Ever wondered what it would feel like hurling yourself from a levitating building miles above the ground whilst surrounded by a neon dystopian futurescape? No? Well we go hands on with an early version of Owlchemy Labs’ Aaaaaaa! Oculus Rift edition and tell you what it’s like anyway.

Year Zero

After playing just about everything the Oculus Rift has to offer in the few short months since receiving my Dev Kit, there’s one thing you get hardened to, the rough edges. This is year zero for VR, the giddy early days when developers are breathlessly experimenting with this wonderous new technology, most of the time in their free time. What this means is that us lucky Dev Kit owners have had the chance to experience something new almost every week. It also means that you need to be willing to look past the glitches, crashes and config fiddling to the promising experience lurking within.

“..it was a pleasure to fire up the pre-release version of Aaaaaaa! for the Oculus Rift to find that I was playing what felt like a finished product”

So, it was a pleasure to fire up the pre-release version of Aaaaaaa! for the Oculus Rift to find that I was playing what felt like a finished product. The menu system works,  you can see what settings are without removing your HMD, there are no sneaky menus hiding beyond your virtual peripheral vision and it’s entirely intuitive. And whilst this may sound inconsequential, after all those pre-pre-alpha experiences you realise how important it is.

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Face Jumping

This spit and polish extends to game play too,  thankfully. Hitting ‘Jump’ throws you onto a level select ‘progression’ grid where tiles representing the next challenge must be unlocked to progress. You can only unlock tiles if they’re adjacent to one you’ve already unlocked and if you have enough ‘Teeth’, the in game points currency, to do so.

Launching yourself into a challenge either drops your avatar onto the top of a structure or, somewhat disconcertingly, straight into freefall. In either case the aim of the game is to make it to the ground, accruing as many points as possible and not to flatten yourself on one of the myriad obstacles in your path. The more daring your descent and your mid-air acrobatics, the more points you earn and the more tiles you tiles you can unlock on the progression grid. That in a nutshell is it.

Starting any jump is a vertiginous, gut wrenching experience as you either teeter on the edge of your launch building or drop like a stone from the off. As you push yourself off the building ledge the game shifts your point of view to give the impression your gazing down at the depths with your body behind you, as you’d expect when base jumping. It’s incredibly effective and is one of the most compelling VR experiences I’ve yet had. So convincing was it I often found myself lurching forward in an attempt to steady the angle of my virtual body. Owlchemy have nailed the VR free-fall feeling!

“The act of swooping as skilfully and efficiently as possible between your targets is exhilarating..”

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As you plummet, flying as close as possible to structures earns you hugs, the longer you ‘hug’ the more points you accrue. For every structure you fly near, you earn a ‘kiss’, indicated by that structure lighting up when ‘kissed’. You guide yourself with either mouse (body rotation) and keyboard (positional) — Xbox 360 controllers are supported too, although (unusually for this style of game) I preferred Mouse and Keyboard. There are also bonuses to be had from assassinating birds with your noggin and smashing through points squares dotted throughout the levels. You even get the chance to pose to your adoring crowd, who somewhat improbably litter skywalks throughout the world.

The act of swooping as skilfully and efficiently as possible between your targets is exhilarating and where the hidden depths of this game lie.  It’s also where the replayability and addiction bite and you’ll be visiting some levels again and again to try and nail that perfect score.

Made for the Rift

Aaaaaa! is also one of a handful of Virtual Reality gaming examples I’ve found that seem made for the Rift. Not only is the experience enhanced hugely by viewing the game through the Rift, but I found myself far better able to judge depth and distances and subsequently fly more accurately accruing more points into the bargain. The production and graphic design also lends itself well to the Rift’s low resolution panel, with bright and vibrant neon-lit structures masking the dreaded screendoor effect well. Played at 1920 x 1200, it shines.

It’s not perfect though. Textures and models are intentionally simplistic, but induce levels of deja-vu when you’ve progressed well into the game and levels start to feel a little samey. Having said that the level design on most of the courses  is great and the designers do introduce new elements constantly to keep you interested so it’s a minor gripe. Also, and as with the original, I found progression a little random, with the grid only offering minimal nudges on where you should head next. Again though, this is a trifling nitpick.

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All in all, Owlchemy have produced a polished, addictive and compelling VR gaming experience in Aaaaaaa! One that works as a game first and an experience second. It also offers a glimpse into the future advantages that Virtual Reality may offer players in games to come.

You can check out Owlchemy Labs at their website here and ‘AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the awesome’ (NON Oculus Rift Edition) can be bought from Steam here. Release date for the Oculus Rift edition is currently unknown, but given the levels of polish already evident here, I’d doubt that there is long to wait.

If you’d like to know more, head over to our recent interview with Alex Schwartz of Owlchemy Labs.

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  • Andreas Aronsson

    I want to try this, keeping to check if there is a beta build on steam, not yet :P blah. I have actually met Alex Schwartz IRL in 2011, perhaps I should send him a PM on Facebook and ask for a build ;) haha.

  • Patrick Hogenboom

    Or if he gives you an an ETA, plz post…