VR games are difficult to market, especially when they don’t obviously fit into existing genres. Here’s 11 gems you may have overlooked but are well worth your consideration.

The Paradox of VR Game Development

There exists a paradox of sorts in the VR game development landscape: many of VR’s most interesting games just don’t look like the sort of non-VR games we’re all familiar with. By not obviously fitting into existing genres—the ‘shooter’, ‘RPG’, ‘racer’, ‘puzzler’, etc—it’s very difficult to actually market such titles, no matter how excellent they may be.

The result, as I’ve found over the years, is a surprising number of ‘indie VR gems’: VR titles which are much better than their lack of noteirty would suggest. Oftentimes these games are rated exceptionally well by those who give them a chance, but getting people to decide to try them in the first place is the real challenge.

This is a double bummer because it’s these very developers—who are thinking outside the box and discovering what native VR games actually look like—are the ones we should be supporting if we want to accelerate the maturation of VR game design. Indies are usually working with small teams and on shoestring budgets; if they don’t at least break-even with each VR project, it’s unlikely that they will be able to justify a followup and continue to help push VR game design forward.

So, if you want to help VR succeed, and have some fun in the process, take a careful look at these 11 indie VR gems and consider giving them a shot. I would be blown away if everyone doesn’t find at least one title they think is worth owning in this list. And you have little to lose here if you’re using Oculus or Steam as both have very reasonable refund policies: if you find out the game isn’t for you and you’ve played it for less than two hours, you’re entitled to a full refund within 14 days of your purchase.

Indie VR Gems

Real quick: this list isn’t intended to be comprehensive, nor is it scientific. In the VR space most developers fit the definition of ‘indie’ (those which aren’t working with a publisher). For the purposes of this article, I’m loosely defining a ‘gem’ to mean ‘a VR game which deserves more attention than it receives’, whether or not it is from a recognizable studio. Without further ado, and in no specific order:

Fujii

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (94%) | Rift (4.7/5) | Quest (4.6/5)

Fujii is part walking simulator, part puzzler, and part meditation. The game presents a serene world which somehow manages to offer a feeling of exploration without traversing huge distances. As you explore and solve light puzzles, you’ll discover new plants and bring their seeds back to your garden. The garden acts as a persistent ‘home’ space which you can cultivate and customize to your liking by planting and watering your plants. Fujii does so much right in design and aesthetics. Nearly everything you do feels good, thanks to intuitive interactions and expert use of sound, animation, and haptics. This is a game which delivers a sense of delight just by being in its world.

COMPOUND [early access]

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (96%)

Compound is a randomly generated rogue-lite shooter with a style all its own. Something about its 8-bit artwork manages to feel totally authentic and while still somehow completely at home even in the medium of VR which is so far removed from the 8-bit era. This is a challenging game; lethal and unforgiving enemies bring a heightened sense of immersion as you’ll need to be on high alert to prioritize and eliminate threats to succeed. Luckily you’ve got an array of interesting and fun weapons, each with its own sense of character.

VTOL VR [early access]

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (95%)

While a handful of better known flight simulators exist with optional VR support, the vast majority are made for keyboard and mouse input or peripherals like flight sticks. VTOL VR sets itself apart by being made from the ground-up for VR and motion controllers. So set your HOTAS aside and bask in the feeling of interacting directly with the controls in your cockpit as you operate critical aircraft functions, identify targets, and engage enemies without needing to buy niche peripherals to make it all feel great.

Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades (AKA H3VR) [early access]

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (96%)

Hot Dogs, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, also known as H3VR, is a VR sandbox for the gun aficionado. With more than 300 unique weapons in the game, you could spend hours just exploring the detailed custom sounds and interactions of each gun, right down to individually chambered rounds, folding stocks, fire modes, and adjustable iron sights. With heaps of modular accessories, you can do everything from the realistic—like adding sights, grips, and lasers to your favorite assault rifle—to the unholy—like turning a pistol into a kitbashed sniper rifle. Once you’ve got your arsenal sorted out, you can hit the shooting range, play a heap of mini-games and activities, or make up your own. Though H3VR launched in early access in 2016, its developer has been actively updating the game ever since, regularly bringing major new content additions and improvements over time, like the recently added Team Fortress 2 weapon set.

Sprint Vector

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (88%) | Rift (4.2/5) | PlayStation VR (4.5/5)

Sprint Vector is a racing game that offers a sense of speed and mobility that’s hard to find anywhere else in the VR gaming landscape. Channeling elements of arcade racing games like Mario Kart with a Mirror’s Edge-like sense of flowSprint Vector’s unique take on ‘arm swinger’ locomotion is a revolution in its ability to maintain comfort even while you’re cruising at breakneck speeds—and it can be a good workout to boot. Alongside a competitive racing mode, the game also offers time trials which challenge you not just to be fast, but also to be creative as you look for new routes to shave precious seconds off your record. This game’s strong visual presentation is topped off by an excellent soundtrack.

Panoptic [early access]

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (96%)

Panoptic is a stellar asymmetric VR game where one player wearing a headset takes on the role of a giant and menacing ‘overseer’ while another player outside of VR plays as a tiny saboteur who attempts to blend in with roaming NPCs and destroy key objectives without being discovered. Thanks to VR, the overseer’s embodied presence and giant scale feel exceptionally imposing to the tiny non-VR player, creating tense moments where a single slip-up could lead to a suspenseful cat-and-mouse chase. The overseer may be powerful, but it can’t watch everything all at once; with a blend of strategy and cunning, the saboteur can prevail. The need for only one VR headset makes Panoptic a great game for sharing some of VR’s unique fun with friends who don’t have VR headsets themselves. While the game currently only supports local multiplayer, we recently discovered that Steam’s Remote Play Together feature makes it pretty easy to play Panoptic together online.

FREEDIVER: Triton Down

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (86%) | Rift (4.2/5)

FREEDIVER: Triton Down is a short but worthwhile narrative adventure about an oceanographer who gets caught in a capsized research vessel after discovering something unexpected in a cave in the ocean depths. The game is built entirely around a unique ‘swimming’ locomotion system which is more than just a way to get the player from A to B; not only does it allow you to seamlessly navigate in 3D space underwater, it creates a built-in tension between movement and survival as the player has to surface for air or risk drowning. This effectively puts a time limit on puzzle solving which is always in the back of your head, especially as the oxygen indicator on your arm beeps as it gets closer to 0%. Thanks to engaging interactive elements and thoughtful VR design, this is an adventure worth taking.

Virtual Virtual Reality

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (95%) | Rift (4.7/5) | Quest (4.7/5) | Go (4.8/5) | PlayStation VR (4.5/5) | Daydream (4.8/5)

Virtual Virtual Reality is a narrative-driven VR game with an intriguing concept that’s worth seeing through to the end. As the name implies, you’ll find yourself popping in and out of various levels of virtual reality to navigate the game’s light puzzle elements while experiencing its strong art direction, writing, and interaction design. The developers include “an artichoke screams at you” among the game’s ‘key features’, which ought to give you an idea of the comedic flavor within.

Electronauts

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (90%) | Rift (4.6/5) | Quest (4/5)PlayStation VR (4.5/5)

Electronauts is half game and half tool, and wholly unique. It’s a VR music mixing game which lets you tap into your inner musical creativity even if you don’t have any idea how to play an instrument or make music from scratch. Each song in the game is effectively a ‘kit’ which includes various backing tracks, vocals, and unique instruments. Even though the game does much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes to keep everything in the right key and on beat, you’ll be surprised at how much freedom you have to make each song your own. While there’s no ‘objectives’, there’s much satisfaction to be had at managing seamless transitions between song segments, creating instrument loops that add a new flavor, not to mention one of my favorite challenges, bringing each song to a smooth conclusion. Electronauts is an incredible way to experience the magic of music, and with multiplayer (on the Steam and Oculus Rift versions of the game only) you can even jam with a friend.

Racket: Nx

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (96%) | Rift (4.7/5) | Quest (4.8/5)

Racket: Nx is a polished and high energy game which feels like a futuristic mashup of racquetball fused with elements of Breakout. Players stand at the center of a 360 degree arena with neon targets that pulsate to the game’s excellent soundtrack. With a racket in hand, players smack the glowing orb to destroy some targets while avoiding others. There’s some depth to hitting the orb too: you can slice it to give it spin, or give it an especially firm smack to send it streaming across the wall for bonus points before it finally bounces back. Powerups and portals add additional variety. Racket: Nx can be a good workout, and is great for playing with VR friends thanks to cross-platform multiplayer between all versions of the game.

Until You Fall [early access]

Platform & User Reviews: Steam (93%) | Rift (4.9/5)

Until You Fall is a procedurally generated rogue-lite that’s all about melee combat. You’ll battle your way through a string of rooms populated with enemies of increasing difficulty. Eventually, inevitably, you’ll die. At the end of each round, you’ll respawn in a hub space where you can spend money you’ve earned on new weapons and upgrades, making you stronger for your next bout. The game successfully fuses VR sword combat with meta-game elements in a way that no other VR title has yet managed. Combat is underscored with a sense of deliberate strategy that can change from one encounter to the next, especially depending upon which weapons you choose to bring into battle.

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Surely this list only covers a fraction of VR’s indie gems—let us know your own picks in the comments below!

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  • Hugh

    Also look at Neos VR.

  • 3872Orcs

    I’ve avoided FREEDIVER: Triton Down until now because it does not list Index support. Does it still work?

    • benz145

      IIRC I played through the whole game with Index without issue.

  • Bob

    From Other Suns?

    • benz145

      From Other Suns wouldn’t be indie (published by Oculus); I also don’t think it exhibits the quality of VR game design seen by the others in this list.

    • I wish that one wasn’t exclusive… I really want to play that.

  • Richard Matey

    We are labeling Survios as independent …. :/

    • benz145

      Real quick: this list isn’t intended to be comprehensive, nor is it scientific. In the VR space most developers fit the definition of ‘indie’ (those which aren’t working with a publisher). For the purposes of this article, I’m loosely defining a ‘gem’ to mean ‘a VR game which deserves more attention than it receives’, whether or not it is from a recognizable studio.

      • Richard Matey

        Sure but sentences before you wrote “Indies are usually working with small teams and on shoestring budgets; if they don’t at least break-even with each VR project, it’s unlikely that they will be able to justify a followup” Survios is bank rolled by MGM. They do not work with small teams nor does their future hinder on games sales with very high VC backing. Just suggesting you should consider using the word independent for creators that actually own and gamble on their own creations instead of a label on the steam page.

        • benz145

          I definitely understand your point because I considered it myself before adding two of Survios’ titles to the list. Let me explain my thought-process a bit:

          I was hesitant to include any Survios titles for the reason you mentioned (as far as VR studios go, they have a lot of resources and are well known, even if they are technically independent). But the goal of the piece (as explained in the preamble) was to point out the titles which have especially thoughtful VR design but haven’t seen the level of attention they probably deserve, largely because it’s difficult to market VR games which don’t clearly confirm to existing non-VR genres. To that end, I think Sprint Vector and Electronauts are truly worthy of a careful look by anyone who had previously passed them over (or maybe never heard of them in the first place).

          I would also add: to say that their future doesn’t hinder on the success of their product (game sales) I would argue is incorrect. Yes, they have raised money which gives them a length of runway which others don’t have, but they still need to make a good product and return a profit if they don’t want to see that funding dry up.

  • ForceKin Gaming

    Heads up, the link to the H3VR page actually goes to VTOL.

    • benz145

      Ah thank you for spotting this, will fix!

  • CyborgOne

    Great article – very happy to see indie dev’s getting more attention and promotion.

    But, I have no idea how to parse the first statement about Compound:

    > randomly generated rouge-lite shooter

    It’s a game about applying makeup? If it’s “rouge LITE”, does that mean it’s pink?

    Unless perhaps the intent was to draw a comparison to the classic dungeon-crawling adventure from the 1980’s – in which case, this should perhaps be corrected to:

    > randomlygenerated Rogue-like shooter

    (Yeah, I’m being that guy :-)

    • benz145

      Ah thanks for pointing out this error, I’ll get it fixed.

      Beyond the spelling error, my understanding is that there’s a difference between ‘rogue-like’ and rogue-lite’. I don’t think it’s particularly well defined, but it seems that rogue-lites tend to be the more simple/randomly generated try-try-try again type games (like Enter the Gungeon), where’ rogue-like have similar mechanics but are more full featured (like Hyper Light Drifter).

      Happy to hear if anyone has another notion of the difference?

      • CazCore

        i’d say it’s less specific than that.
        fans of the original RLs find it heretical for the modern games to use the term, because the games are so different, in so many ways. and want people to call anything else Rogue-lites instead. meaning they aren’t much LIKE Rogue, because they are LITE on sharing the qualities of the original Rogue.

        • benz145

          Good context, thanks : )

          • CyborgOne

            Ah – thanks for the typo correction, and for initiating the discussion of “Roguelite”. Seems that CazCore is exactly correct, and this fits in that category, more directly.

  • Uhm, they are very famous titles, not little gems. Cool list of games, but IMHO you should have looked for more unknown experiences. One little gem for me is “The price of Freedom”

  • BlacksheepAries

    I will agree that VTOL is a cool flight combat game for VR but without question, in my opinion there is a game/sim that is leaps and bounds above and beyond all other VR games in play today. This game (to me) is so f’ing good that I literally spend 4 to 6 hours per day on it. It is however a title that has been around for near 20 years so be informed that the community of players in this game are a.) great human beings and b.) loyal players with 15+ years tearing it up so the competition is insanely good.
    For me, this developer has done what no one else has been able to do and he has IMO, hit a home run. This game is now the standard of immersive awesomeness to which I gage all others. It’s got me so hooked that I play nothing else, wake up an extra hour early so I can get in some play before i start the day and its the last thing I do to end my day. In this epic creation it is possible to:
    1.) Play cross platform, VR & Non-VR HTC, Oculus, PC in a persistent environment 24/7 and with up to 1,000 players in epic multiplayer unlike any Ive played before.
    2.) you can fly just about any plane from wwii. Fighters, bombers, paratroopers, attackers.
    3.) you can command AND control a naval fleet AND all the boats from a PT to Aircraft carrier to destroyer and battleship AND man every gun on every boat from twin 40’s to 16″ monsters.
    4.) you can drive every vehicle, amphibious track and tank from wwii AND shoot every gun on every vehicle
    5.) you can man and fire all field guns and anti aircraft guns like the 88 ack ack guns
    The best part, you can do all of those things simultaneously !! In real time, in multiplayer, in vr!!! Fly the P51D, drive the Panzer Tank, join me in my B17 flying fortress and be my bombadier or man the guns while I fly!!
    6.) edit terrain, edit missions, set up matches,
    7.) Voice channels like a dang cb radio, have your own vox channel or join a crews vox or the global vox..
    How this game is so unknown blows my mind literally..
    use touch motion controllers or HOTAS or xbox controller or mouse keyboard.. (I use the touch controllers). This game is light years ahead of the rest. The graphics are fantastic and the playability and user interface is great. This game deserves vr game of the decade going into 2020. Im just a 3 month noob and do get my arse kicked daily as i square up against 10+yr vets but the game is so friggen awesome, who cares!!
    My dad finally got to fly the P38Lightning and cried. Then went and bought a rift just to keep playing. Ok, ok, ok, enough monologging.
    This epic title is AcesHigh III made by Hitech Creations. It is free to play but has a $14.95 per month subscription for full access and Ill tell you what, I would pay $59.99 a month its that good.
    SO SAETH SAAM I AM

  • wheeler

    Though somewhat well known, I’d also put Jet Island, Blade & Sorcery, Vox Machinae, and Windlands 2 in this category. Downward Spiral Horus Station and Organ Quarter are also gems (not doing anything extraordinary with interaction but still very good in terms of pure atmosphere). Boneworks and Pistol Whip will almost certainly go here as well once they’re released. And of course there are plenty of well known indies e.g. Pavlov, Onward, Climbey, Beat Saber, etc etc.

    Everyone constantly shits on indies but to be honest VR would be a very boring medium if we didn’t have them. Without anyone doing interesting stuff like this VR would likely be considered a complete gimmick (even more of a gimmick than the gaming communities outside the VR bubble already think it is). These are the games that I spend 90% of my time with in VR. And to be honest after that initial wonder of VR wore off and I was forced to compare VR vs flat in a more level headed way, much of that other 10% from the “AAA” devs has often left me wondering why I’m even using a VR headset to play them.

    Not saying they’re bad games (they’re often excellent games) but when I judge a VR game I’m not just asking whether or not it’s a good game. Rather, it needs to be a good *VR* game. Let’s face it: after your first 6 to 12 months of VR you realize that many aspects of the current tech result in an experience that’s often worse than the flat counterpart (well beyond just pixel density constraints). So at this point I need a good reason to wear a VR headset and that’s what indies deliver on. The fact that a game is in VR doesn’t automatically make it better (it can often make it worse)

  • RickityRick

    Those games are all great. Can confirm!

  • callen

    VR Party Club! (Disclaimer, it’s my game. It’s a mario-party-like designed to introduce your friends to their first time in VR in the most accessible, all-encompassing way possible)