So this happened:
It may be unsurprising to learn that I spend approximately 90% of my waking life typing, crafting, and playing video games. It was, however, a surprise to me when I discovered to my chagrin that this amount of hand-based activity can cause a repetitive stress injury at age 31. I went to the doctor, and the conversation went like this:
DOCTOR: So how much do you do with your right hand?
ME: Well, I’m right-handed, so a lot. I type a lot for work. I do crafts with kids as part of my job. I sew. I play video games.
DOCTOR: How many hours a day do you play video games?
ME: Uuuuh…I don’t know. Three? Four?
DOCTOR: THAT IS TOO MANY HOURS. STOP IT.
Pictured: me “stopping it”.
Luckily for me, I discovered that it is absolutely possible to play Persona 5 with one hand. So I did that for about two months, waiting for my hand to heal. The doctor also told me to type as little as possible outside of work; hence the lack of posts. I mean, I’m not the most prolific of bloggers, but over two months is a little much even for me. However, my hands and I have advanced to the point that I have switched to using compression gloves rather than a brace.
Which are both more comfortable and more stylish.
It’s nice to be able to hold a controller normally once again! I appreciate my hands very much now, having had to go so long without using my dominant hand in a normal fashion.
It was excellent timing, actually: I was going to spend all of my gaming time playing Persona 5 from April onward anyway, so if I had to lose the use of my right hand, this was the time in which to do so. I am not, however, going to write a blog post about Persona 5. I really don’t think I need to. Everyone who follows any news about games has heard all about how awesome Persona 5 is. I agree completely. Persona 5 is an absolutely perfect RPG. I have enjoyed every single minute of it. The story, the presentation, the dungeons, the music, the mechanics: they are all perfect. Literally. The only bad thing I can think of to say about Persona 5 is that your fucking mom-cat makes you go to bed too early.
If you like JRPGs and you do not yet own Persona 5, what the hell is wrong with you? Remedy this shortcoming at once.
No, instead, let’s talk about the other kind of game I have been able to play one-handed: the VR game.
Boyfriend and I picked up one of these things during a T-Mobile deal this past Black Friday. Boyfriend was getting His First Smartphone (TM), and we decided to go big and get him a fancy-pants Samsung Galaxy 7. T-Moblie was running a deal that if you got a Galaxy 7 on contract with them on Black Friday, they’d send you a coupon for a free Samsung VR. These buggers cost about a hundred bux new, so I was all like YES PLZ. It was an enormous pain in the ass to redeem the coupon, and we didn’t end up getting the damn thing until six weeks later, but hey, it was FREE.
Unfortunately, it was also kind of an enormous pain in the ass to play. You snap your phone into the front like so:
This necessitates taking said phone out of the phone case that you most certainly keep it in because the damn thing is worth like 800 bux. You also better hope your phone is completely charged, because the VR games suck the battery bone dry much more quickly than one might expect, unless, of course, the phone overheats first. WHICH IT WILL.
All this being said, the experience of having an actual affordable VR experience in my own home would have been worth every bit of the considerable ass pain were it not for the fact that the default controls on this thing are absolute shit. This is your control pad:
I mean, I understand why you might want to design it like this from a manufacturing cost perspective. It’s really nice to have it all as one unit. But this requires you to play with your arm upraised, repeatedly poking the side of your face. It is comfortable for neither your arm nor your face. Boyfriend and I messed around with the headset a few times, but the controls were so frustrating and unsatisfying that we ended up just letting the thing languish about the apartment, lonely and unused. I kept half-intending to buy a Bluetooth controller, and I kept not bothering, because there wasn’t anything I desired to play so much that I wanted to drop fifty bux on a controller that I wouldn’t use for anything else.
And then Samsung released these:
Isn’t it cute? It’s got motion and touch controls, like a baby Wiimote or a decidedly inferior second-cousin to the Oculus Touch. However, it’s explicitly designed to work with the system, it’s cheaper than most decent Bluetooth gamepads, and it was slightly on sale during Amazon Prime Day, so I finally picked one up. This controller was exactly what the Samsung VR was lacking.
It’s not perfect, but it improves the VR experience to the point that I am willing to go through the complicated rigamarole of set up in order to play for the thirty to forty minutes I can get before the phone overheats. It pairs to the phone through Bluetooth. Well, at least it pairs sometimes. My primary issue with the way the controller functions is that there does not appear to be a way to pair (or re-pair) the controller while within the VR app itself. Instead, you have to remove the headset, take out the phone, open the Bluetooth settings, and pair the stupid thing before replacing the phone and rebooting the VR app. This issue aside, though, the controller is very functional and quite comfortable to hold. It does frequently require a recentering of the motion controls, but that’s a simple matter of holding down a button with your arm outstretched in front of you. This can be accomplished in-game at any time, although if you’re having to shoot at things quickly, it can really throw off your groove. It hasn’t greatly interfered with any of my gameplay, however.
I’ve been using my new controller to try out all kinds of games and demos that weren’t fun to play before, but I keep returning to the same three games, and if you have a Samsung VR and you haven’t tried these games, you are missing out.
Wands is a game about…wands, yes. Specifically the magic wand that you use as a steampunk wizard of some kind. Really, none of the premise here is well-explained, but it doesn’t really need explaining, does it? You are a wizard, you have a wand, you use it to fight other wizards.
A wizard needs spells, though, so first off you get to choose which of several spell modules you are going to load into your wand, because steampunk wizards only get five spells at a time. This is pretty straightforward; you grab a module, read its description, and then load it into your wand. Once done, you can head into your wizard basement to try out your spell modules on a hapless combat dummy. Once you grow bored of this (which you will, and quickly), it’s time to hop through your portal to go meet another wizard and duel the fuck out of them.
The portal will spit you out in one of several really beautiful locations to face off with a rival wizard. A match consists of a few moments of frenetic teleportation around the space, turning your head wildly to catch a glimpse of your opponent, flinging spells at them as quickly as possible before they teleport away, and attempting to dodge or flee the spells they have lobbed at you. It’s stressful, fast-paced, and fun.
You choose your spells from a wheel with one button and shoot them with another. Before the VR controller, this was almost impossible to do with accuracy and required a great deal of desperate fumbling on the side of your face, inevitably resulting in you picking the wrong spell, cussing very loudly, and disturbing your long-suffering boyfriend. With the VR controller, it actually feels like you’re wielding a wand, allowing you to fulfill all the Harry Potter dueling fantasies that you absolutely had after reading Chamber of Secrets.
The biggest problem with this game, though, is that it’s multiplayer-only, and the last two times I’ve tried to play, I’ve had to wait two to five minutes for an opponent. Play at the wrong time, and you probably won’t be able to find an opponent at all. I don’t know if this is a server problem or a symptom of a user base that is too small, but it’s annoying. You can only zap that test dummy in your wizard basement for like a minute before it gets tedious, and that is literally the only other thing to do. I know this is a free game, but I really would appreciate an AI opponent with whom I could have practice matches. Still, it’s worth a download, because FREE. Also, if you start playing, maybe I’ll actually manage to get a match in the next time I boot up the app.
THIS. GAME. IS. GORGEOUS.
Land’s End is a very simple puzzle exploration game. It’s been wonderful to play while my hand has been out of commission, because you simply turn your head and look at things to move and manipulate the environment around you. It’s perfectly intuitive. The puzzles are relatively simple, at least in the levels I’ve played so far, but it doesn’t matter, because everything is so beautiful and magical. Come for the puzzles, stay for the atmosphere.
This is the sort of thing that VR is for — the ability to transport yourself into another world and explore it. Definitely play this one with headphones. The sound design is amazing, and the calls of seabirds and the crash of water add so much to the immersion. Of course, if you do wear headphones, your boyfriend might sneak up on you and take videos. Fair warning.
Land’s End is like 3 bux. Worth every penny.
Finally, Smash Hit: the game I cannot stop playing. OMG, people, THIS GAME. This game makes owning a VR headset worth it. This game makes setting up the headset worth it. This game is the most fun I’ve ever had in a mobile game. Period.
The premise is simple: you smash shit. Really, the devs could stand to add that second “s” to the title, because it’s perfectly apt.
I guess it’s technically a rail shooter, but since it’s in VR, it’s the most exciting on-rail shooter that has ever existed. You fly through the levels, turning your head to aim and hitting any button on the controller to shoot metal balls at panes, pillars, and other obstacles made of glass, which shatter in a satisfying and physics-appropriate manner. If you don’t smash an obstacle in time, you smash into it, and you must forfeit some of your balls. You can get more balls by smashing blue pyramids, diamonds, and stars, but if you run out of balls, it’s game over.
This gloriously simple premise has entertained me for hours. Part of the attraction may be that I don’t have easy access to any roller coasters now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, and this game’s forward momentum, sense of vertigo, and exciting twists and turns in some ways scratch that itch. I regularly play this game until the phone overheats. I run out of balls over and over and restart from the last checkpoint with zero sense of frustration, because playing the level over is just as fun as playing a new level. When I finish all of the levels, I will probably go back to the beginning and play them all again. At 3 bux, this game is absolute VR necessity.
Now that I’m done praising it, I’m off to play it. I’m never going to be able to smash enough shit in Smash Hit.
…and yes, I was waiting for the whole post to make that terrible joke. You’re welcome.