moves down towards you. It was a clever and popular take on Tetris and Bubble Bobble that spawned a wide range of games, and the formula translates well to VR.
As you’re essentially mounting a stationary bubble gun (which is replaced by a slingshot to make use of VR motion controls), this is a comfortable experience in VR that’s intuitive to play as well. Aim your slingshot, pull back and fire, not unlike what you’d do in the original game. What’s different is that your target is a massive blob of bubbles this time though, and it rotates to give you different sides to shoot at. Despite the difference, however, the core concept of eliminating enough bubbles to pass each level is still the same and holds up for all of the 100 main story levels.
Subtle twists to the gameplay include the ability to collect coins that you can use for booster abilities that can help you get past some of the more challenging levels by introducing temporary mechanics, but other than that it’s a rather casual point and shoot experience the entire time through. Your hands are represented by little dragon hands and you’ll be able to see your gun on screen as well – though at times it felt a bit too large in terms of giving you a good view of what you’re aiming at.
The visuals are lovely, and represent the classic Taito IP with on-screen representations of our favorite little dragons and plenty of bright colors. It’s not the most ambitious VR title Survios has ever crafted, but it’s a certainly a fun and accessible one.
Blair Witch: Oculus Rift Edition out now
We reviewed the Quest version of Blair Watch a while ago, but Bloober Team has just launched the Oculus Rift version for those playing on a PC-based headset or using their Quest to stream PC-based gameplay to their wireless headset.
You get essentially the same game that Quest owners played, with an original story based on the Lionsgate film of the same name, but with improved visual fidelity. That means better character and scenery models, improved lighting, a further draw distance and more and better looking foliage – which all adds to the atmosphere that is so important in a game like this. They’ve also improved the AI behavior for your dog, but we’re not clear if that particular upgrade is exclusive to the Rift version or has also made it to the Quest in a patch.
The new Rift version of Blair Witch is a definite upgrade to the existing Quest version, which took a visual hit that we noted on in our review. If you have the choice, go with the Rift version – but it’s a shame that both versions weren’t bundled in the Oculus store and you’ll have to buy both versions separately. Hopefully we’ll see either a free upgrade or a bundle options that allows Quest users who connect their headsets to a PC to also enjoy the benefits of the upgrade that the Rift version provides. As an upgrade it’s fairly expensive, but if you’re a first time buyer with access to PC-VR you’ll want to go for the superior Rift version.