Twisted Realms fun, but highlights design restrictions of mobile VR

by Ian Hamilton • October 20th, 2015

More and more apps are arriving on the Oculus Store for Gear VR bringing with them a greater variety of content for the first generation of mobile consumer VR. Just about every category of classic video game has been adapted for the new medium, including shooters, racers and puzzlers, and in some cases there are multiple takes on the same genre, as in the case of tower defense games.

The latest is Twisted Realms ($5) from Iceland-based Aldin Dynamics, maker of the previously released DK2 demo Asunder. Twisted Realms is available now and joins existing Gear VR tower defense titles Caldera Defense (free) and Babel Rising 3D ($3). The titles bend the tower defense genre a bit into shooters and differ greatly in their approach to the limitations of mobile VR.

First-person perspective firing projectiles in Twisted Realms.

First-person perspective firing projectiles in Twisted Realms.

Twisted Realms puts the player in a fantastical medieval setting in control of the placement of towers on a sparse landscape. It follows the typical progression of tower defense games in that each successful defense brings new bad guys as well as new towers to defend against the incoming waves of baddies. In the case of Twisted Realms, the skeletons, balls and birds trying to destroy the main tower come from both land and air.

Though the description only mentions touchpad and head gaze controls, it supports gamepads as well. That’s a nice addition because the touchpad can be tiring when trying to fire as many projectiles as possible at incoming creeps. What makes Twisted Realms different from the other Gear VR tower defense titles is the ability to start in a third-person perspective, overlooking the landscape to place towers, and then teleport from tower to tower in first-person to control a specific one more carefully against a wave of incoming creeps.

Placing a tower in Twisted Realms. The line of red dots indicates the path of incoming creeps.

Placing a tower in Twisted Realms. The line of red dots indicates the path of incoming creeps.

With Babel Rising 3D you play as God in third-person and drop projectiles on the Babylonians from the sky as they try to construct their tower. The mobile title adapted to VR allows the player to rotate around the tower to destroy advancing creeps as they wind their way up the outside of the tower.

Babylon Rising 3D is another tower defense title on Gear VR.

Babel Rising 3D is another tower defense title on Gear VR.

Caldera Defense puts the player first-person in a defense turret overlooking a cauldron-like active volcano with ships winding their way around bridges above the bubbling volcano or flying through the sky overhead.

Caldera Defense on Gear VR.

Caldera Defense on Gear VR.

Babel Rising and Twisted Realms both use instant snaps to allow the player to (in theory) comfortably rotate their view of the landscape. It’s a design compromise made to adapt a fully three dimensional landscape comfortably to the current limitations of mobile VR. Theoretically, a seated player realistically only looking left or right rather than spinning 360 degrees in a swivel chair can see the full range of the play area without feeling nauseous. Caldera Defense instead places the player at a spot overlooking a play area that roughly only spans the front 180 degrees of the player’s view.

Twisted Realms is an interesting title but it is probably best played in a swivel chair and I didn’t do that. Instead, I noticed a slight headache after a session of about 10 minutes. I kept using the controller to snap my view around in a circle so I could find the next group of incoming skeletons running across the landscape to my towers. Though the ability to operate different towers in first-person is a nice touch, I much prefer the roughly 180-degree landscape of Caldera Defense.

Overall, Twisted Realms is the latest game to showcase an early experiment into adapting traditional gaming genres into VR and the varying ways people are expected to play.

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