Schell Games has already developed a reputation amongst the virtual reality (VR) community for developing inspiring videogame titles within this new medium, however it comes as somewhat of a shock that Water Bears VR would be the studio’s first foray into high-end PC development. While it wasn’t the first title revealed for systems – that honour goes to I Expect You To Die – it is the first to release. But don’t let the cutesy aesthetic fool you: Water Bears VR is just as inviting an experience as a James Bond simulator.
A logical puzzle videogame, Water Bears VR is for all intents and purposes Pipe Mania in VR. Given a fully 3D platform in which the player can move around a full 360 degrees (though isn’t required to on many of the levels) the player is tasked with delivering water to the respectively coloured creatures – the ‘water bears’ -trapped in bubbles around the level. Unsurprisingly, this starts off relatively simple. However it’s not long before the player is dividing paths, mixing and splitting colours.
The package presented at launch is relatively lightweight. For anyone with puzzle videogame experience and a logical thought process the basic 4 ‘packs’ of levels can be completed in a little over an hour. The Challenge Packs that come later however, are less of a pushover. The videogame is propositioned in such a way that the opening four packs feel like an extended tutorial in which you’re taught how to use your inventory, manipulate colours and manage resources, and it’s not until reaching the Challenge Packs that your knowledge and ability to accurately evaluate each situation is put to the test.
While some titles coming to VR platforms will see release on other devices, Water Bears VR would most certainly suffer from the removal of the head-mounted display (HMD) and motion-control input. The simplicity of being able to look around each level and directly place each pipe component by reaching into the virtual environment is worthy of merit. Placing this design upon a control pad with a forced rotation mechanic and silhouetted manual movement of pipe pieces would still be enjoyable, but wouldn’t offer a standout experience as it does here in VR.
The aesthetic of Water Bears VR however, is likely to be more divisive. The colourful, family-friendly orientation of the videogame is inherited from it’s mobile predecessor and is far from offensive. Experienced gamers will surely react greater to the puzzling challenge than it’s exterior visual design, but when most of the core gaming demographic are eagerly waiting on zombie-killing first-person shooter (FPS) videogames, Water Bears VR is clearly not going to inspire them to open their wallet.
Like many early VR videogames, Water Bears VR‘s greatest issue is that there’s simply not enough of it. Offered at a bargain price from launch (£6.99 GBP at the time of writing) few could argue that Schell Games aren’t offering value for money. But that doesn’t mean people won’t be asking for more. Will Schell Games deliver it in due course? Water Bears VR could most certainly make use of a level editor function, spurring on the community to challenge one another further than Schell Games could ever hope to do, but there’s no telling what the developer has in store for this first taste of high-end VR at present, if any further development is planned at all.