Getting off the couch and getting active are two things inherently at odds with gaming. Jogging through Green Hill Zone? Calisthenics with the Witcher? That isn’t really how it works – though Geralt has the dour approach to make for a pretty good personal trainer – but the renewed interest in VR is aiming to change all that.
VR is all about getting off your arse and getting in motion, and in amongst the rhythm-action champions of Beat Saber or Pistol Whip, there are a few more ‘serious’ endeavours that put intentional exercise on the agenda. Wait! Stop! Please don’t go…
BoxVR is one such offering, and it brings an array of boxercise programmes with the simple aim of getting your heart pumping, lungs filling, and calories burning, all from the comfort of your own living room.
Straight off the bat, it’s obvious that it achieves that, and you don’t have to be Apollo Creed or Tyson Fury to get the most out of it. If you can make a fist with each hand, and throw it at different angles, then you’ve got the basis of what Box VR is going to ask of you. It’s also going to have you blocking, ducking, and slipping at times as well, keeping you on your toes and keeping your body moving. You might be wondering; is this a real workout? And the answer is an emphatic yes!
There’s currently fifty-seven different workouts to choose from, with more set to be added to the game, ranging from a few minutes to a whole hour, and which cover you from beginner through to seasoned pro. Each of them comes from a different personal trainer, though it’s a shame that there’s no interaction or overarching difference between their workouts once you’ve clicked past the title and their smiling face. A little faux-aggressive or faux-friendly shouting at you might have you trying even harder.
Every workout sees icons moving towards you at pace and you either have to hit, block or evade them. Like Beat Saber’s dual colour set-up, you’ve got differently coloured boxing gloves – one blue, one pink – and you just have to match the same coloured icon to the same coloured fist. While that’s simple enough, directional markers have you alter your punches, throwing in uppercuts and hooks, and then stringing them together into pulse-raising combos.
If a shield is coming, you need to raise your guard, if a neon orange block is coming, you need to duck or slip out of the way. Generally speaking, that’s all there is to it, but BoxVR does more than enough to have you sweating profusely into that expensive hat you’re wearing. Lovely.
Through it all, BoxVR tracks your data, aiming to become a regular feature in your weekly exercise schedule. You can set targets for calorie loss or minutes spent, and each workout scores your and then build up a real picture of how you’re improving in order to keep you motivated. There’s also a daily fifteen minute workout to help keep things fresh, making BoxVR one of the most complete virtual workout experiences I’ve ever seen. If you add in a separate fitness tracker or smart watch, you’ve got the basis for your very own fitness programme.
Every workout brings with it a fist-pumping music track, and with over 150 to choose from there’s a decent selection of hip-hop, pop, rock and dance to cover all tastes. At first I thought it was a shame that there no big names on the soundtrack, but BoxVR doesn’t need them, with a great line-up of quality music throughout. I had plenty of fun listening to whichever track a workout presented to me, and you might even find yourself searching some of them out for a time where you’re not wearing virtual boxing gloves.
Besides the pre-made workouts you can also take all of those music tracks and roll them into a workout of your own, altering the difficulty and length of time, and giving you the option of really personalising your experience. There’s also a multiplayer option where you can tackle workouts with another player, aiming for the highest score, but sadly at the time of review there wasn’t anyone looking for a boxing battle. If you’ve got some VR-owning chums that want to lose a few pounds together, this could be a good fit.
Is it going to turn you into Muhammad Ali? Probably not, but it will provide you with the broad mechanics, movements, and fitness that you’d need for boxing or MMA. As someone who’s trained in MMA for well over a decade – to purely middling effect, if I’m being honest – I was initially a bit disappointed by the way BoxVR wanted you to throw your punches. However, once I’d calibrated my virtual gloves, and got accustomed to what it was asking of me, I felt much more comfortable with each progressive workout. From the point of view of getting the right technique, it probably leaves something to be desired – you can’t really see the form you’re throwing punches in after all – but it’s fantastic as a basis for further training or as a way to improve your fitness at home.
Any other minor quibbles are ultimately limitations of the format. Playing on the Oculus Quest, the inside-out tracking of the headset means struggles at times to follow anything directly below your chin, so you might find that the game won’t fully recognise the way you hold your guard if coming from previous martial arts or boxing training. Again, it’s about understanding what BoxVR, and in this case the Quest, are expecting of you, and you can soon get round it by opening your guard out just a little.
This is a platform that FitXR can, and have already begun to build upon. While they’ve added more music tracks and new trainer workouts, they could really do with adding warm up and cool down options. The first few times I launched into BoxVR, I did so without any real awareness of how intensive it was going to be and paid for it the next day. Given how good everything else is, it’s the one thing that I think would really round the package out.