2. The Climb
Also available on: Revive (Vive, unofficial)
Personally, the idea of a climbing game sounded bland to me before I actually played The Climb, but the game proves that rockclimbing can work uniquely well in VR. You’ll be using Touch controllers to grab on to hand holds in the rock face, and even vault yourself upward to grab a particularly far hold—really immersing you in the world. It also helps that the game is beautiful, easily one of VR’s best looking to date. Small details like soaring birds, planes flying overhead, and distant boats far below you in the water really sell the feeling of standing in the midst of a huge landscape. Be sure to turn up the graphics options if you’re rocking a high-end GPU.
The Climb offers four different zones, The Bay, Canyon, Alps and North. Each map is a different aesthetic and each offer their own individual looks and climbing challenges. Within each zone are maps with increasing difficulty (easy, medium and hard). The purpose of each map is to follow the handholds and use the skills you have learned in the tutorials to hit various checkpoints (lettered A, B, and C). When you reach a checkpoint, you’ll be rewarded with a vista that’s truly worth a moment of your time.
A leaderboard keeps track of the points you’ve accumulated through each map and compares them with your friends scores. Your score is accumulated by how good your flow was (how fluidly you move through each challenge), total height achieved, and any trinkets/secrets you find along the way. A few times I did have an issue trying to push my character to jump to a wall behind her, but otherwise climbing up the rock face was incredibly satisfying. I had also thought falling would be really jarring and take away from the experience, but it turned out not to be an issue, aside from giving me quite a surprise the first time I fell. Stretching to reach those far handholds or executing a jump on the first try to maintain a good rhythm also felt really satisfying and added a nice boost to my score. The Climb is a relaxing yet challenging sport experience different from anything I could’ve expected.
At its most intense, Sparc becomes an intense whirlwind of glowing orbs flying back and forth, but is never disorienting. I was able to keep up with the orbs as they bounced around the room as I tried to score points against my opponent. Sparc’s multiplayer, which was the ultimate draw for me, is a one vs. one scenario: you want to try and hit your opponent or their backboard with your ball, while at the same time defending yourself and your own backboard with a holo-paddle.
The multiplayer is very competitive and the small playing field makes it a rather fast paced game with a lot of intense moments. In the heat of the moment I had a tendency to jump for balls, so if you have a low ceiling or otherwise a cramped playspace, you may punch your surroundings (it happened to a few folks I’ve played against). In addition to the multiplayer mode there is a single-player challenge mode where you’ll go through various challenges, such as hitting targets for deflecting orbs in a certain manner, to help you train.
Sparc seemed to attract an older crowd, and I played several games against a pair of guys who were having a blast switching back and forth in one headset against me. It was still competitive and I found myself breathless after matches putting in as much effort as I could to try to win. Sometimes it was a little difficult for me to hit the ball as hard as I thought I was swinging, but generally control of the ball feels pretty good. The visual direction is well done, with bright neon colors which make it easy to track your ball against the opponent’s ball. Avatar customization was also a welcomed bonus, adding a nice touch of personality and expression to the game.
Honorable Mention: Sports Challenge VR
Also available on: Revive (Vive, unofficial)
Sports Challenge VR couldn’t go without mention in this list. If you’re looking for a game that feels more like the traditional sports that you know and love, this is the one for you. It offers a fun set of mini-games spanning basketball, hockey, and football.
In all honesty, I thought this game was going to be incredibly boring. As a hockey fan, I was surprised to see a VR hockey game so I jumped right into that one. You start off as the goalie and have to block shots using your glove and stick. After batting away enough pucks your team goes on the breakaway and you zoom into the perspective of the player with the puck who is lining up for a shot on goal. You’ll see the puck lining up with your player in slow motion and if you swing at the right time you’ll score the goal. There’s even a hockey fight mini-game which can be quite challenging as you’ll have to duck, dodge, and punch out your opponent.
The other mini-games are similar in that you start as one player and break into another after completing an action (like throwing a football as the quarterback, and then teleporting to the receiver’s perspective to catch the ball in slow motion). There is also a career mode that helps unlock more minigames for each main sport. In each of the main sports you accumulate fans, which correlate to points, and they help you unlock additional activities for each sport. Another option is the mini-game mode that just provides a series of mini-games like a three point challenge or a homerun derby. Sports Challenge VR mini-games can get a little monotonous after a while, but I still found them to be tons of fun and worth playing.
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As I said up top, this is not at all what I expected my list of top VR sports games to look like, but these five were the most fun and engaging experiences that provide an active and competitive ‘sports’ feel. Each of these games felt challenging and entertaining and brought different things to the table compared to the traditional sports games that I played in VR. I found that the sci-fi glowing orb/disk games felt particularly immersive and engaging, possibly because they offer a take on a ‘sports’ game which simply wouldn’t work in real life, or even as traditional video games.
Of course, just like sports in the real world, everyone has their favorites—did yours make the list?