I watch as the mechanical gears slowly grind my opponent out of existence. Without skipping a beat, I grab a second adversary and toss his body out over a hundred foot dropoff. The last one though, the last one gets me. After landing a flurry of wild blows, it grabs me by the scruff of my neck and launches me over the railing. In the face of such a gruesome display my reaction might surprise you. I laugh. I laugh a lot.
Laughing is something you’ll find yourself doing quite a bit of when playing Gang Beasts, the indy-hit multiplayer brawler originally from the delightfully unique Boneloaf studios and published by the equally whimsical Double Fine. In this game, you control one of several brightly colored, highly flexible, ragdoll-esque avatars and proceed to beat the living tar out of anything you see in front of you.
An arena fighter in a similar vein as Super Smash Brothers, your goal here in Gang Beasts to either toss your opponent out of one of the game’s several playing fields, or use a stage hazard to otherwise wipe them out of competition.
Gang Beats originally debuted on PC, Mac and Linux platforms in 2014. Today, however, it is making its debut on virtual reality platforms for the very first time with a port for the Oculus Rift. This port, which Boneloaf produced with the help of experienced VR studio Coatsink (Esper 1 and 2), resembles its source material almost identically, but it also gets a few interesting boosts by virtue of its new medium.
You actually play the game by moving around the arena and using a combination of triggers, bumpers, and face buttons on the Xbox One controller for Oculus Rift to manipulate your characters arms to hit, punch, headbutt, grab, and toss your opponents around.
Now let’s get the obvious out of the way right now: Gang Beasts is a weird game. There’s simply no getting around it. Tiny, jiggling, play-doh men aren’t exactly what come to mind when you think “instant classic.” This is fair, and this is true. Gang Beasts is not a classic game. It’s not even a great game. Heck, it’s sometimes hard to tell if this is even a good game in the traditional sense of the term. What it is, however, is a serious amount of fun.
Gang Beasts was originally designed as a couch co-op experience. This means that you and a few friends would gather around one computer and proceed to hoot, holler, giggle, guffaw, and otherwise dissolve into hilarities throughout the battle. In order to make up for the isolating nature of VR, the Rift version of Gang Beasts motivated Boneloaf to include online multiplayer for the very first time.
Person vs Person combat is still the epicenter of the game, but the switch to online matchmaking is noticeable. It will never not be fun to pull off an incredible last minute grapple and send your opponent plummeting to his or her doom, but that wonderful sensation is somewhat diminished when you’re unable to physically turn to that vanquished foe and politely invite them to go suck an egg (that’s right I’m a 1950’s detective now.) The core gameplay that has earned Gang Beasts a cult following is still present on the Rift, and it’s still tremendous fun, but in an online-only world the secret sauce tastes just a little less sweet.
This mitigation would perhaps be worth it if the introduction of VR was enough to make up for it. Sadly this is not the case. Playing Gang Beasts inside an Oculus Rift does provide slightly increased levels of immersion, but at the end of the day you’re still just looking down on the action from above — which is exactly what you did in the 2D version as well.
This “make my face the camera” approach is quickly becoming one of VR’s most overused, and unappealing, tropes. Some games, like Lucky’s Tale, pull off the technique beautifully. Others, like Feral Rites or Chronos, often leave you wondering why these games are even in VR at all. Sadly, Gang Beasts VR falls more into the latter category than the former.
Almost all of the things that made Gang Beasts enjoyable on the PC are present here in VR as well. The characters are still brilliantly unique, the sounds still hilarious, the arenas still engaging, and the controls still tight. However, the absence of that special couch co-op magic, and the uninspired usage of VR, keep this VR port from rising above, or even to, the level of its ancestor.
If you’re looking for a fiendishly fun multiplayer experience on your Rift then look no further. You will not be disappointed by picking up Gang Beasts VR. But if you’re looking for anything other than some fun competition and a good laugh, or if you’ve already played it outside of VR, then your time and money may be better spent elsewhere despite the fun to be had.