Getting fit in VR has proved to be a pleasant and unexpected side-effect of having fun with a headset on. Lisbon-based Virtuleap hopes fans will get their brains in similar shape with its new app, Enhance VR.
Launched in full today across PC VR headsets and Oculus Quest sideloading platform, SideQuest, Enhance VR is a little like a VR version of Nintendo’s Brain Training games.
Some of these games are familiar exercises, like memorizing a set of highlighted patterns on blocks to then recreate, or matching pairs of cards together. But a handful also take real advantage of VR in intriguing ways. Balance has you catching the correct amount of different-colored balls on virtual plates and then balancing them as you collect others, for example.
React, meanwhile, is reminiscent of Beat Saber; shapes of various colors approach from afar and you must bat them into their corresponding portals while ignoring any that don’t have a given place. There’s even a pretty solid spatial audio location game that has you hunting your invisible robotic companion using only the sounds it makes. You can see how the multi-tasking micro-management of most of the game’s core mechanics might help put your brain through its paces. Even if you disregard the claimed benefits, though, the games are still fairly entertaining. There’s even an Overcooked-style pizza-making game in the collection.
These six games are just the start, according to Virtuleap CEO Amir Bozorgzadeh, who says the app will add two to three new games “every couple of months” with the aim of reaching 12 – 15 in total by the end of the year.
“Each game is designed by a neuroscientist and either inspired by cognitive science principles or translated from a real cognitive science exercise (e.g. Stroop Test) that is commonly used by the scientific community or for rehabilitation programs,” Bozorgzadeh explains. Earlier this year, the company released a white paper on its work building these experiences.
As with other services, Enhance will track your performance, too. The full version of the app includes an ‘Enhance Performance Index’ scoring system, which company representatives say is built upon months of beta testing, though you need to play 30 sessions with the platform before it will really start charting your progress. Virtuleap, too, is touting partnerships with Pacific Brain Health Center and the National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University to try and validate the app’s benefits (though you might’ve hoped that would have been arranged before full launch).
One obvious question is how retention will hold up with Enhance. Similar applications on traditional screens thrive on their simplicity; perhaps you’ll steal five minutes of mental gymnastics while on a train with your phone, or over a coffee break on your Nintendo Switch. Pulling on a headset, even one as simple and instant as the Oculus Quest, requires a lot more effort. Bozorgzadeh, however, thinks the pros far outweigh the cons.
“What screen-based brain training apps lack is the involvement of the body,” he reasons. “VR, on the other hand, triggers the autonomic nervous system, vestibular balance system, and proprioception into believing that the experience is real, which stands to take cognitive assessment and training to the next level and make the prospect of ‘far transfer’ possible, i.e. so that brain training actually works in enhancing your daily life activities like remembering your grocery list or doing your taxes.”
Enhance VR costs $7.99 on SideQuest, the Rift store and Viveport. It’s also coming to SteamVR soon and Virtuleap has submitted it for official review on the Oculus Store also.