Spoiler warning for people that haven’t traveled to Middle-Earth: Do you remember that bit in Fellowship of the Ring where poor old Boromir fights to save Merry and Pippin? Exhausted from a long journey, breath fading with every swing and body screaming from the fatal crossbow bolts lodged into his torso? Remember how he bravely fought until his last moments with the kind of determination that ultimately made him a hero?
That’s how Paulo’s Wing made me feel.
Never mind the dreamy, Tilt Brush-made visuals or the cutesy, impish enemies; this is a punishing VR sword battler. It’s the kind of wave-based survival game that needs you on your toes and willing to dive left and right to avoid incoming attacks, while putting every announce of strength you have into every single swing of your sword. It’s a grueling, unforgiving slog against a sea of foes, but it sure is a lot of fun.
As mentioned above, Paulo’s Wing uses art entirely made within Google’s Tilt Brush. We’ve seen some incredible things come out of that app over the past few years but this is something else; a complete VR experience that’s been crafted by someone that’s clearly mastered those tools, resulting in a vibrant, cartoon-ish world. It’s almost like you’ve stepped into the cel-shaded world of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (though the visuals aren’t quite that smooth), showcasing the bright new possibilities Tilt Brush presents for VR world-building.
In one hand you’ll hold a sword and in the other a shield. In each wave a number of enemies both big and small will advance towards you, occasionally spitting purple-ish balls of fire that will chip away at your health bar. You can either block them with your shield, or duck out of the way with room scale, but this is definitely one of those experiences where you’ll want to be sure your surroundings are clear; there’s no time to stop and make sure you’re not about to hit your TV just out of the chaperone. Definitely wear Vive’s wrist straps too, on that note.
Most of the time you’ll have to wait for enemies to get close to bash them with your sword. Simply tapping them with the blunt end won’t do; you need to hit as hard as possible with the sharp edge to cause the maximum among of damage, otherwise you’ll have to take multiple swings at an enemy. It’s an obvious attempt to ensure you don’t overcome them with ease, but it’s also hard to judge the angle you need to hit foes with, especially as your stylized sword is so thick. I would hammer the controller down on top of heads, but only do minimal damage or be blocked at times.
And I do mean hammer; Paulo’s Wing turns frantic fast. Tracking where enemies are coming from, where fire is coming from, and who you can hit becomes mentally taxing even by the third wave and over the course of a long play session I became utterly exhausted, maybe even letting out the rare expletive as I swung my way to vicious victory. Though it has some frustrations, Paulo’s Wing can be an outright thrill in this way, getting me to shake my head from side-to-side, scanning the environment at all times and throwing my shield this way and that in defense. It’s punishing, but you do have a little help.
Upgradable abilities can be improved between lives, giving you a stronger chance of getting further the more you play. These range from attacks like a beam that pushes enemies back to defense moves like a bigger shield or a wall of light blocking enemies, and even the chance to heal yourself. You build up a meter to use these abilities by hitting enemies as hard as possible (further adding to the importance of being active). These powers do give you a reason to keep going, as upgrading them gives you a genuine sense of progression.
Plus, they’re essential to besting a pretty brutal boss fight, which alternates between melee mash up and one of VR’s first bullet hell games, where attacks are thrown at you with little consideration for how tired you might be.
Paulo’s Wing is a small miracle, a VR game that shows not just how intense and active these experiences can be, but also how you can create a world with the same technology and a simple set of tools. It’s frantic gameplay isn’t the most original, but it’s a strong reminder that wave based games can be fun when not entirely derivative. If you’re looking for some simple sword swinging fun, don’t miss out.