Matthew Magee gets active and takes a swing at the new futuristic VR sports featuring heavy classic arcade influences for the HTC Vive, Racket: Nx.
I’ve always felt that there’s an innate satisfaction in hitting things with other things, as much as it makes me sound like a caveman. Like our distant cave-dwelling ancestors, we have a built-in survival instinct to hit things with other things. Problem: that person has some food you need. Solution: hit that person with something and take food. Problem: your favourite review publication gave 8/10 to a thing that you KNOW was worth 9/10. Solution: hit them with a DDoS attack. So it was, so it shall ever be. Hitting things with other things is satisfying and fun. FACT.
It was in this Cro-Magnon vein that I approached the demo for Racket: Nx, which will be available on Steam from the 17th of August for the HTC Vive. It is, fundamentally, a game about hitting things with other things and not since Wii Tennis have I felt so excited about such a simple premise.
Racket: Nx is the perfect example of a simple concept executed very well. It has crisp, effective visuals married to a fluid interface. It has vibrant positional audio cues that, combined with the neon visuals, really sell you on the faux-Tron aesthetic. It has a racket, attached as you would expect at the end of the single controller required to play, and a floating futuristic ball that you will hit toward the hemisphere of hexagonal bricks as they light up around you. Said ball will then dance around the arena with a satisfying series of thunks and pings, and you will dance around your play space in a series of pivots and dashes that we should all fervently hope never get caught on video and uploaded to YouTube.
From the main menu you’ll be able to experience the training mode only. Tantalisingly there are multiplayer and arcade options greyed out. The training mode tasks you with hitting designated points on the arena wall to push back a timer that is represented on the floor by an orange region that inexorably shrinks toward you at the centre of the play area as you repeatedly miss the shot you were going for. I curse you, orange floor, you foul terminator of high score runs!
Much like real life racket-play, getting the damned ball to go where you want is a real challenge. Importantly, even when things aren’t going your way, it still feels good to play on a mechanical level. If you need to line up a shot, a quick tug on the trigger magnetises the ball toward you allowing you to setup the angle you need to make the shot. There are areas of the arena that will charge up your ball. Again: all very simple and very effective. The high score table at the end lets you inscribe your three initials, securing your place in the household hall of fame.
It’s worth stating the obvious here: the more space you have to play the better. Those with low ceilings and/or things that encroach into the play area should approach with caution. While I never found the chaperone boundaries problematic, it’s very easy to get slightly over-excited making a shot and have your hand (and controller) leave the play area at high speed. It was only the thought of explaining how I’d managed to destroy some expensive household items that saw me rein in my excesses at the last moment. Also in this game, more than most, I found the trailing cables to be annoying. This is a by-product of playing at speed and needing to reposition in a 360 degree play field. If you’re a more natural player than I, this may never manifest as an issue.
There’s a great foundation here that I’m hoping the developers, One Hamsa, build up in interesting ways when it arrives on Early Access later this year. It has been a while since a game has had me so interested in getting up out of the chair and really putting myself through my paces.
If this all sounds in any way appealing, you should check out the demo, available today via Steam for HTC Vive – we’ll let you know exactly where as soon as it’s available.
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