Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is a massive, and desperately needed, hit for Sony Pictures. Its tie-in virtual reality experience is…not.
In less than a month, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle has already raked in over $650 million at the worldwide box-office — proving there is no franchise that can’t be improved by casting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (get ready for Ladybird 2: Shaking up The Nest).
This is a huge win for Sony Pictures which is best known today for butchering surefire franchises like Spider-Man and bringing us one step closer to Raganorock with The Emoji Movie.
It’s understandable that Sony would want to double down on its first true success in years with a serious marketing blitz. What isn’t acceptable is using the guise of marketing to promote a featureless VR experience that threatens to damage the credibility of an entire industry.
The Bad, The Bad and The Very Ugly
Jumanji: The VR Adventure looks looks like someone took the engine from Superman 64 and said “we can go lower.” There are rough, mismatched polygons everywhere draped in textures that look less like “grass” “stone” and “skin” and more like “green” “grey” and “government-created living mannequin.”
The gameplay looks to be just as hastily assembled. Your only goal in this experience seems to be manipulating the environment in order help the rendered avatars of Johnson and his co-stars escape from a vicious island militia.
These “god-mode” style VR experiences are nothing new. What is new is being able to stare into Kevin Hart’s lifeless face.
The characters do move when you fulfill the correct in-game predictions. But you’re going to wish they didn’t.
To be fair, VR is a medium in which you want to conserve as much processing power as possible to prevent dropped frames, motion sickness etc. But Sony is punching way below a VR PC’s weight class here. Even the company’s own weaker PS4 could run this game five times over and still have enough left in the tank for half of Uncharted 2.
There’s simply no reason that the same machines we are using to render beautiful experiences like Lone Echo should be wasted on experiences like this.
Look I get it. You might be saying come on who cares. “This is just a dumb movie tie-in game. They’re always bad. What’s the big deal?”
This is the deal: by creating, releasing and promoting this experience, Sony is abdicating its role as one of VR’s most important ambassadors and opening the door for growth-stunting backlash.
It might be just one game but one game can make a difference. It wasn’t all that long ago that the entire game industry was led into a full on crash by one disastrously terrible title.
If Jumanji were just a $4.99 Steam download, it could possibly be allowed to slide by under the radar where it belongs. But it’s not.
In a press release earlier this week, Sony announced plans to port Jumanji: The VR Adventure to its flagship PlayStation VR headset. It will also be partnering with Survios to bring the experience to “arcades reaching more than 36 countries on six continents.”
So what we have here is a world-class VR company, using its vast resources to popularize a terrible experience, all in the name of promoting a film. That’s not something the VR community should support.
Instead, we need to vote with our clocks and wallets. Spend your time and money on more deserving titles. Send a message of encouragement to the developers who are doing it right.
Right now VR is moving rapidly from one crucial inflection point to the next. Throughout this process, quality matters. If we don’t start demanding it, they might start filling the landfills with HMDs instead.
Image Credit: Sony Pictures Virtual Reality