A little while back, Oculus issued a $15 credit to many Rift users after an issue which prevented the headsets from working for a day or two. Seeking out something worthy to drop this credit on, I scrolled through the store pages I stumbled upon Luna (2017). The game’s unique artwork had me intrigued. After looking further, I realized I had heard of it months prior, but it slipped off my radar. Once I took a look at the preview, the combination of artwork, soundtrack, and relaxing vibe sold me.
The majority of my time in VR has been spent in fast paced action or sports games, and while I’ve really enjoyed all of those experiences, Luna—which is also available on Steam where it can also be played without a headset—proved to me that you don’t need a fast paced game for a really enjoyable time in VR. As I played through, Luna also struck me as the perfect introduction to VR for those who aren’t serious gamers. The relaxed feel and mechanics make it easy for someone new to get used to moving and functioning in a virtual world.
The overall goal of Luna is to complete puzzles and restore the world to the condition it once was. When you arrive in Luna you meet a little bird that is lacking color. A few cutscenes play out then you find yourself before a snowglobe-like dome which tasks you with a simple musical interaction puzzle.
After completing the musical puzzle you are transported to the sky for a simple shape-based puzzle where you rearrange stars to create specific constellation shapes. As each puzzle is solved, new objects are added to the dome, and on completion of all of the constellation puzzles the dome transforms and the musical interaction is gone and you are placed before a newly generated dome in which you can place items that you obtained earlier. Each item is customizable and allows you to create your own customized dome. The items comprise different plant life to help restore the landscape within the dome. There are also little secrets within each level such as starting a fire or some hidden critters to find. The level of detail and the unique art style makes the game incredibly charming.
Tapping objects to generate sound, maneuvering the stars, placing objects, and petting your little bird friend all feel great. The interactions are all easy to complete and the game is responsive. At first, I thought the puzzles and musical interactions would get a bit monotonous, but later domes add additional complexities that keep the game entertaining yet peaceful.
This is why I could see this game being very accessible for entry level VR users. The simple interactions and the reward at the completion of each vignette are engaging yet not overly stressful, and don’t rely much much on traditional gaming skill or design tropes. I also would not expect people to get motion sick at this game since it runs very well, moves at your own pace, and generally keeps the player in one place throughout. The overall chill vibe makes each vignette accessible and easy to work with. It also gives a good breaking points if someone needs to take a moment to gather themselves; if you take off the headset you can reload into the next vignette or wherever you left off without worrying about save states or the like.
The freedom of creativity in the game also feels great in VR. The way you can place the little items in the dome wherever you like, change their color, and change their size makes it feel like the player has good control over what the end product looks like. I was able to place items wherever I wanted and it gave me this burst of creativity in trying to make what in my eyes was a beautiful landscape. It felt whimsical in a way other VR games often don’t.
The simplicity of the interactions also lends itself to being accessible to people who don’t typically play videogames, let alone VR. Everything is simply explained and the puzzle difficulty ramps up at a pace that it wouldn’t be out of the question for someone who isn’t an experienced gamer. It was also helpful that the positioning of the domes could be adjusted to whatever height was needed. At one point my legs got tired from standing so I ended up sitting on my beanbag chair on my floor. By pressing in the thumbsticks on my controllers the vignette I was working with dropped to my level and I was able to continue generating my own little worlds while sitting comfortably on my floor. Thus, I could see this game being accessible to younger children, or even older adults who can’t stand for long periods of time. I could easily see handing this off to my mother (who hasn’t played games in a few years) and her still really enjoying the experience.
It’s worth reiterating the game’s beautiful look. The art style is very unique and feels different from other VR games that I have played. It seems to have design elements of a stop motion film and each character and element is carefully crafted in homage to that style. Each time the vignette progresses to a cutscene it is beautifully rendered in VR and the interactions between the elements of each are wonderful. Overall, the color scheme has a muted but rich look to it, but each color fits wonderfully and looks fantastic as you pick your colors and place your elements about the world. The music also lends to the overall vibe as a soothing and creative game. Tapping the musical interactions to open up the constellation puzzles feels very satisfying and the music does not feel discordent even if the interactions do not match up perfectly with the background music. Aesthetically this game is incredibly relaxing and beautiful to look at and interact with.
When I stumbled upon Luna, I was looking for something relaxing, but I didn’t expect to really enjoy this game as much as I have. Even though I had played through all of the vignettes I plan to go back and see if I missed any secrets hidden within the levels that I have beaten and to create new beautiful little biospheres to engage with. I want to interact with my little bird friend again and see all of his pals come to life in the gorgeous vignettes again. Lovingly rendered scenes and soothing music make it a perfect game to sit down and chill out to after an overwhelming week.