VR games are usually totally focused on the single player action – it’s all about the person in the headset getting all the fun. There have been a few exceptions to this over the last couple of years, but they’re few and far between. Along comes Smash Hit Plunder from Triangular Pixels and published by Perp Games, a co-op adventure game that might be best described as Minecraft meets Funhouse with heavy dose of Baldur’s Gate. Promising to let gamers loose to destroy everything in sight whether they’re in the headset or not, can it offer up more than just flinging digital objects at textured walls?
The premise is very simple – you’ve inherited your father’s castle after his death, though it’s come with a large amount of debt. Whilst money is owed you’ve only got limited access to areas of the castle, so it’s time to figure out how to pay the piper. The best way of earning cash is to plunder the areas you can get into by smashing every inanimate object you can or hitting anything that moves. Treasure Hunt is effectively the story mode where progression is based on earning enough in each arena to get crowns (with a max of three awarded), and this is supplemented by Scavenger Hunt which asks you to track down specific items within a time limit. Working your way through these opens up access to the Multiplayer and Free Run modes as well as new and different areas to visit.
To get the most out of the game you’ve got to understand that Smash Hit Plunder is a bit of a split personality – half is a first person interactivity fest where the VR player explores a medieval style set of environments, grabbing every object in view using the PS Move controllers and breaking them to gain treasure. The other half is like an old skool dungeon crawler where the second screen player runs around helping out the person in VR by moving things around and assisting in attacking enemies. There always needs to be a VR gamer, it can’t be played without that, but having a second person assisting in the levels is huge help in getting to the scores needed to max out the crowns at the end.
This is definitely the unique aspect of Smash Hit Plunder – the interplay between the VR unit and the second screen. When playing cooperatively it’s enjoyable to see your buddy nimbly running around the room, chucking things and creating a mess of coins and jewels for you to vacuum up. The second screen player’s view might feel restricted, but it’s filled with information that’s worth sharing like the time limit, so a degree of communication is useful… even if that’s apologising for stunning your friend by accidentally dropping a vase on them. If you’re on your own though it’s only a matter of pausing and checking the info screen to see how long is left and whether you’re getting anywhere near the target for the level.
Venture out of co-op and there are two multiplayer modes to try out – Jewel Duel and Poltergeist Panic. The former is a race to find a gem within a room and once found, hold onto it whilst a net is knitted to throw it into. It’s frantic and tends to favour the VR player who’s taller and can attract objects from a distance meaning you can pluck the jewel straight out of your opponents arms. The latter has the VR player taking the rooms apart to find gems and using them to release ghosts trapped in cages, and the second screen player stopping them. The catch is that the VR player is invisible and can only be detected with magic or through the interactions with the environment. It’s fun and can be quite devious though this time around the second screen player has the advantage with the easier movement.
From a presentation point of view it feels odd in the initial stages with the voxel heavy style, but it’s interspersed with numerous higher res models that stand out though don’t jar with the aesthetic. Once you’re in a level picking things up and throwing them around it all makes sense though and it’s surprisingly detailed. It’s an interesting look that lends itself to the resolution in the PSVR headset and really does take away a lot of the usual “screen door” effect. Text is done simply so that it reduces the chances of blurring, and that’s fairly crucial given that there are no legible words spoken by your guides.
Coupled with the design of the visuals there’s the significant amount of thought that’s gone into the locomotion management in VR. There’s pretty much every combination of option available depending on how comfortable you are with FPS movement. Smooth motion, graduated turning, darkening of the screen and static dust mites all combine to bring one of the most accessible ways of eliminating motion sickness I think I’ve come across. It works really well and should be a benchmark for VR games in the future.
It’s not without a few issues not least being the Move controls which need a wave left and right to rotate and a click to teleport. With so much focus on reducing motion sickness it would have been nice to have an option for switching to the DualShock and using standard FPS movement. You can use the DualShock but it has exactly the same control method as the wands, and honestly doesn’t feel as connected to the throwing mechanics. There are also a couple of bits that need tightening up like the messages that promote being on the top of leaderboards even though they can’t be found anywhere, and it can be tricky at times to work out what needs to be done within the game modes.
However, there are some great touches that make you smile a lot. Each time you try to look behind you there’s your cowl that gets in the way; selecting the levels is done by cranking a scroll, dropping a dagger, and looking into a magic mirror; and each time you pay off Mordred you get to sign a cheque with a virtual quill. It oozes distinction and charm, encourages messy, consequence free play, and it’s satisfying when you’ve worked out the knack for a level and nailed the plunder score. It won’t keep you entertained forever once the main modes are complete, but Smash Hit Plunder offers up a different type of challenge to other VR titles and is definitely worth teaming up with a friend to get stuck in to.
A PSVR review copy of Smash Hit Plunder was provided by Triangular Pixels PR team, and the game is available now for around £25. You can also hear our EGX 2018 interview about the development of the game here.