My first trip up The Tower took 45 minutes that I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.
At a time which I’m finding myself increasingly rooted to the spot when playing in VR, this short little adventure from Headroom.one reminded me of the joys of the physicality of the medium, much in the same way Superhot VR did when it launched last year.
In The Tower, available now on the Oculus Rift, you stand on a conveyor belt that ascends a sprawling complex of ancient buildings with traps littered along the path. Your goal is simple; avoid the many perils on your way to the top, and try and get there as quickly as possible with as few deaths as possible. It’s a little like the active brilliance of Triangular Pixels’ Unseen Diplomacy, but it manages to circumnavigate that game’s claustrophobic confines for something that gives you a better sense of progression.
Though comparatively small in scale to other VR games, there’s a budding sense of adventure and journey to The Tower. You start by emerging from a cave at the base of the buildings. From here you can see the gauntlet laid down right in front of you; the course winds and weaves its way up through the buildings, reaching further than you can see. It’s truly an epic sight, and even then I didn’t fully comprehend the trials and tribulations that lay ahead.
Avoiding obstacles in The Tower is a little complex. Simply ducking is easy enough, but you’ll need to be careful when dodging from side-to-side, as leaning too far one way or the other will send you falling off the conveyor belt. If you die you’ll start back at the nearest checkpoint, and a blood splatter will appear where you previously met your end.
You’ll probably also need to stretch. In my 45 minute ascent I was regularly throwing myself to the ground, quickly hopping one way to the other, and leaning in awkward positions. Clearing your room space is essential, because you’ll need the peace of mind to take full confidence in the steps and movements you make. I can’t tell you how many times I crawled into a table leg Rift-first.
If you’ve got the space, though, The Tower offers some of the most exciting VR gameplay I’ve seen of late. At one point I found myself laying flat on the floor, praying I was low enough to avoid a saw blade before quickly picking myself up to dance around darts that were being shot at me. The game requires guts; at times you’ll need to force yourself to take a step forward to avoid a swinging axe, or lightly tread backward as you wait for a spike to disappear into the wall. These movements can be hard to make when your brain thinks you’re a few hundred meters up in the air and overlooking certain death.
The game does a wonderful job of playing on that split second in VR in which you forget this isn’t all real. At one point a deafening canon unloaded its ammunition on me, and I jumped out of my skin with each passing shot. Just when the base concept starts to grow stale, it throws new concepts in, like keys you’ll have to hold onto to unlock doors later down the line, or swords you’ll grab to cut down tethers and fend off incoming fire.
I couldn’t stop my heart from racing in moments like this, even when the fun turns further toward frustration as things get more difficult in the final section. It’s a little too hard to juggle dodging traps and not falling off the side at times, which feels especially unfair when your feet haven’t moved from the spot. The Tower could really benefit from Vive’s full body tracking with the new Trackers, though that obviously limits its appeal even more so in an already niche market.
That said, I’m really glad that The Tower is in Early Access because I’d love to see a lot more content on offer. In fact, my brain is bursting with new ideas beyond extra levels and traps. I’d love to see procedural generation to add endless replay value, for example, or courses with multiple paths that could make each player’s experience different. Thinking beyond that, I could see an awesome co-op mode where two players might have to work together to overcome obstacles in their path. I may have reached the top of The Tower but I felt like the game is only just getting started with potential ideas.
But don’t let the room for growth keep you waiting; at $4.99 I’d class The Tower as a trip essential trip for any Rift owner with the room for it.
The Tower is available now on Oculus Home for $4.99.