It’s been a while since a videogame – especially a virtual reality (VR) one – has evoked the sort of emotions where the desire to throw a controller across the room has suddenly changed to sheer elation but Ven VR Adventure has just that effect. Platformers are nothing new in VR, from Lucky’s Tale back in 2016 to more recent examples like Moss or Astro Bot Rescue Mission, yet they don’t quite have the same level of difficulty that classic flat videogames had. Ven VR Adventure brings that back to offer an equal portion of joy and frustration.
Now don’t start to think this is Dark Souls level tricky – Monologic Games hasn’t been that evil – but if you’ve played titles like Crash Bandicoot or Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee then you’ll start to get the idea. You meet titular character Ven on an unknown planet which was inhabited by his peaceful kin. That was until the evil Bruce Nelson – possibly the least scary villain name ever – came along to harness the world’s natural magical energy, rounding up all the inhabitant’s in the process. Luckily Ven evaded capture and decided to fight back, with your help of course.
So Ven VR Adventure is a single-player adventure where you have to run, jump and fight through three regions, each with four levels. To begin with the nicely built levels offer a light, yet varied enough introduction to the basic gameplay mechanics, running around collecting runes and smashing boxes to collect energy which then transforms into lives. After the first few levels you’ll likely have collected 50-60+ lives and think it’s a walk in the park, wondering why it’s been so easy to collect them all. That’s where Ven VR Adventure starts ramping the difficulty up (possibly a little too fast) because all those lives will start to drop fairly rapidly.
The lives mechanic might be a bit old-school but that feeds into the title’s other homage to the platforming genre, precision jumping. The levels undulate so that Ven can go from right in your face to being a tiny character that seems a world away, making each gap crossed an event in itself as death is constantly certain. Ven isn’t hardy in any way, shape or form. Most enemies can kill him with one-touch or puff of noxious gas which only adds to the challenge. So the levels are split up with shiny cubes acting as checkpoints. In the later regions, these can’t come soon enough, which is why it can be so frustrating dying just before reaching one or pure happiness after completing a segment after 20 attempts.
Some of this is down to how Ven handles, because even with a double jump he doesn’t feel as nimble as he should do at points. He doesn’t have any wall-running or wall-jumping skills to speak of, so it is all pure platform work. You can launch off the glowing boxes for more height yet the dexterity isn’t quite there. There’s also a blandness to the general fighting as most to the time it’s all about dropping your power attack. Ven dual-wields two awesome looking curved blades for chopping stuff up, which is mostly the life giving boxes, as getting too close to the dangerous inhabitants (as mentioned) isn’t particularly wise.
What’s great about the level design though is all the tucked-away areas which make you really have to carefully examine and consider the environment. Each level has 10 of your companions hidden away, some in plain sight whilst most are normally teetering on some narrow ledge looking down into the abyss. The camera only moves down the level so it’s always worth looking back to check for those sneaky folk. Further down the line Monologic Games then starts providing the little guys via alternate routes which, of course, are far more taxing, devilishly making you weigh up their lives over your own.
All of this so far could easily have been achieved without VR, so does Ven VR Adventure have that much needed immersive connection? To a point it does. Controlling characters from a third-person view in VR means that the title needs something extra to make you care. Out of battle Ven often looks up at you for eye to eye contact and when the odd occasion arises where he’s within arms-reach you can fist bump him as if you were buddies. But this aspect doesn’t go far enough in all honesty when comparing to similar titles, Ven just smiles at you a lot.
The studio has included components to get you more involved in the action, being able to throw grenades in boss fights or destroying missiles with swords for example. And the spaceship which acts as the main hub has adjustable button controls for selecting the levels which is a novel touch. Again though, it feels there could have been more which wasn’t explored.
When it comes to the comfort there’s little to worry about due to Ven VR Adventure’s third-person viewpoint and seated gameplay. Some may not like the camera moving through the levels yet that all depends on how quickly you run through each area. Oh, and there is left-handed support for those that prefer the movement control in the other hand.
There’s a lot to love about Ven VR Adventure, from its gorgeous environments to its unrelenting desire to challenge your gameplay skills and patience. It doesn’t quite capture the same imagination as some of its competitors, Ven could’ve done with more personality and the overall gameplay doesn’t achieve anything new. However, Ven VR Adventure takes you on an emotional rollercoaster which will keep you coming back for more, even attempting a time-trial or two, and really that’s what gaming is all about.