Not Quite in Rhythm with, than of the Universe: Ionia

5 Feb

Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia (Video Game 2021) - IMDbAvailable for the
PC (on Steam), PS4 and Oculus 

Disclaimer: The PlayStation version was provided for evaluation

The VR game, Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia is an intro to a grander project that’s still in development. The potential hasn’t been pushed because the graphics have to be easy to migrate from PC to the PSVR and Oculus platforms. This product is developed through Unity, and I hope what’s offered next will be an improvement when compared to what this sampler offers. Hopefully by then, ROTU Entertainment will have figured out the issues.

The developers recommendation is a mid-tier PC with the HTC Vive as the headset of choice. I understand why this rig is the best. When the computer is powered by the best high-end video cards, the in-game visuals can sparkle. The highly positionable base stations (cameras) for this particular VR rig do a better job to make wandering around in Ionia feel more natural. I visited a friend’s home with a proper setup to get a taste of what the developers really intended.

The Oculus uses 6DOF motion tracking and the PSVR uses a stereo camera with a lighted head unit to compute where people are. Sadly, the controls with the Sony unit are clunky. Grabbing onto virtual items and trying to use them isn’t as fluid. Stray off camera, and tracking is lost. Using the PS Move controller to play the xylophone was hard. If you’re not in the sweet spot, it’s easy to appear through objects and not be able to drum. This crucial part needs improved error detection. I had to often reset.

Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia (2021) - Game details | Adventure Gamers

Some gameplay felt like I was playing an early Tomb Raider product. I looked around and hoped I could grab specific vines and go swinging around like Tarzan. When compared to another game, where players have the freedom to spin a web in a random direction and explore New York City in Spider-Man, my question is: can this idea be imagined in virtual reality? It shouldn’t be too hard to code, and it’d be a treat for those who aren’t prone to motion sickness. I think that’s what this game really needs to stand out.

The nature and music theme is a great one, but without more thought to take to James Cameron’s Avatar levels, that bit of wonder is missed. I can’t help but think smell-o-vision is needed. It’d make the world come alive even more. The sound mix is stellar, but to rely too heavily on specific elements doesn’t help with developing a balanced game.

We don’t get to interact with all the flora here. You can touch them, but there’s no haptic response from Sony’s Move controller to make you feel like you’re interacting with them. The code most likely exists in the other platform takes, and sadly I made the wrong choice to try the Sony version.

The fauna are a delight to gaze at, but that’s not enough.

This quick game isn’t too challenging in terms of puzzle solving. It’s a reasonable enough product for one play through but to replay it, not quite. I hope that future games will be more expansive and the promised hand tracking feature fully implemented. The PSVR version didn’t have this. Next time, I’ll try the Oculus 2 version since I won’t be tethered to a cable. Last year’s update allowed users to pinch fingers in the virtual world. Having this option available should fix the issues I had with using a controller.

Rhythm of the Universe: IONIA Confirmed for Oculus Quest & PlayStation VR  in 2021 | Tyler Lindell - Like Ginkgo for your Virtual Self

From the Press Release:

Explore a beautiful forest populated with instrument-inspired flora and fauna in IONIA, the first of seven games making up Rhythm of the Universe. Tap plants and pet animals with VR controllers or hand tracking to create pulsing drum beats, gentle bell tones, and other melodic sounds and set the air humming with good vibrations. Climb trees or sweep aside curtains of vines in search of a way to save the Harpa, a mystic creature in grave danger.

Here, you must solve puzzles using music-based magic and reveal secret areas, zipline across trenches in search of supplies, and delve deep into ancient ruins to unlock the power of tonal tablets to reveal the path forward. In what’s presented is a hopeful narrative through a lively ecosystem thrumming with the Rhythm of the Universe and even you can heal the forest with the power of song.

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