There are several virtual reality (VR) titles which have dared to employ a swinging mechanic with various degrees of success, such as Yupitergrad which used it as the main locomotion mechanic. But way before all of these – even Spider-Man – was the original swinger himself, Tarzan. Created by Edgar Rice Burroughs back in 1912, the character doesn’t often pop up these days, last seen in videogame form back in 1999 in Disney’s Tarzan and there was that 2016 movie. Introducing the lord of the jungle to a new generation – as well original – fans, Stonepunk Studios and Fun Train have created Tarzan VR, marrying new gameplay with old school storytelling.
Right from the very start, before you’ve even got to a title screen Tarzan VR begins to evoke the 100-year-old history of the character by throwing you into a series of early 20th Century looking comic strips. Tarzan is that classic hero who is butch, saves the girl and defeats the evil bad guy. And while that may seem a little tired nowadays, Tarzan VR almost takes the approach of historic accuracy rather than trying to bow to modern norms with plenty of nods to the franchise from around the 1950s, with loads of audio snippets for example.
But this is still an original single-player adventure, continuing Fun Train’s love of neat (and reasonably cheap) episodic instalments just like a comic book. There will be three in total, with Issue #1 ‘The Great Ape’ and Issue #2 ‘The Jagged Edge’ arriving at the same time, both of which this review is based around. That first instalment doesn’t just give you the initial adventure it also serves as the hub from where you can continue the storyline or simply enjoy the island which Tarzan calls home in this instance.
His island home is almost a mini level in itself, containing his treetop pad with all the trappings of jungle success, bananas for days, a collection of coconuts, somewhere to hang your weapons and of course, and old gramophone to play your records. Whilst that might sound a little weird these tie into one of the unique elements of Tarzan VR and the team’s official affiliation with Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., actual recordings from the old radio shows. Hidden around the levels are vinyl to collect, each with a different episode to enjoy. Kinda neat really.
That’s all well a good but a Tarzan videogame needs lots of epic action and naturally, swinging through the trees. Which it has, mostly. With its punchy, cel-shaded style Tarzan VR’s mechanics are all nicely designed to be easily picked up so you can launch into the trees and then smack a bad guy in the face without too much worry. It must be said that the first time swinging through the trees was genuinely exhilarating and felt effortless. A lot of the gameplay is quite physical yet this is one area where you almost have a reprieve. Unlike titles where you must worry about finding suitable locations for grappling hook attachments, as these are natural vines you’re using, you can even let go and grab the next.
It’s a shame then that there’s not more. Even over the two episodes VRFocus played it would’ve been nice to have a little more tree to tree action simply because it worked so well, plus dive-bombing enemies is a lot of fun. On the subject of movement, not only is Tarzan VR pleasant in the air but there are plenty of menu options to also make running around on the jungle floor comfortable. Snap turning and vignetting are there but there’s no teleportation that VRFocus could find.
When it comes to combat this has all the hallmarks of the Batman TV show from the 60s, hammy acting with an overzealous, ragdoll effect. There’s no gratuitous violence in Tarzan VR, sure when you punch the enemies or hit them over the head with the axe a bit of blood appears to indicate a strike but we’re not talking Gorn levels. As mentioned all the gameplay is physical, nicely tuned for VR, with specific instalment weapons like The Great Axe in the first and the Sling Shot in the second, plus others dotted around. After finding a baseball bat for the first time one unfortunate foe just so happened to be throwing grenades, you can imagine what happened next.
As Tarzan VR is a narrative-driven adventure the levels are fairly linear so there’s not much jungle exploration if you’re expecting something like Stormland. Secrets can be found off the beaten track but even with a bit of hunting each instalment will likely last around 40-50 minutes. The real exploration lays in Tarzan’s home island. It’s not a massive location but here you can practice your swimming technique and dive deep into the ocean for secrets – Spoiler, the very British Toucan even hints at another issue located in a giant oyster. Stonepunk Studios and Fun Train are certainly aware that players needed a bit extra so there is enough to keep you coming back after the first blitz through.
Much like the comic books it’s based around, Tarzan VR is a light affair that can be easily consumed in stages. The action isn’t too particularly tough, and the enemies aren’t at all clever but the overall experience is enjoyable enough for a couple of hours. Be aware that the episodic nature of Tarzan VR’s delivery means only buying the first instalment will give you a slice of the tale, rather than each having its own self-contained storyline. It does do a lot of things right as well, lots of interactive elements, great movement and some excellent audio throughout. For a franchise with such a long history, Tarzan VR does it justice.