[VR Game Review] Windlands: The Mario 64 of Virtual Reality
That may sound nuts at first, but hear me out. While Lucky’s Tale has many of the conventions of Mario 64 like coins, man eating plants, entrances to subterranean sections of the level and so on, it isn’t open world. The levels are linear, even if their design does much to disguise it.
It’s much more like Crash Bandicoot, right down to Lucky’s moveset. There’s just one goal per level, though you can replay it in time trial or “find the red coins” mode, this pales in comparison to the much more varied, themed missions in Mario 64.
What made Mario 64 magical wasn’t that it was a 3D platformer on powerful new hardware, but that it realized the promise of free, unchaperoned exploration of 3D worlds, where before the computing power to do that wasn’t widely attainable for the average consumer. When you sat down with your new N64, plopped in the Mario 64 cartridge and started the game, you were (after the intro) confronted with a totally free, open ended experience.
Windlands is, structurally, much more similar to Mario 64 than Lucky’s Tale. It’s also visually similar in the sense that it’s relatively low def, faceted polygons and basic textures. You can jump unusually high, you can double jump off walls, there’s all sorts of acrobatic techniques without even getting into the stuff you can do with the grappling hooks.
But more importantly, you start out in a hub world from which, by collecting the blue triangles (stars/shines of this game) you can unlock access to more and more worlds. The only difference is that you go through magical gates instead of paintings. Thereafter you can visit any of the worlds you’ve unlocked at will, as each contains multiple blue triangles to collect, as well as other hidden collectables.
It doesn’t confine you to a corridor, there is minimal story too. It just says “See those glowing things? You need to get them. How you go about it and in what order is your own business.” Think about how many Mario 64 levels were focused around climbing to the top of something to get a star. “How the fuck am I gonna get up there?” is the entire driving force behind the gameplay. You can see it, but how do you reach it?
I definitely got the “oh wow, this is a whole new world I am paralyzingly free to explore any way I want” feeling from Windlands that defined Mario 64. Not so much from Lucky’s Tale. That’s not to say Lucky’s Tale isn’t a fun, charming game, but the Mario 64 comparison doesn’t fly with me. They successfully copied many of the tropes and gameplay feel from Mario titles, but lost sight of what made Mario 64 a truly revolutionary and memorable game.
Windlands currently utilizes artificial locomotion on the Rift, but can use the motion controller wands of the Vive. It is by far a more compelling game with motion controls, though support will be added to the Oculus version when Oculus Touch drops. It’s plenty comfortable as-is. You might have nausea issues, though I haven’t. Various comfort options are available in the menu if you begin feeling queasy.
At just $20, Windlands is easy to recommend. I’d also go so far as to call it the ideal title to introduce newbies to VR. If I had my way, it would have been the pack-in, instead of Lucky’s Tale. Don’t get me wrong, Lucky’s Tale is a wonderfully charming game, but it doesn’t have that mind blowing feeling of being launched unprepared into a whole new realm of limitless freedom which you can explore however you see fit. I give Windlands a 9/10.
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