A GEARVR NEWS RETRO REVIEW
(A “VR JAM” ENTRY)
When I first donned the GearVR and beheld the amazing spectacle that is Polo, I literally sucked in air. (Good thing I didn’t eat that crumb cake I was planning!) This title won the VR JAM Bronze Medal for good reason, so kudos to Marc Hansen (it’s developer) for a job well done here.
This game’s sense of scale, combined with the deep stereoscopy of this title, merged to create such a feeling of wonder as to leave me breathless. The graphics themselves are beautiful, for sure, but it’s the miniaturized point of view here that really allows Polo to stand apart as something altogether new. And … having the chance to experience alternate points of view is one of the biggest draws to virtual reality that there is. Therefore, this title deserves much credit for being one of the most innovative titles out there. Which is why it’s a pity it hasn’t been completed after all of this time.
This one’s got something you may never have experienced in VR before: your viewpoint puts your eyes mere inches off the floor. Being that low to the ground feels so fresh that I can’t believe this game hasn’t been pushed to market so more people can experience it. As a VR Jam title, it doesn’t work with every phone, as it is unfinished. I also couldn’t get the Cat Version to work on my Samsung S3 even though it’s supposed to work on Android Jellybean 4.2, 4.3 or KitKat 4.4 over Wi-Fi. I couldn’t play the multiplayer mode of this with my students, which would’ve been so much fun to try out.
You can play as either the cat or the mouse (Marco/Polo). The VR version uses the Mouse’s point of view to spectacular effect. The Cat version uses any Android left-over phone you may have (mine is KitKat 4.4 but my phone couldn’t run it) in top-down mode. If you’re the Cat, you can walk through rooms hunting the mouse with your radar vision.
Every so often the Cat can build up a “meow“. When the cat meows, the mouse has to “small squeak” once in direct response or else the mouse will suddenly “loud squeak.” When you’re engaged in evading death, it’s hard to remember to small squeak, so you’ll suddenly loud squeak, and that’s terrifying when it happens. You really kick yourself.
A loud squeak shows the cat what room you’re in from anywhere on the map … which is not good. When you small squeak, your location can show up on the mouse’s radar if the Cat’s in range. So it’s better to small squeak when the Cat’s not in the room already. If the Cat’s in the room and meows, you can eat an onion (if you have one, shown above) to cause the Cat’s senses to become numbed by the horrific odor. Plus it can no longer see you through its watering eyes. You can buy yourself a few seconds to escape!
The idea for you, as the mouse, is to stay alive long enough to eat 6 pieces of cheese. The cheese is spread throughout 3 zones. Although not hard to find, the cheese is hard to get because it takes sitting still in places that leave you exposed to the Cat. If you look away out of fear, the timer resets to zero. You have to keep your eyes on the prize, as they say.
I played this game 50 times over 3 days (each game is about 4 minutes) and never once was able to get all 6 pieces of cheese without dying. Therefore, I think the difficulty level is a bit too high here. There are so many ways to die that don’t even involve the Cat, either. From being burned alive, to being speared in tunnel traps, it’s nearly impossible to win a round as the Mouse. I assume the final game would be better balanced than it is now.
In single-player mode, the Cat can run too fast, also. Once it’s spotted you, there is no hope of evading it whatsoever. You cannot outrun it. So … while playing alone, this game really feels unbeatable. Dial the CPU Cat down a notch, please; argh! After a while, you just have to give up. When you think about playing it after that, you realize there’s no point: you can’t win. So you tend to never load it after a certain point, which is a pity, because the feeling this game has can’t be matched. It has a really unique VR flavor.
There are some cool tunnels you can explore, but for some reason Marc decided to put spike traps in there that randomly kill you. And he let the Cat paw a switch which turns on some furnaces to force you out of the tunnels. Once the fire starts, you can’t make it out of the tunnel in time, the flames always engulf you. It’s all set up to be horribly unfair toward the Mouse player. The Dev also created this tight little tunnel system that, as a mouse, would be really cool to explore, but punishes you for doing so.
There are only three areas to run around in for this demo, which is enough variety to keep you entertained for a little while. But obviously, with any Full Release of this game, it should come with a lot more maps. I’d like to have glass windows separating some of the areas, so the Cat can see the Mouse and vice versa, so we can taunt one another without the immediate threat of death. Sure, the Cat will know where you are, but you also have a chance to run away, too.
I’d also like to have a way to climb. I want to see the mouse get off the floor for some of those maps, so we can experience crawling around and jumping to get up high in the air where the Cat might not think to look. What does it look like to jump ALL the WAY DOWN off the fridge as a Mouse? That’s something cool I’d really like to find out. What about routes through the cupboards, in the walls, where our enemies are bugs that want to infest us? We’d use those routes if we had to, but we’d be getting out of there … rather quickly!
So instead of using fire, this game should use air instead. The wind can push us out of the tunnel … alive … using a high-speed gust. That way, the Cat can still flush us out somehow so we won’t sit and hide in the tunnels, but it won’t just kill us for exploring the cool secret routes, either. I wholly disagree with the Devs’ idea to stock the tunnels with a fiery furnace and burn the Mouse alive. It’s just not cool or fun.
The fan should blow the Mouse out of the exit it is closest to and then seal up. When the Cat throws the “fan” switch, give the Mouse a 4-second countdown to try and to run in a direction. If we are closer to another exit when the fans kick in, we get blown out of that one instead. So we don’t end up getting blown back into the “Cat” room we just left.
At least make it fair, Marc. I realize you don’t want to get the Mouse player hiding all the time in the tunnels, that is still easily solvable without killing us to do it. That also robs the Cat of the thrill of catching the Mouse. He wins basically by cheating in my opinion, when he should have to catch the Mouse fair and square. That’s what Cats do.
GAME PAD ISSUE:
The game does use Game Pads, that’s not the issue. The issue is that if you use the controller to turn, instead of a swivel chair, you’ll get some of the worst motion sickness ever experienced in any game. You can just turn around if you have a swivel chair, you’ll be fine. But doing so with the gamepad really wrenches your mind about fiercely.
I think this is due to, as a mouse, being so low to the ground. You are literally right where the floor is, so you can see the spinning so much greater than in other titles where you’re so much higher off the ground. After about 3 minutes of playing this game with the controller only, you’ll be dry heaving for the next 10 more, haha. Be warned.
I’ve lived with real Mice unfortunately, at some of the bad places I’ve had to live in in China until I got the nice place I live today. And I know for a fact that when Mice run around, their tails wack into everything making a horrible racket. So if you want us to be authentic mice, you need to add the sound effect of our flopping tale banging into the wall as we run. Especially in the enclosed tunnel areas.
That’s something we’d hear really loudly. And it would add to Presence with the feeling of sensing body parts that the human body does not have as if they really are our own. Marc, you’re in a cool position to be able to add another new layer of awesome to this game with this one sound effect alone.
Polo is an experience for your GearVR that you really shouldn’t dare miss. The sense of scale, the proximity to the floor, the P.O.V. here, are all so unique and mind bending that you will wonder why you never heard of Polo until now.
If you’re one of the lucky few who have yet to experience this one, I suggest you scroll back up to the top of this article and click the download button and give it a try right now. But make sure to use a swivel chair to do your left-right turning, not your gamepad… if you value your lunch.
And let me know if you can beat the game even once, or if I’m just a big wuss or what. That Cat is one fierce challenge! I think I can truly understand now why Mice have to run around so fast. And that’s cool, because these are the kinds of amazing lessons that VR … was made for.
This game is comfortable if you use a swivel chair; if you use the gamepad to turn, you’re toast!
Categories: Retro Reviews