The jury’s still out on if the upcoming Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them movie will be a worthy addition to the world of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise, but its VR tie-in experience suggests good things, even if it’s a little underwhelming.
Fantastic Beasts could be considered a headlining app for Daydream View, out today. It was announced by Google itself at a press conference last month and is made by visual effects giant Framestore, which has other exciting goings on in VR right now. It’s a free download on the Google Play Store, and serves as a good introduction to the world of VR for inexperienced Potter fans, though VR veterans will make quick note of the limitations in both software and hardware.
The app plays out over several well-detailed environments. You start by heading into the suitcase of Newt Scamander, the movie’s protagonist, to find a sort of wizard’s zoo. He’s keeping several, for lack of better words, fantastical beasts inside the Tardis-like suitcase, and you’ll be able to summon three of them and interact with them. There’s the phoenix-like Thunderbird, a cross between an elephant and rhino named an Erumpent, and a… weird squid thing called the Graphorn.
To summon each you head to Scamander’s shack and perform a spell, which involves using the Daydream controller as a wand to trace out patterns that appear on-screen. You’ll then complete a small, simple puzzle, either mixing potions together in a specific order, moving blocks to align a drawing, or crushing plants together. You can then go outside and meet the animal you’ve summoned, perhaps feeding it or playing with it.
Framestore’s knack for stunning visuals is proudly on display here; each beast is meticulously detailed and wouldn’t look out of place in the movie itself. If the feature fiilm has as much imagination as these three monsters suggest it will be a treat for the eyes.
The trade-off is the sense of scale that these encounters provide. It never really feels like any of these beasts are in front of you, more like you’re looking at them in a 360 video, which I suspect is really the case given the visual fidelity. Honestly, I’d have happily traded the sheer detail seen in each animal for a better actual 3D effect. The horn on the Erumpent’s head at one point threatens to pierce you, but I didn’t get a sense that it was truly lingering over me. The Thunderbird stretched its wings, but I was not intimated in its majesty.
As someone that’s used to position-tracked controls, I also took issue with Fantastic Beast‘s representation of input. I’d been fine with the Daydream controller simply being a pointer in this world, but instead you see your wand in the hand you’re holding the device with. The position and movement of your hand rarely correlates with what you see on-screen, and it ended up distracting me more than tricking me into thinking I was holding a wizard’s wand. This is something Daydream developers will really need to consider if they want to maintain immersion in their experiences going forward.
To the untrained eye, the Fantastic Beasts VR app is a fun introduction to Daydream, but I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by it. It’s a fun showcase of what’s possible on Google’s new headset, but it flags up some of the major limitations too.