A few things are important when it comes to making a good, or even great, VR game. For me, I look for two things: immersion and fun. I don’t play VR games like I play anything else. I don’t expect to be in a VR game for hours at a time. But I do want a sense of fun while I’m playing that will make me come back and show the game to other people. Sparc had a good initial sense of immersion but it was never fun and ultimately kills the feeling of being in a virtual space.
Sparc is a virtual reality game that takes handball and dodgeball and tries to make a competitive virtual sport out of it. The goal of the game is to throw your ball at your opponent and hit their character to score points. At the end of a set time limit, a winner is declared. The game also features several challenge rooms to test out your ability to hit targets using different throwing techniques as well as your ability to dodge and score. While the game sounds fairly shallow, and it is, the challenge rooms are where most of the fun lies.
The immersion for the game was easy. It was like stepping into a version of Tron that involved a weird take on dodgeball. The game’s interface brought you in early on, mixing with the virtual space to make it feel like you just stepped into this video game world. So, at first, I was in. I experienced what I wanted to in a VR game, that feeling of putting on the headset and being somewhere else, a digital space.
Like any new game, I didn’t know what to do so I opted to check out the tutorial, which turns out it was incredibly necessary to play this game. The tutorial does an excellent job of explaining the ins and outs of the game to prepare you for the online play or even the challenge rooms. However, the tutorial ends up crushing some of my expectations from the game and leads to a downhill slope. The game is much slower than I anticipated.
Every preview and gameplay video that I had seen of Sparc before getting a chance to play it, made it seem like it was a fast-paced, competitive game. This is not the case and the game is terrible, terribly slow. Facing off against another player online is a waiting game that tries to build anticipation of your next move but never quite gets there. Even if both characters are only standing about 15 yards apart it’s just waiting for your ball to return or waiting for the other person to throw and try to fake you out or you waiting for the right time to throw your ball after your opponent has opened themselves up.
The lack of speed spoils the competitiveness of the game. Nothing feels urgent, nothing feels close and the game never feels like a sport. Which, clearly, is the intention of the game, to try and bring a new virtual sport to our VR libraries. The game ends up feeling more like a hobby or activity two friends are doing on the weekend and that can be fine for some but it’s just, dull. If anything, I hope developers can look at Sparc as a starting point for their VR sports games and say, “okay, how can we take this base and make it fun?”
There could easily be an American football VR game, where you take the role of the Quarter Back and call a game or play as a goalie in Hockey or Soccer. Take these sports that already exist and make them into a fun VR experience instead of trying to make the next virtual sport just magically happen.
Another thing that holds this game back is the inaccuracy of the motion controls. The motion controls are far from perfect in most VR games. They’re jittery and all over the place but in Sparc, they can be pretty random with how your moves react when you’re trying to make a play on the ball. An attempt at making the same motions to produce the same results of how your ball will fly across the field can end being completely different every time. The trajectory of how the ball flies doesn’t seem to be consistent with each play. The best way to see this annoyance in action is to check out the challenge rooms.
For me, the challenge rooms were the most fun of the entire game. The downside is, if you’re not much on improving your completion time for a challenge, you’re not going to have much fun here. Even though I liked the challenges the most, I didn’t go back to try and beat my scores or get a higher place on the scoreboard. I would complete a challenge and move on to a harder one. The rooms can be difficult but there is a sense of accomplishment once you’re able to complete them. This is easily the most rewarding part of the game and the area I had the most fun in.
There’s not much to Sparc, honestly, you’re looking at a tutorial and challenge rooms and then it’s off to duke it out online. If you’re looking for a deeper VR experience or more than a handful of challenges to complete, you should look elsewhere.