A Very Short and Sweet VR Experience
By Joel DeWitte
As a newly-adopted owner of Oculus Quest 2 (thanks Santa), I’ve found virtual reality (VR) compared to traditional video games as an experience akin to learning how to ride a scooter after knowing how to ride a bike. Conceptually, they’re similar – ride on wheels and use handlebars to turn, but have distinctions that need to be minded. Given that virtual reality (modern virtual reality, at least) has been available for years now, there’s likely many like me who are just now dipping their toes into the platform. Given the unique nature of virtual reality, I’ve come to realize the importance of an experience to help onboard players in a low-stress, take at your pace environment. Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia seeks to fit that bill.
Ionia is the name of a fictional world that is somewhere in the middle of the lush worlds of Ferngully and Avatar. As the main character, you’re asked to work with a reptilian humanoid to go on a quest to save a creature called Harpa, a mythical insect creature which is endangered by a potential ecological collapse. Graphically, the world of Ionia suffers from a bit of pixelation and fuzz around the edges on Oculus Quest 2. There’s a bit of flatness that can be a bit glaring to someone who’s looked at video games most of their life. Stylistically though, this game is beautiful and captures that jungle environment well.
For those uninitiated in VR, there is some set-up when first starting up. Your headset will have you identify where the ground is positioned, then draw a boundary called a “guardian” on a surface area of the floor that will act as your “room”. This creates the boundaries which the world you’re in exists. Walk outside that boundary, then cameras on the outside of the headset turn on and the game walls come down. In Rhythm of the Universe, your hands appear ape-like, corresponding to how you move the controllers on screen, and can grab things by reaching out and holding the trigger. As long as you hold that trigger, it’ll maintain the grab. For movement, rather than walking, pushing the stick forward gives a cursor to aim, and letting go will teleport your character to that location. This is to prevent motion sickness that traditional pushing forward to take a step can induce in VR.
Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia would be a relatively linear, story based first-person puzzle game if not for being in VR. Looking around the temple by actually turning your head is a unique, stunning experience for a first-timer. Climbing up ladders or vines by actually grabbing with hands one at a time must be what a monkey feels like, and looking down induced vertigo. Musical puzzles earmark story beats, and the simple Simon-like pattern guessing is really cool using drumsticks on an oversized xylophone. Another cool note – developers ROTU Entertainment donates 5% of all profit to Wildlife Warriors USA Inc., a non-profit founded by the late Steve Erwin’s family to support wildlife conservation efforts.
I’m pleased by my time with the brief Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia. The adventure is short and sweet, just long enough to experience the novelties of climbing high areas, making your own music, and taking in the scenery without overstaying its welcome. As a new adoptee of virtual reality, it was an easy way to get my feet wet with some of the basic controls in an environment that was low stress and pleasant. It makes for an easy recommendation.