Paper Valley might be best saved for the return of winter rather than diving in at the start of summer. This is a game that wants you to feel its wind brush past your cheeks as the sun bathes your body. It exists to make you close your eyes, breathe in clean air and catch the scent carried from its swaying grass. In colder days, I can picture this being a soothing escape to sunnier seasons, though in the heat of the moment it’s more an ironic reminder of VR limitations.
You can’t judge a game by the weather, though, and Paper Valley deserves a look whether or not the sun is out. In Vitei Backroom’s Oculus exclusive, you take a virtual tour of ancient ruins, restoring them to life by throwing paper planes at targets. As you make your way through levels, lifeless meadows and dingy caves are born anew as color seeps back into your surroundings with every successful shot.
Breezy doesn’t even begin to cover it; the art style is blisteringly vibrant, drowning you in the dark, leafy greens of trees and brilliant orange rocks that you can almost feel the heat bouncing off of. Your arsenal of aircraft twist and sway around you, eagerly waiting to be plucked from the air as if being selected for a sports team. After each level you return to a central hub world where a stream quenches the thirst of an enormous tree. If the game were any lighter you might start to float.
It takes a perfect storm for Paper Valley to really shine, though. It’s a game that’s only as good as its last target. Quite often you’ll find your flow, flicking planes across chasms and steering them through forests with just a tilt of the hand (motion controls help direct planes after they’ve left your hand). In these moments it’s more like an impossible sightseeing tour and a direct response to those yearning for VR content that doesn’t involve killing something. It’s to be inhaled, held, and then let go in a breath of fresh air.
But it’s not without its frustrations. Every so often you’ll encounter a tricky target that takes more trouble to hit than it should. It’s often when they’re high up and nailing the right trajectory and force of a throw becomes a painstaking exercise in trial and error, but it also doesn’t help that the motion controls are entirely mandatory and always on. A perfect shot can be ruined if you let your arm continue to swing after letting go of a plane. If you could, say, hold the grip button to activate motion controls, that might alleviate some of the frustrations, but I couldn’t find that option.
There are different plane types to help you, though. The best are the blue-tipped kind, which fly straight as an arrow and at similar speeds, getting you out of tough spots with ease. Without these power-ups, I may well have ended up losing my patience with some of the game’s trials.
But, even when it’s all going to plan, you can’t shake the feeling that Paper Valley is missing something. Perhaps it’s the lack of a narrative to pull you through its two or so hours; ancient ruins make for popular destinations in VR, and there’s not much here to separate these crumbled remains from the rest. Perhaps it’s the fact that, despite bringing environments back to life, there’s little reason to spend much time in them. The game steers you from one target to the next without ever giving you need to catch your breath; aside from the odd hidden target there’s no real reward for studying your surroundings and they’re forgotten as soon as you’ve left them.
Or perhaps it really is those remaining barriers between the real and virtual that leave you to only picture the sensations that this paradise presents. As serenely pleasant as your surroundings are, you never truly feel like you’ve stepped into this world like you do in, say, the bustling vegetation of Frontier VR.
For all it’s airy goodness, Paper Valley is just a little too light. There is an appreciated peacefulness to be discovered here as you send planes on their way, but the game constantly feels like it’s aiming for more enlightening sensations that never break through. I was happy to spend two hours with it before returning to more traditional VR realms, but the memories of its sun-kissed landscape won’t linger long.