Launching for PC-based VR headsets alongside a Quest release, Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia kicks off what is intended as a seven-part episodic game designed from the ground up for VR. As you can imagine, based on the title, it features a large role for music.
After a short tutorial and an interesting introduction sequence, you get introduced to protagonist Allegro, who sets out in search of a being that’s connected to the well-being of the planet, but who has been hurt by the depletion of the world’s resources – in this case trees. It’s a bit FernGully/Avatar-like in its premise, but while you’re in-game it doesn’t lay it thick all the time, which is nice.
The story of Ionia, which is only 45 minutes long, is linear in nature, but presents players with a nice diverse range of VR interaction while it lasts. There’s a fair bit of climbing, a zipline sequence, a few puzzles, and of course some musical interaction. What stands out during all this are the production values, which are excellent. The visuals definitely take a hit because of the Quest’s limited amount of horsepower, but you can tell a lot of work went into the visual design of Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia, and the interactions between you, your sister Allegra and the game world feel immersive and organic. This is one of those rare VR games that, at least in places, feels cinematic in nature.
With diverse locations, creatures and things to do, there’s a lot packed into the short running time of Ionia – and it’s all back, as you’d expect, with a nice soundtrack playing in the background as well as voiceover work to help tell the story. Having recently played the Oculus-backed Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge makes for an unfair comparison, but Ionia has some impressive production values for a small independent title.
For the game’s control scheme, I would advise going with smooth locomotion if you’re comfortable with that kind of control method. The alternative, which is the default, lets you snap-turn and teleport with the right-hand stick, where movement makes you turn and pushing the thumbstick down teleports you. Unfortunately neither option can be turned off in the game’s menu (although there is already a post-release patch coming) so you can have some accidental movement here, unless you stick to the smooth locomotion of your lefthand controller. It’s not perfect either though, as it’s hampered by a few clipping issues – so we’re hoping that’s going to be addressed in the upcoming patch(es) as well.
And although Ionia is an impressive package with plenty of potential, its episodic nature is a source of worry as well. We’ve seen other ambitious VR projects like 18 Floors promise us the bulk of its content post-launch, but that never moved beyond four of its intended eighteen chapters. With Rhythm of the Universe, its 45 minute runtime is a stumbling block, but if all seven chapters have that length you’re looking at a good sized VR adventure. We’d say – keep an eye on some kind of roadmap before you commit based on potential alone. And in terms of pricing, this is a little on the expensive side, especially when you consider that seven episodes would come down to about $100/€100 in total.
It’s a wonderful journey while it lasts, but Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia is short, needs a bit of technical polish and most of all needs more content t o help with its promising world building and narrative.