A GEARVR NEWS REVIEW
“How could we get an 8-bit-visually-styled game but still retain a full-color palette?” This must have been the question posed by Mandrill VR, a Chinese VR-Games Development company with this game being their 2nd release so far. The Long March Space Project is their quite-interesting answer to that question.
A cool factoid, this company is based in the same city of Wuhan China as … yours truly. (I live 30 minutes from them!) As their second game, it’s quite a step up from the first title “Totems in Dreamland” which was unpopular and failed to draw audiences due to its odd perspective and undesirable play scheme which went against VR’s “best practices” Guide by Oculus and John Carmack.
This time around, however, they got the VR aspects much more refined and polished and seem to be learning from their mistakes, which is very good. On their website, they describe this game as such:
“As an evil force rose to power across the universe, alien monsters and bugs invaded many planets and devastated their environments. Human beings decided to launch the Long March Space Project to fight the forces of evil and return the universe back to normal. As part of the project, you will land on infested planets, fight enemies and improve the environment. Long March Space Project is set in whimsical, voxel-filled worlds with easy-to-use controls.”
Unfortunately, the controls might just be a little too easy to use, as there is no game-pad integration yet! So, after only one level, my right shoulder was burning with pain from having to hold my finger at the Trackpad for almost an hour. But this is a game that needs a gamepad the most! It’s hard enough shooting non-stop without requiring you to hold up your arm for an hour, too!
The levels are fairly hard to beat, requiring about 40 to 60 minutes each. And every level (or world) is complex in that it requires a combination of bug-killing and asteroid mining, each done in tandem, in order to maximize your efficiency.
You get more energy from mining if your multiplier is higher, but in order to boost your multiplier, you must kill at least 3 bugs in a row. Of course, if you keep going and kill a few more, you boost it to 5x or 6x, which is applied toward the credits you are earning from destroying the falling debris of asteroids around the planet.
But if you don’t shoot the asteroids, your multipliers mean nothing. And if you only shoot asteroids, you’ll spend 5 or 6 times longer trying to get enough money to upgrade your weapons and equipment (which is why the first level took me an hour but the 2nd level took me 35 minutes!
In essence, this is a Sci-Fi-Role-Playing Game (SFRPG) with only the bare minimum of upgrade options needed to still remain fun. But for only $2.99, what’s there to complain about? It’s not as an ambitious “project” as Star Citizen, after all. It’s not meant to be.
I love RPG’s, even space-based RPG’s, and the idea here is simple. Improve the planets by destroying the bugs. But you need money to improve your firepower, so you need some credits to spend on that. Shooting down asteroids helps you mine energy for credits. The bits explode all over the ground and are swept up magnetically by the ship’s tractor beams. It’s pretty cool to see the carnage your efforts leave on the ground.
I just wish Mandrill VR would throw about three or four times more 8-bit Lego-land carnage all around you so you could really see the mess you’re making. I want to see a lot more bits from all this shooting I’m doing! It’s a lot of freaking shooting! And, while the credits themselves do rack up nicely (making some very yummy money-making sounds), I would still like a lot more chunks raining out of the sky to get tractored up by my ship.
You have to earn credits to upgrade your military equipment, which includes a robot, a laser system, a missile battery, and several creatures who have special powers that only come into play after you’ve fed them enough food.
You take any credits you’ve earned and upgrade your weapon systems as fast as you can. I found it very easy to earn the credits to upgrade my stuff, almost too easy, but then for 40 minutes, I couldn’t upgrade any further.
This suggest the game is not well balanced. The earning versus gaining should be spread out more to give you something to work for at every part of the build up toward each stage’s end. In RPG’s, you want to keep the feeling of earning power going. But by disrupting the flow of upgrades, you lack the focus of an RPG.
The RPG’s premise is simple enough: earn money to steadily upgrade things in order to keep your “gain” addiction going. You have to always be improving yourself or you lose your high. This tapering of inflow was not sustained to the end of the round, but tapered off toward the beginning of each level. You’ll upgrade everything so quickly, and then that super-fun acquisition dynamic is over and all you’re doing is shooting for 30 minutes straight: which becomes a tad boring without the rewards.
The graphics are endearing, like a world built out of Legos, with an 8-bit chunkiness which is appealing due to the stereoscopic effect being so deep. While the graphics could still be a little better, the 3D effect serves to enthrall you enough to get the job done. There are a lot of things exploding and some raining Lego-Pieces debris that’s really fun.
As far as audio, there IS NO audio when the game starts, and this is a glaring omission. It feels just plain wrong. That means no mood to read the game’s intro by. A future update, I feel, is a must need in order to correct this injustice.
A good intro score is essential to setting the mood for any game. Surely, with all the musical geniuses in China (I’ve seen hundreds in Wuhan myself in 7 years, they’re everywhere) this company could afford to hire a musician? Artists sadly don’t make much money in China, which is a sore spot for me, despite being overwhelmingly talented. But at least that means this company could afford to hire one who could crank out just the right retro-style space theme to fit this game’s intro scene!
CAMERA CONTROL FLAW:
There is glaring flaw in this beginning of the game where, at the tutorial, they go out of their way to wrap your visuals in a horrid blurry-white film that locks your peripheral vision into a tunnel so you have to look at their reader board (which is also too far away) to read some tiny text you can barely see. It forces you to look at it and press continue, so you can’t look around and enjoy the graphics right off the bat.
That might not be the best thing to do to a VR user, as being in VR begs you to have a look around, and you simply can’t! No no no! They keep your HMD from turning and force you to focus on their stupid tutorial. It really ruins the mood. But if you can get through that stupidity, and into the game, I hope you will find it as amusing I did.
Also, there are some other issues that spoil the greatness this game was destined for, which I feel could easily be fixed with a few updates and get this game selling a lot more copies. Because the game mechanic is really fun, and it also reminds one a little of some kind of space-based Minecraft game … so it’s easy to see why it could be a hit with a bit more work. I encourage Mandrill VR to not abandon their Long-March-Space-Project “project” (wink) but to keep on refining it.
RPG’s are all about game refinement and patches, so we would expect nothing less. One of the issues is that we’re supposed to be on the planet to repair it. And there is this “Improving Planet: Environment” upgrade-tab that sucks up a lot of money, I mean a LOT of money, and it doesn’t do anything for you. Or it doesn’t seem to, there’s no way to tell what it does besides change the graphics for the planet. It doesn’t help improve the Planet Safety at all, which is your primary goal in being there.
What it does, if anything, the game doesn’t tell you.
You can only improve Planet Safety (your primary objective) by taking on the big boss monsters (shown above). You have to summon those for 1000 credits and they launch soda bottles at you, full of fizz, and try to bomb your ramped-up artillery installations (setting you back to level 1 for each one bombed), meaning you must spend part of the time you’re supposed to be killing bosses trying to keep their soda bottles from degrading your force level.
It’s a real challenge actually, I found fighting the bosses quite fun. You have a time limit for killing the giant mega bosses tower over the skyline like some 8-bit version of the Stay-Puffed Marshmellow Man from the Ghostbusters movie. The big bosses, trying to be so scary, just end up looking so adorable. I think they’re great.
During the time limit, you must shoot them as fast as humanly possible to even get close to beating them. It’s very exciting. The creatures you fed earlier come back to help here, because their power up is giving you more time to beat the baddies, so if you neglected to feed them, you won’t have enough time. Throw down some Lego-land chops for those critters, man! Don’t be stingy! They will love you for it, too, with heart emotes that explode over you.
This game has the potential to be a hit, but it suffers from several issues that should be corrected (hopefully):
No opening music during the introduction movie. Just wrong.
Forcing a new player to stare at their reader-board instead of looking around at the game world they’ve entered for the first time to take in the interesting colors and visuals. It’s horribly user-controlling and immersion breaking. It also made me feel claustrophobia, the terrible sensation of being confined against your will. No game in GearVR has ever done this to me before, and I knew at once I hated it. This issue must be remedied as soon as possible to follow best VR practices of not reducing user immersion through forced head control. I suggest Mandrill VR let the player look around for 15-20 seconds before initiating the tutorial reader-board. But instead of forcing the player to look, play a blinking unpleasant noise at low volume initially and then slowly build the volume to indicate the urgency of reading the board. In that way, the player can have some freedom first and then choose to follow the reading after they’ve settled in first. Don’t make a person have to read the first thing after landing on the new planet when what they need most is to have a look around and assess the situation!
Paying your hard-won credits to the Environment Tab seems to do nothing for the mission. It might do something, but I’m not sure what. The user needs to see the benefits of spending their hard-won money, and I have no idea what good it did for me to restore the environment at all. It looked pretty, but was not worth the 20 minutes I spent earning the credits to do that. A horrible waste of time. I suggest linking the Environment tab to the Safety Factor somehow. Maybe let the 100% of the former increase the latter by 20% or something? So the World Safety main goal is also progressed by restoring the environment!
There are quite a few people online ready to voice their opinion who feel this game is a waste of time, but I totally disagree. Anyone who likes Minecraft will understand the mood of this world at a glance. And it really does have some good game-play elements, with a dose of soft RPG elements mixed in … those needing a bit more substance, but are still there enough to feel them.
We are forced to “tap to shoot” a bit too much, the game play could use a few extra ways to contribute firepower other than just wrenching on the machine guns ad nausea. All of the other items fire by themselves, you can’t control those.
Maybe the Devs could let us track objects for targeting and once so, let us fire our own missiles, so we feel more engaged in the full force of the battle? And also we have more choice in how we approach combat, too.
The graphics work well for the style this game is going for, and the sound effects themselves are well done, too. But the intro music being missing was a bad start, and I feel the exploding bits need to get ramped up to as many flying pieces of Lego debris as GearVR can handle because that’s just a lot of fun for this kind of world.
It would make the game more interesting to see a lot more money literally raining down on us from above. But I do feel my REAL money was well spent for this game; however, I do hope Mandrill VR will get around to offering a patch to keep this game relevant and work it over … just a bit more.
NOTE!: The score below does not reflect the writer’s belief in this game if repaired. If the creators were to go and add a bit more spit and polish, this game could even be worth $5.99 in the Home Store and my rating score would go to 7.5 at least.
This game could become something much more memorable and fun to play if the flaws were buffed over and the true game, as it was meant to be, were allowed to shine through. I encourage Mandrill VR to put in that effort … and reap the rewards of a higher-price in the store. And in the process, gain more word of mouth praise, leading others to want to try it out for themselves, too!
This game has no motion aspects since you stand in one place shooting all around you. I rate it as … comfortable for all.