Fugl is a sandbox game where you create the story, playing as a shape-shifting bird. Read our full-review to find out what we thought.
Imagine dipping into an alternate world to find that everything is made of voxels and that you no longer have hands. Playing Fugl in VR (currently exclusive to the Oculus Home store on PC) is a bit like that. It only takes about five minutes inside of Fugl’s world for dissociation to kick in and for the resulting wanderlust to peel you from reality. And on that note, “wanderlust” is certainly the word that I’d use to describe it.
The entire premise here is that you pilot a shapeshifting bird through infinitely generated rolling terrain. But instead of playing with the environment, you really only get to zoom through it in an entirely hands-off sort of way. All while you unlock different bird forms that resemble the other animals you find wandering aimlessly about the wilderness. That may all sound rather droll at face value, but I personally loved the modesty of it all and I could see myself returning to Fugl for unguided meditation and mindfulness practice.
When you enter the main menu, you can pick from a list of metamorphs you’ve unlocked and 10 different themed environments to explore, and then all you need to do is hit the Start button and off you go. Everything after that is up to you, and you can spend as much or as little time in any one environment as you please.
This is where I want to say that Fugl reminds me of Nature Treks VR in more than a few ways, including layout of course, but also in atmosphere. From the moment I embarked on my flight, ambient noises from other birds and animals echoed out across the crags and canyons as the musical score began to swell. In its best moments, everything hit my lizard brain just right and I felt like Fugl’s composition of sensory elements ascended its overall homogeneity in a way that was difficult to forget or escape.
I now want to address the mixture of circumstances that end up making Fugl “work” as well as it does for mindful relaxation in VR. Fugl wasn’t originally a VR game and it’s not even really a “game” at all. It was never designed with VR interactions in mind, nor was it retrofitted to compensate for the existence of actual hands in a VR environment. It is quite literally as if the developer dropped the original game into VorpX with custom controller bindings for the Oculus Touch controllers. And while that may sound like a complete insult, it isn’t.
Fugl runs at your own pace and there are no consequences for, say, missing a lunge and crashing your bird into the side of a tree. You can fly indefinitely as the planetscape populates in front of you, and you will always find new nooks and crannies to dive into. Furthermore, you might choose to chase down, meet, and unlock each of the several animal species. But that’s certainly a personal goal rather than a conventional one. There’s no formal reward for doing anything in Fugl other than achieving intrinsic satisfaction from experiencing new details.
And Fugl works because everything you’ll ever do inside of it is no more complicated in practice than what you could achieve with a NES controller. While I’d argue that the controls aren’t necessarily intuitive and do require some practice to get the hang of — resulting in many cases where I’d divebomb and crash where I meant to lunge — again, Fugl imposes no consequences for crashing or losing momentum.
Final Say: Worth Seeing
Fugl in VR is a shameless port of its original flat release in 2017. It never goes further than being a random terrain generator with tight flying controls and some voxelized animal skins to view and unlock. However, that’s precisely why it works. It seeks, singularly, to fulfill the role of a living piece of artwork. If you load up Fugl and simply begin flying in one direction without expectations, you’re more likely to let your mind off the hook so that it can soak up the available bounty of atmospheric, abstract beauty. Simple and carefree, Fugl clicks when you’re soaring high above the valleys below and the only words your brain can drum up (at all) are “Well, this is nice.”