Is this new VR platformer a serious contender? Find out in our Ven VR Adventure review!
Ven finds himself in tough company. Our strange little alien fox hero is perfectly capable of jumping gaps and whacking critters alongside the best of them, but has to reckon with the inevitable comparisons to two very special VR games: Moss and Astro Bot. The former showed us a new level of companionship and connection made possible in VR while the latter’s desire to surprise at every turn resulted in a brilliantly fresh experience.
Monologic Games’ admirable debut definitely has flashes of that magic, but ultimately lands on a far more routine approach to 3D platforming. What Ven might lack in identity, though, it goes some way to making up by simply being a joy to play.
Ven is, at its heart, a tight, precise experience with lavish production, all enhanced, if not defined by VR. Story is superficial here (which is fortunate given the rather rough English translations), but sees you teaming up with Ven after his planet is invaded by the evil and fantastically-named Bruce Nelson, a mad scientist in search of immortality.
That’s all the setup you need for Ven’s core campaign of 12 levels that start off with gentle simplicity before descending into twists, a few bosses and a surprisingly devilish difficulty.
While Ven might be stacked up to its VR contemporaries first and foremost, it’s actually much closer to the Crash Bandicoot series than it is any of its current rivals. You have a basic move set of jumping, a standard ground attack and a stronger aerial ground pound to get you through levels where you’ll smash crates and scour scenes for tiny alien fox babies. It’s the expected concoction of platforming elements with pleasing results. Gameplay is sharp and mostly responsive; Ven can feel a little sluggish, making some jumps hard to judge and sometimes level geometry frustrates well-timed jumps, but accidental deaths are mostly kept to a minimum (at least at first), and you’ll often be rewarded for turning your head to seek out hidden areas.
At first you might worry it’s a little too clean. The first of Ven’s three regions — each comprised of four levels — can be beaten with your brain on autopilot, and I racked up over 60 extra lives before moving onto the next area. Trust me when I say, though, the bill comes due.
Towards the latter half of the campaign Monologic steps things up, turning Ven into a much more challenging experience that sways back and forth between rewarding and, occasionally, frustrating. Its final levels are pieced together by extended sections of brutally demanding level design, in which already-tiny platforms spaced far apart disappear the second you land on them and swinging axes and whack-a-mole saw blades demand split-second dexterity. You will die again, and again… and again so be prepared for it. Some will be likely be put off by the sudden requirement for immaculate timing and pin-point precision, but the studio mostly does a decent job of keeping things fair. When it comes together, it is breathlessly exciting to play.
That’s not to say Ven wouldn’t benefit from cutting the player a little slack, though. 12 levels might not sound like a lot but each is surprisingly long, taking anywhere between 15 to 30 minutes to conquer, and it’s often a war of attrition to reach the finish line. Checkpoints are sparsely spaced and the dated lives system doesn’t serve much purpose other than to infuriate when a Game Over simply boots you back to the start of a level. Monologic could have cut almost every stage in half and split the campaign into 24 levels and Ven would likely be a better game for it.
Engaging as all this is to play, Ven only rarely feels like it needed to be in VR. You can fist bump your new friend and ruffle his hair, but there’s never much effort paid to building a lasting relationship in the way you might with Quill as you play through Moss. Ven himself is little more than a silent vessel to get you from A to B, lacking much in the way of charisma or charm.
Meanwhile the vast majority of the campaign would be just as well served on a 2D screen with a controller as it is in a headset. There are fleeting attempts to capitalize on the motion controllers, including a few sections in which you throw grenades or destroy missiles with swords, but they’re mostly underdeveloped, never amounting to much more than a novelty. One section in which you carry Ven in a flying cart just allowed me to straight-up bypass a big section of the level.
That miraculous spark of VR excitement does flicker when Ven runs right past your eyes or you discover a hidden passage under your nose, but the platform isn’t utilized as often or as effectively as you might hope, especially when the action takes place so far away or at a weird angle that actually hinders how well you can play.
It also occasionally takes its inspirations a little too literally, too. Some are levels are carbon copies of settings and ideas from the original Crash, including a stage set on a rope bridge that works almost identically to the infamous High Road challenge.
That’s not to detract from the game’s otherwise generous environmental variety, though. Almost every level in Ven is themed differently and looks utterly delightful, from a boxed-in construction ground with a dizzying number of contraptions at work, to a futuristic lumber yard that makes brilliantly organic use of its setting – Monologic has done an incredible job making each level distinct, right down to individual soundtracks.
Not bad for a four to five-hour core campaign from a new developer, then. And that only lands you at roughly around the 50% complete mark – you can go back to collect every crate and find every hidden critter alongside the time trials and there’s a chance to unlock bonus levels too. Ven might not be as robust as most traditional platformers but there’s definitely more content here than in most VR games, too.
Ven VR Adventure Review Final Impressions
Ven doesn’t have the intimate connection of Moss nor the constant innovation of Astro Bot, but it stands its ground as a rock-solid platformer that serves up a rewarding, if occasionally unbalanced challenge. It is, admittedly, nice to have something to play inside VR that can lean back on the tried and true mechanics of a third person platformer and, while I can’t help wishing Monologic had done more to justify why its familiar foundations had to be in a headset, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I found its taxing campaign a moreish treat. This is a tightly contested genre, but there’s a place on the podium for Ven… once you kick off Lucky’s Tale.
For more on how we arrived at this score, see our review guidelines. What did you make of our Ven VR Adventure review? Let us know in the comments below!