You might go into Arca’s Path expecting Super Monkey Ball VR – I know I was – but this is something quite different in how it handles and controls. Where Monkey Ball had you tilting the world to make the ball roll, and Marble Madness had you spinning an actual ball, here the polygonal ball feels motorised almost like BB-8 from Star Wars. The only input you need is to turn and point your head away from centre and the ball will start to roll in that direction, following your gaze.
It starts off simply enough, but you soon start to find that, while this ball slavishly follows your pointer, you do have to get used to physics as you move around. Go too fast and the ball’s momentum will easily carry it off precarious ledges that start to appear, while going too fast over bumps and ramps can see you then bounce over the small barriers or go flying if you’re looking in slightly the wrong direction. A little like playing Sonic you always want to go fast, but the levels are designed to blend speed with puzzling mazes and technical platforming.
They evolve through the game, starting off simple and flat, before adding elements like blocks that you can break through or ledges you need to bump into and knock down, before later levels bring moving sections and ramps that add some of the challenge of a platformer. Regardless of the challenge, this is a perfectly comfortable VR experience, with your viewpoint locked to the ball’s progress through the level. There’s no sign of any comfort options in the menu, either.
There’s a surprisingly dark story behind a game about rolling a ball around, as we first see Arca living in abject poverty, scrabbling around in what looks like a rubbish pit. She happens across a fancy bit of technology though, which is what transports her to the virtual reality world. After just a few levels it overheats and seems broken until an ungainly looking old woman offers her help. Though story isn’t the main focus, there’s a couple of twists and turns along the way, and it helps explain the tonal shifts between some of the levels.
There’s a great science fiction vibe to the game’s look. The cutscenes lead you from one moving graphic novel frame to another, but making them be triangular and having a synth heavy soundtrack at these moments just evokes the classic days of 60s and 70s sci-fi for me. The rest of the time, the music by Raffertie leans toward the more atmospheric, experimental and glitchy.
The game visuals, on the other hand, remind me more of Tearaway. Almost certainly as a compromise to help the game run on lower powered phones and standalone headsets, the general draw distance isn’t very far from your viewpoint, though you can see coloured lines snaking off into the distance to represent where you’ll soon be heading. When larger scenery does come into view, it does so stylishly, but the game’s visual character really comes from manner of objects, from flowers to general detritus, constantly bursting into view.
Unfortunately, the game starts to run out of ideas in the final third, and I sometimes had a sense of deja vu from the end of one level to the start of the next. Certain ideas repeat too soon, and as the platforming challenge increases off the back of moving platforms and ramps that need you to time your roll just right, you could end up gazing at a near identical obstacle just moments later. A handful of difficulty spikes do spoil things a little, but by and large the checkpoints are well places and the most challenging parts of most levels are entirely optional.
There might be a singular path in the title, but they often split and spread out in a maze-like fashion. You’re encouraged to explore every nook and cranny to find crystals, whether they’re tucked down dead ends or part of more technical challenges that have you inching around barrier-free grids to collect them. Thankfully, if you collect one and then fall, it remains collected as you respawn, so you can dodge needing to replay a level, especially when the only reward for collecting them all in a level is to unlock the time trail mode.
The amount of time you get out of the game comes from how deeply you want to collect all of the crystals. Either way, the 25 levels will take a good few hours, but replaying levels or making sure to explore every nook and cranny will extend that.
Arca’s Path subscribes to the ‘do one thing and do it well’ school of video game design, making it simple and intuitive to guide your ball through the steadily more complex and maze-like levels. It might lack some of the charm or adventurousness of other VR games released this year, but Arca’s Path is a wonderfully accessible VR game that’s incredibly easy to pick up and play.
Version tested: PSVR
Also available for Steam VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Gear VR, Vive Focus and Windows Mixed Reality