Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams
Is it possible for a game to both exceed your expectations and still somehow disappoint you? I had heard nothing about “Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams” leading up to its release, and the trailer left me with more questions than answers. It wasn’t until I received some information from the developers themselves that I began to understand what it was that Frost Earth Studios was aiming at with this “game.” I put game in quotes, not to belittle the experience, but to indicate that “Mind Labyrinth” is something different. To quote the developers: “This game is about emotions and feeling great in VR while visiting fairy and magical places.” That quote alone will likely seal the deal one way or the other for most gamers.
Genre: First Person Exploration and Relaxation
Developer: Frost Earth Studios
Publisher: Oxygene s.r.l.
Controller: Dual Shock/Moves
Length: ~4 hours
PlayPSVR Score: 5.5
I was excited at the opportunity presented by Mind Labyrinth. While shooting galleries and scare factories are bountiful on PSVR, since its widespread release I’ve always been curious about more therapeutic applications of the technology. As someone who’s dabbled in meditation and mindfulness exercises, I’ve been waiting for an experience that has focused on virtual reality’s ability to shut out the world and exercise your sense of “presence” in more beneficial methods. And I have no doubt that this was the goal of Mind Labyrinth VR Dreams.
Despite its name, there is no labyrinth here. There’s no challenge presented, and any one with the right amount of patience will see the end of this title and all that is has to offer. Right out of the gate “Mind Labyrinth” lets you know that its focus is on the experience. From a hub world filled with dimensional rifts, I made my way to my first chosen level, with the game non-confrontationally refers to as an “opportunity.” I was transported to a fantastical world filled with giant mushrooms emanating a neon glow as a heard a Celtic-sounding woman’s voice begin to softly sing in my ear.
With the move controllers or Dual Shock hovering in front of me, I was able to teleport an infinite distance so long as it was in a legal space within the game’s world. And while snap turning was the only option afforded for turning, I was able to move to smooth locomotion in the options menu, having my character walk in the direction that my headset looked, one of the more unfortunate methods of locomotion.
Normally I wouldn’t harp on the particulars of controls, but in a game like this, where experience is everything, I can’t help but feel like the control options were misguided. While the ability to walk is welcome, the ability to look around easily and seamlessly is even more important in this title. If I wanted to walk in a certain direction, I had to be looking in that direction, limiting my ability to take in my environment while traveling the fantastical grounds. While the teleporting was easy and free, it was also jarring and disorienting, much like the snap turning could be. Jumping too far or too quickly ate away at the “presence” I was trying to maintain in this new world. This deterioration of immersion was compounded by the fact that despite screenshots of glowing hands, the entire game was spent with a Dual Shock or Move controller glowing in front of me, reminding me constantly that I’m just playing a video game, especially when the unfortunately tracked Dual Shock begins to rotate with a mind of its own.
Despite the lack of locomotive foresight, “Mind Labyrinth” did do a few things that set my mind at ease. Every level was littered with spiral runes which, when shot at by your characters magical dart, reveals a randomized quote designed to promote mental wellness. The Dalai Lama is the most common contributor, while the words of other philosophers and writers make an appearance. Most of the quotes seem to focus on happiness and contentment, but a few stick out as being less enlightening and more just simply famous. I enjoyed being reminded of Immanuel Kant’s views on the treatment of animals. I didn’t quite find the same mindful value in Shakespeare’s view of the world as a stage. On the whole, however, I found myself excited to uncover each quote, finding a nugget of truth in each of them to chew on while I jumped through the varied levels, except for when the quotes began repeating, even before I had completed each level once.
And in completing each level, I was often surprised at a lack of consistency in design. Some levels, such as the aforementioned mushroom land, were fully fleshed out, with hidden treasures to seek or even living creatures to encounter. Other levels were confusing in their design, either by virtue of being extremely small and un-interactive, or by being wholly unsettling, such as a level that immediately feels like you’ve somehow transported to hell. For a game about relaxation, anxiety crept up pretty quickly when I was surrounded by spirals of flame and rivers of lava without much in the way of pleasing aesthetics beyond the comfort of knowing there’s no health bar.
A few levels felt outright incomplete, such as the space-station level which seemed at first to be the most exciting until I realized that all the interesting parts seemed to have been cut from the final game. A seemingly interactive teleportation pad to another, visible station orbiting another, visible star was apparently just eye candy. And despite the indication of more rooms to explore, the level cuts you off from anything beyond one or two extra rooms. Another level even lacked a proper exit, meaning that I had to “return to main menu” from the pause screen in order to go home.
This isn’t to say that “Mind Labyrinth” is a failure of a relaxation experience, however. In ways, I feel like I’m overly critical because I see so much potential and promise in the game. “Mind Labyrinth” boasts a fantastic and wonderful soundtrack which set the tone for the entire exercise. Every song was engaging and appropriate for the environment and would all be wonderful background music while relaxing or studying or trying to be mindful. And the environments that felt fully fleshed out where a peaceful joy to visit, such as a Buddhist temples gently lit by overhead fireworks, or a rope-bridged jungle hiding a glowing cavern of crystals.
In the end, I think the idea behind “Mind Labyrinth” was ultimately let down by the execution. Maybe the developers ran out of time. Maybe the PSVR version is an unpolished port. Or maybe the developers were inspired, but were just technically not yet up to the task. Whatever the case may be, I can only hope that via future updates or via a sequel “Opportunity,” I can see another incarnation of this game, wherein the idea is fully realized, with balanced controls and evenly considered level design.That way I’ll be able to fully enter these worlds with full presence.