VR Roundup: Ragnarock, The Secret of Retropolis & Madrid Noir

We’re covering a wide spectrum of VR today, from the workout that can come with rhythm games like Ragnarock to a classic point and click homage in The Secret of Retropolis and the interactive story told in Madrid Noir.

Ragnarock review (Quest)

WanadevStudio’s Ragnarock has been eagerly anticipated within the VR community, and now that the final game is here it’s easy to see why. In a niche where games like Beat Saber and Synth Riders are still very popular, quality rhythm-based are more than welcome, and this one does things a little differently – both in style and gameplay.

Ragnarock is set against a Viking backdrop and features a rock/metal soundtrack – that alone making it very different from the sci-fi/futuristic setting of others in the genre. Wielding your hammers, you’re banging drums to the rhythm, which is visually signposted by runes that approach you on the screen. Get is right, and you’ll grow more powerful – and you can use that power to spur your rowing crew on and row faster by slamming the shields that are on your sides. Hit the notes, row faster, and you’ll score big.

Rather than just taking a Guitar Hero/Band Hero template and applying motion controls, Ragnarock features fully realized environments to row around in and to visually explore. Grounded in mythology, this means you’ll be gazing at the stars while traveling between realms or ploughing through lava while descending into the depths. Sure, exploring will making it harder to score big until you get super comfortable with the music and gameplay, but it’s nice to see this kind of attention to detail.

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What’s also a plus is the option to play Ragnarock with others through an online multiplayer mode, which just about turns the game into an Olympic rowing event – though most will agree far more exciting because you’re actually on the boat this time. If you don’t fancy going online then you can always just try to beat your own best scores as well, visualized by a ghost image of your previous best.

With rock solid gameplay and a lovely audiovisual style, we imagine that the soundtrack is the most divisive element about Ragnarock. We’re happy to admit that the prospect of “metal” scared us a bit since we know how loud of an experience that can be, and we had no idea what to expect from the music because the artists were all unfamiliar to us. Luckily, the bulk of the soundtrack has a very neutral sound to it, so unless you have a strong aversion to rock music you should definitely be safe here – and you can always import your own music as well. We’re thinking Safri Duo’s Played-a-Live will make a great match here.

If you’ve been enjoying other rhythm-based VR games and are in the market for something new and different, Ragnarock will gladly scratch that itch for you. With an adrenaline-fueling soundtrack and excellent visuals, this one is an instant blast.

The Secret of Retropolis review (Quest)

The Oculus AppLab is a great place for projects that were clearly born out of passion, and Peanut Button’s The Secret of Retropolis is exactly that. A blend of Lucasarts-like adventure gaming with storytelling in a detective tale, it’s a great indie title that’s also available for PC-based VR headsets.

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In the game, you’re a private investigator hired by a famous actress whose husband is up to no good. You’re to recover a valuable necklace for her, but you quickly discover there’s more to this case then just bringing back a valuable trinket. And to make matters even more interesting – all this plays out in a world full of robots, who are just simulating human behavior now that the flesh and blood originals are gone. And they go pretty far – even pretending that they need to go use the restroom.

This makes for a visual style that works great for a smaller indie production, as a relative lack of facial detail is easily forgiven when you’re facing a robot instead of a human. It allows players to enjoy and becomes immersed in an adventure not too unlike those of Sam and Max and Day of the Tentacle. Without locomotion, you switch between scenes/spots and use your hand for all of the usual “point and click” interactions you’d expect. If something can be interacted with, your hand will change into an open hand, letting you pick something up and/or manipulate it.

the secret of retropolis

The game definitely feels like a classic point and click adventure, though it’s structured a little differently. While a classic adventure would see you navigating between different locations without a hub area before moving on, using objects from one room in another and combining it with something else, The Secret of Retropolis is more linear – each room being a micro-hub of sorts. It’s also much shorter, as you’d be hard pressed to not complete this in well under two hours.

There’s a great deal of nostalgia to enjoy during that time though, and not just in the gameplay. The entire game world is full of little nods, both in the narrative and visually, and we certainly hope to be able to go back to it some day if the team gets the opportunity to work on further adventures.

Madrid Noir review (Quest)

This particular VR Roundup is a great showcase of the range of experience that VR can offer. From the hands-on rhythm of Ragnarock to the blend of storytelling and adventure gaming in The Secret of Retropolis to the interactive mystery that is Madrid Noir – there’s something for everyone.

While Madrid Noir, from No Ghost and Atlas V, featured moments of interaction that add to your immersion, the bulk of the experience plays out like a movie or theater production. Split up into two acts, you follow a young woman called Lola who arrives in Madrid after her long-missing uncle is pronounced dead.

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As you search his apartment, she quickly reminisces and retraces some of her uncle’s steps through Madrid, together with your loyal puppy. At regular intervals you get to interact with the story as well by helping Lola out, adding to the immersion and enhancing how unique this experience feels, but the story itself is linear in nature.

What’s clear from the production of Madrid Noir is that this isn’t the first project for No Ghost and Atlas V. They make wonderful use of the ability to construct and change scenery around the “actors”, and everything is wonderfully animated and voiced. If you enjoy some of Baobab Studios’ work, you’ll love Madrid Noir as well. It’s also a great showcase product and truly transformative as an introduction to VR and the possibilities it brings for interactive storytelling.

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