This review was originally created in July 2018 for HTC, targeted to their original Vive/Vive Pro (VIVEPORT). It is reproduced here without alteration.
Ball and paddle games have been a video gaming mainstay since before Atari’s Pong took arcade gaming to the next level in 1972 with its minimalist interpretation of table tennis. After that historic milestone, countless clones and variations on the ball and paddle concept appeared. Arguably the most popular of these games was Atari’s Breakout, which first appeared in arcades in 1976, and its sequel, Super Breakout, which appeared in 1978. In these games, you move a paddle at the bottom of the screen to bat a ball at and break the bricks at the top of the screen.
Taito’s popular Arkanoid, which appeared in arcades in 1986, further evolved the core Breakout concept with more colorful visuals and sound effects, power-ups, and more than 30 different levels to battle through. It’s perhaps not surprising then that many ball and paddle virtual reality games, like Brain Voyagers: Ricochet, take their inspiration from Arkanoid, placing value on variety and audio-visual flash, while also changing the perspective to first-person.
Brain Voyagers: Ricochet is actually a major update to what was originally simply called Brain Voyagers. The developers added new levels, paddles, sounds, and gameplay elements over the original version of the game. The core concept is still the same, however, and that’s to defeat waves of enemies in a variety of play-spaces using a mix of different tools and powers to create, control, and deflect deadly balls of energy.
As you might expect for a kinetic game of this type, this is a standing, room-scale experience. While you don’t need a particularly large play environment, you will need plenty of space to freely move your arms left, right, up, and down. Depending upon the level, each Vive controller represents a small shield or some other type of paddle implement.
When first starting the game, you’re introduced to the basic mechanic of creating an energy orb, aiming it at an enemy or enemies, and then releasing it. The energy orb reacts to impacting enemies and the walls, bouncing in whatever direction physics would dictate. When the energy orbs find their way back to you, you can then try to deflect them back to an enemy until no more remain.
As the game progresses, more play elements are introduced. These include deflecting enemy shots, using a magnet to attract energy orbs, changing colors to match different energy orb colors, and changing paddle types. Your main challenge outside of defeating the enemies who can fire back is to not run out of energy. You’ll have your hands full keeping track of all of the energy orbs you unleash, the enemy shots, and your remaining energy levels, which you’ll definitely need to replenish as the game progresses and the challenge increases.
Visually, the game is set to a science fiction theme in a sparse, space station-like environment. While everything is a bit drab and dreary, with lots of grey, some of the spot visuals, including the vistas outside of the space station, are quite nice. Audio is strictly middle of the road, with no stand-out elements.
While there are four different skill levels from Casual to Hardcore, there doesn’t seem to be a big difference between each increase in difficulty. Despite the attempt to evoke past games like Arkanoid, this is definitely slower-paced, more deliberate gameplay. It’s more about strategy, multi-tasking, and energy management than it is about how quickly you can deflect an energy orb. If you’re looking for fast-paced action, Brain Voyagers: Ricochet is not the game for you.
Perhaps the biggest flaw with Brain Voyagers: Ricochet is that it’s not much fun. While on one level I appreciate the strategic elements and the more deliberate pacing over what you’d find in a typical ball and paddle game, I can’t help but feel that more frenetic action would have helped elevate the overall experience. As it is, this game’s appeal is probably narrower than it really had to be.
Score: 3 out of 5 stars.
Brain Voyagers: Ricochet is available on Viveport or with a Viveport Subscription.