The publisher’s are “Rebellion” made their name known amongst early PSVR adopters through their fantastic implementation of Battlezone. But when they revealed their next title to be an artistic, relaxing ball-rolling platformer, some were disappointed, some were surprised, and some were just confused. I admit, as a huge fan of Battlezone, I found myself spread amongst all three camps. But I had high hopes, because the novelty of VR gaming opens up the possibility of new surprises from old mechanics. And with a gameplay design that harkens back to the now-ancient classic “Marble Madness,” “Arca’s Path” apparently aims to provide a pleasant, relaxing experience for VR gamers looking for something a little different.
Game Length: 2-3 hours
Controller: Headset Motion
PlayPSVR Score: 4
Unfortunately, there’s nothing pleasant about a game insisting on unintuitive, cumbersome, and at times painful controls.
I love “Marble Madness.” I tore through “Super Monkey Ball” and its sequel. But I simply cannot find it in myself to enjoy a single minute of “Arca’s Path,” and it’s entirely due to the game’s hands-free controls. The premise of “Arca’s Path” consists of a girl finding what appears to be a set of VR goggles. Once wearing the goggles, the girl is transported to an interesting world, and she takes on the form of a polygonal ball. The world feels like it comes to life around her as foliage sprouts and levels come together in real time as she rolls around. This makes for an interesting visual aesthetic to the game, with sharp graphics and an interesting environment, except the entire premise has one fatal, deathly flaw: the only form of input in Arca’s Path is player head movement.
This game relies entirely on head position. To begin a level, I had to fix my gaze at a spot under Arca’s floating silhouette. Once Arca’s transformation into a ball is complete, I then was able to fix my gaze on the floor of the environment and the ball would begin to roll toward where my gazed was fixed. However, the environment moves as the ball does, so as I looked to one side, Arca would continue to roll toward that side, toward the focus of my gaze, but never getting closer. This sounds workable in theory, but it is stressful, frustrating, and at times painful in practice.
The geometry of “Arca’s Path” varies with different elevations, sometimes winding in on itself. While this makes for interesting platforming, it becomes difficult to work with in a game where movement is dictated by ones viewing angle. Say I were to be looking left of the ball in order to continue moving it in that direction. If another, floating platform should get in between my view and the desired location of my gaze-point, the cursor would then appear on the platform, rather than my intended location, causing Arca to want to suddenly shift direction toward that point. The game doesn’t require high-precision in movement, but any fickle behavior in an already frustrating control scheme just feels like a kick in the shin.
The control scheme wouldn’t be half bad if it didn’t require me to also hold my head completely still in order to still Arca’s movement. At times, the game required patience as I waited for platforms to properly align. But the only way to “wait” was to fix my gaze strictly beneath Arca. I already hate games that make me wait for slowly rising/lowering platforms. It’s a tired platforming mechanic that I have been tired of since “Aladdin” on the Sega Genesis. But for some reason, the designers of Arca’s Path decided to add a bit of pain to this tired mechanic. God forbid you find yourself in an unsuitable position when needing Arca to halt her movement, because you’re going to be stuck in that position until all slowly becomes clear.
The frustrating thing about “Arca’s Path” is that the obtuse control scheme gets entirely in the way of everything interesting about the game. The levels are interesting, with a sound design seemingly matched to the dynamic environments. The play-spaces demand to be observed, except in order to observe them I had to pause the game, so that I could move my head without forcing Arca to roll about to her death. There’s no liberty to enjoy the experience, because one’s ability to feel their “presence” is decapitated by the game’s insistence on strict head movement. The platforming in the game isn’t half bad either. Nothing breaks new ground in terms of game-design on this front, but a handful of experiences where I built up momentum for jumps or precariously crossed thin bridges would’ve been exciting if not for the need to focus entirely on my neck’s position, hoping that a cough, sneeze, spasm, or errantly placed floating platform wouldn’t ruin my progress.
I looked forward to this game since it’s trailer at E3. And there was much to this game that I enjoyed, but for every bit of enjoyment I had with this title, I had a significantly greater amount of frustration and annoyance. I found myself dreading my sessions with the game, as I knew there was nothing that would come along that would discount the discomfort I felt when playing it.
Why? Why did you do this, developers? Why do you hate me?
PlayPSVR Score: 4 out of 10.