If you ever wanted Crash Bandicoot in VR, look no further.
You wouldn’t of thought VR could make a good home for platformers, but we’ve seen some surprisingly innovative experiences in the last few years. Between earlier attempts like Lucky’s Tale to Moss and Astro Bot Rescue Mission, a high bar was set but these games all lacked a particular element: that classic touch. Inspired by 90’s platformers like Crash Bandicoot, Ven VR Adventure launched earlier this week on Oculus Rift/Rift S after its announcement in February, marking the debut release by Polish developers Monologic Games.
Taking us to Ven’s once-peaceful home planet, we find a world invaded by notorious mad scientist (and wonderfully named) Bruce Nelson. Enslaving the local Eki population and decimating their resources, Ven escapes this onslaught and begins preparing to fight back, arming himself with specially crafted weapons to end Bruce’s reign of terror.
Despite the more retro nature of Ven VR Adventure, it bares a few similarities to Astro Bot and Moss in some respects. Instead of playing Ven directly, players interact with the titular character via a separate entity, a nameless intergalactic police officer that controls his movement. You’ll be joined by Teremy, a robotic companion that assists your journey but being perfectly honest, this story is quickly put on the backburner once you get going.
It’s worth noting that Ven VR Adventure is a seated experience, one where camera movement is aligned to your headset position, so we’d recommend playing on a rotating chair for ease. Motion controls are barely used here and get relegated to a few quick gameplay segments, like throwing grenades at a boss or some brief interactions with Ven. Instead, you’ll be relying on the standard buttons and joysticks atop the Touch Controllers.
Inside the main campaign, Ven travels between 3 different planetary regions with 4 levels each and your goal is simple: reach the end of the level. Ven comes equipped with a basic moveset that proves quite sharp, letting him move around, jump, strike enemies with his blades and launched a charged attack. Though you aren’t required to get them all, every level contains collectable runes which fill up your lives gauge after a certain amount, alongside smashable crates and 10 young Eki in need of rescuing. You must carefully survey this 360° environment to find them all, so exploration is highly encouraged.
Bruce Nelson’s minions are lurking at every corner to stop you though, most of whom can be defeated with a quick attack or by jumping on them, but every enemy holds different tricks up their sleeve. Some will try to capture Ven within a metal box, others will poison him as he draws closer, and standard foes will simply charge him. No matter how it happens, all it takes is a single hit to kill Ven and send him back to the last checkpoint.
For those initial stages, that won’t be a problem, as you can almost walk straight through them. They’re quite easy, deceptively so, but enter the second region and life becomes significantly more challenging. In turn, it also frustrates your collecting efforts as death means losing all the runes and boxes you gathered since hitting that checkpoint, which can be spread out quite unevenly. Furthermore, you can’t just go back to an activated checkpoint as your camera only moves forward during levels. I wouldn’t call this a deal breaker, but it does detract from the fun.
To Monologic Games’ credit, they’ve put a lot of effort into these stages and Ven VR Adventure offers a genuinely fun experience, one that’ll please old-school fans in particular. Everything is backed by a stunning visual aesthetic and each stage holds a unique them, complimented by a catchy soundtrack. Unfortunately, level design itself suffers from a lack of originality and one stage is almost identical to Crash Bandicoot’s “High Road” challenge. Traditional platforming cliches are all here too, like bottomless pits and spike traps, so the game never truly carves a unique identity of its own. If you love this genre, this isn’t inherently a bad thing, but we’ve seen it all before.
You’ll likely be done within four-five hours overall, taking around 15-25 minutes per stage, and for a platformer, that sounds rather light. By utilizing a mission-based structure throughout, Ven VR Adventure does extend this by offering significant replayability through the collectables. Not only does it track progress with how many young Eki you’ve found, boxes smashed, and runes collected, every level offers a time trial to beat and there’s unlockable bonus levels too, giving completionists that extra incentive.
For anyone that misses the challenge of 90’s platformers, there’s a surprisingly polished throwback within Ven VR Adventure that’s full of life. Unfortunately, it feels a little too stuck in the past at times, sporting some unoriginal level design and several elements which seem to directly emulate Crash Bandicoot. Monologic Games haven’t hidden their influences well, but they show a clear passion for this era and if you can look past those issues, there’s a really fun platformer here. It doesn’t quite surpass Moss or Astro Bot but if you enjoyed those games, you’d do well to take a look here.
Ven VR Adventure is available now on Oculus Rift/Rift S for $29.99. An Oculus Quest/Quest 2 version is also planned to launch by Q2 2021 and a PSVR version is expected afterwards.
Image Credit: Monologic Games
*This review was conducted using an Oculus Rift S. Review copy provided by Monologic Games*