After digging into nearly 20 titles, we’ve pulled together the top five VR sports games for the Oculus Rift that will scratch that itch for anyone looking for VR gameplay that’s both active and competitive.
When anyone mentions sports video games, your mind is immediately going to go to the heavy hitters such as football, baseball, basketball, hockey, etc. In VR though, sports feel entirely different when you’re aren’t just controlling a character—you actually become the character. When I set out to find the best VR sports games I initially thought that titles grounded in ‘traditional sports’ would be the best, but in many ways, it was the games which presented me with entirely new sports concepts that played best in VR.
5. Racket: NX
Racket NX has a similar racquetball-feel to HoloBall (#4 below), but the goal is different. Instead of trying to bounce the ball and sneak past a defender, in Racket NX you want to get the ball to roll along the wall and touch as many tiles as possible. The more spaces you can roll the ball onto the higher your combo gets and the more points you score. There’s a finesse to hitting the ball just right to get it to roll, rather than just bounce off the wall, to try and accumulate the most points. The other really neat part about Racket: NX, is the way sound comes into play. The game uses spatial audio tech so you can determine where the ball is by sound, and there’s also a top notch soundtrack and audio-reactive visuals to boot.
A total of three main modes are offered in Racket: NX: Solo, Multiplayer, and Arcade. Multiplayer has you square off head to head against another player. After a series of rounds the player with the highest score wins. The Solo mode sets up a variety of scenarios and gives the player a time limit on how long they have to hit all of the spaces. Each scenario is different and presents a different challenge to players. The Arcade mode offers both a Zen mode and an Old School mode. Zen mode is another endless mode that generates scenarios and allows players to get used to the mechanics without the stress of a timer. The Old School mode sets ups a timer and has players trying to outplay the timer and max out their score.
I found the Zen mode to be incredibly relaxing in Racket: NX and a good way to get familiar with the game’s mechanics. The Solo mode is a good way to refine that basic learning with a little more motivation and challenge.
One knock against this game is I had to keep turning around to see all of targets on the walls, and the cable of my headset kept getting caught around my ankle which is distracting. Players with typical front-facing Rift setups may run into occlusion issues which can result in inaccurate swings (annoying when you’re getting competitive!); definitely consider a two-sensor 360 setup, or even a three-sensor room-scale setup to get the most out of Racket: NX. Otherwise I found this take on a racquetball-style game to be incredibly challenging and fun.
Holoball is like next-level 3D pong in VR. The main premise of Holoball is to hit the ball into the backboard behind your target. Both of your hands in this case act as racquets (in real world racquetball you only get one racquet, bummer). You want to try to hit the ball off the wall or do whatever you can to trick your opponent and sneak the ball in behind them. Another neat feature is after you hit the ball, if you don’t like where it is heading, you can squeeze the trigger on the controller and a beam connects the ball to you and you can pull it back towards you. This saved me from a couple of goofy mistakes multiple times. The AI in the game is basically a big square with a launcher on it that slides around the grid and tries to repel your shots back at you. Sometimes the ball gets pulled into the launcher and it is fired at you with a faster speed.
There are three main mode choices for Holoball: Arcade, Campaign, and Multiplayer. Within Arcade mode there is a Zen mode, a Score Attack and Endurance Mode. Zen mode removes the AI that is present in the other modes and just places you against a blank wall. You take your time and just level shots at the wall, and can totally lose track of time. Score Attack mode brings the AI back into play; the goal of this mode is to try to accumulate the most points before the AI scores three times on you. The points are obtained by hitting shots off of walls, with a bonus for acing the serve, in the shortest amount of time. There’s a small break with a score breakdown between each round in Score Attack mode. Endurance mode similar to Score Attack where the session ends after three goals, but there is no points breakdown, you just want to see how many goals you can make before the AI can score three on you. The Campaign is broken up into Easy, Medium, Hard and Expert, and they are serious. Each mode the AI gets more challenging as each round goes by. Refreshingly the Medium difficulty is even challenging.
The multiplayer is a 1 vs. 1 scenario online, or a local multiplayer mode where a player sitting at the PC can take control of the AI paddle to face off against the user in the headset.
The game’s aesthetic really sold me; the colors, music, and arena are all fitting and lots of fun, and the synthwave soundtrack ties it all together. I used to play a bunch of racquetball in college and Holoball reminded me of that with the attitude bumped way up. The Zen mode was a great way to just hit the ball around and get a feel for the game. It was also relaxing and enjoyable just hit the ball around and trying to outsmart the AI in the Endurance mode. The feel of the game keeps you engaged and you can end up blowing a lot of time without even knowing it.
3. Echo Arena (free)
Also Available on: Revive (Vive, unofficial)
Echo Arena is that futuristic sport you’ve always dreamed of—essentially a game of zero-G ultimate frisbee. Moving around in zero gravity and throwing a disk is a really unique experience, and you’ll quickly develop the skills of leading long throws and catches across the game’s large arena.
Each game is set up as two teams of three (or up to 5 vs. 5 in private matches) which start on opposing sides. The objective is to try to throw the disk up the arena as fast as possible and pass it through the goal. To defend the goal or stop players on a break away you can grab onto the player and punch them to stun them, or intercept the disk during a throw. There are different methods of propulsion in the game such as grabbing edges and throwing yourself forward, using wrist boosters for fine manipulation of movement, and a larger boost to power yourself in the direction you are looking. Because the game has you moving in all directions (even up and down), users with front-facing setups will need to rotate themselves with the joystick. This is another game where, if you get into it, you should definitely consider a two-sensor 360 setup, or even a three-sensor room-scale setup to get the most out of the game.
Prior to each match the team members start in a staging, and as the match is about to start ‘launch tubes’ open up and players scramble into them to try to reach the catapult. The catapult will launch players into the arena as the match begins—an essential strategy to be the first team to reach the disc in the middle of the arena. There’s a bunch of nuance to scoring a goal (including dunking, two-pointers, and three-pointers), which adds depth.
Although there’s no AI or single-player mode, the tutorial, practice arena, and ‘combat room’ add a layer of fun, especially as they’re all contained in the game’s social lobby—meaning that you can practice, talk, and play around with other players while you wait to join a match, rather than just staring at a menu.
The combat room is simply that, a room where you can practice stunning other players with punches, and the practice arena is a miniature arena with two goals and obstacles to practice movement, passing, and shooting on goal. One knock against the practice arena though, is there was only one disk (that I could find) available for practice, which meant other players would sometimes troll people by stealing the disc—a little annoying when you’re trying actually trying to practice. You can also customize your avatar in the social lobby, and you’ll unlock new graphics, colors, and emotes as you rank up, adding a nice touch as you can make yourself look distinct from other players.
Echo Arena seems to attract a younger crowd, which at times can be a bit brutal to a new player trying to learn controls in a match. Thankfully I also found great groups of folks who were patient and fun to play with. Once you get the hang of it matches get much more enjoyable, and you learn some spiffy tricks like how to use those boosts at the beginning of matches, which I seriously struggled with at first. Especially with friends and some practice, Echo Arena is a blast.
If you like Echo Arena, also consider its sibling Lone Echo, which is made by the same developer and uses similar locomotion mechanics (but entirely different gameplay elements) to take you on a harrowing, single-player adventure.