Pong so real it'll make you sweat.
While modern AAA games have become increasingly more complex in an effort to deviate from the competition, virtual reality gaming has demonstrated that it can make even the most simple interactions exciting. This has played into the favor of virtual reality game developers, most of which don’t have large teams or big budgets, allowing them to create rudimentary experiences that are compelling in the context of virtual reality. One such developer is Colopl NI, which has just released its classic gaming era inspired title named Cyberpong VR.
Although Cyberpong VR’s name hints only at its Pong influences, it’s actually more of a combination of Pong, Atari Breakout, and Tetris. You’re placed in a rectangular room where on one end colored blocks spawn (Breakout), slowly inching their way toward a center boundary. If they reach the boundary, it’s game over (Tetris). Meanwhile, you control two paddles with your hands on the other side of the rectangular room. Your Room-scale space becomes an area of defense, where you’re responsible for deflecting a ball as it heads your way (Pong), and hopefully ricochet it directly into collision with the blocks, breaking them in the process.
This gameplay occurs within an attractive sci-fi environment. In the background you can see a Tron-like landscape, and within the boundaries of your play area the game glows vibrantly with pleasant colors, . enhanced with electronic music that sets the tone for the game environment. Menu design is also well-executed, making the transition from the main menu to a new game seamless.
Gameplay complexity comes in the form of various block types. Red blocks explode, light blue blocks require two hits to shatter, and green blocks spawn an additional ball. It takes some skill and practice to learn how to deflect fast-moving balls in a 3D environment, and even more skill when more than one ball is present. The longer a round goes on, the more blocks that spawn, and the quicker and more precise you need to be with breaking them. Once you're a couple minutes into a round and there are multiple balls flying around the room, and blocks quickly approaching the boundary, the game becomes a frenzy that incites fast heart-rates and sweat.
In addition, as you collect energy that releases from some broken blocks you can temporarily swap out a paddle for one of four special items, including a pistol, a larger paddle, a ball-grabbing gravity gun, or a rocket launcher. These special items are best used in near-loss situations where they provide moments of climax. The pistol and rocket launcher in particular are a joy to use, and come in handy when blocks are mere moments from reaching the boundary.
The Breakout/Tetris style of gameplay is reserved solely for single-player where players compete for top spots on a Leaderboard; there is no Story Mode or any progression system. However, there are four different characters to play as, three of which have different paddle styles to mix up the gameplay. The greatest sense of reward comes from competing with friends for high scores. There is a lack of replay value in the single-player environment, but the gameplay is enjoyable enough that you are likely to revisit the game on occasion.
Where Cyberpong VR gets most of its long-term play value, and stands out most, is with its multiplayer mode. In this mode, all the blocks are removed, and the game becomes a one-versus-one duel of 3D Pong. In typical Pong fashion, it’s fun alternating between offense and defense as you try to make the ball as difficult as possible for your opponent to deflect. Occasional moments of latency spikes can dampen the fun, but overall the tracking is fast and accurate.
The sense of presence is surprisingly strong in the multiplayer environment. You can see the position of your opponent’s head and hands indicated by one of four selectable sci-fi character models. Being able to see your opponent’s body language elevates the experience to something that simply wasn’t possible before the existence of virtual reality. You visibly see the disappointment every time they miss a ball, and witness celebration after every point earned; your opponent becomes a tangible element of the game experience. If you’re really comfortable playing the game, then you can even do 360 and rolling maneuvers to show off how much of an agile Cyberpong-er you are, and your opponent is sure to be intimidated.
Cyberpong VR is fun, polished, and easy to jump into and play. Most notably, its multiplayer mode showcases remarkable potential for social experiences in virtual reality. Priced at an affordable $14.99, it's one of the HTC Vive’s most recommendable launch window titles.