“We honestly don’t know,” Tin Guerrero said the day before the big keynote for this year’s Oculus Connect conference in San Jose. “We’re looking forward to finding out along with everybody else.”
The next day, Guerrero sat in the audience of the main event along with thousands of other virtual reality fans, developers, and journalists as a steady stream of Oculus executives took the stage to make major announcements concerning the future of the Facebook-owned, virtual reality corporation. At last, the discussion turned to the price and release date for Oculus Touch — the company’s long awaited hand tracking VR controllers.
Along with a $199 price point and a December 6 release date, another slide flashed upon the massive ballroom’s giant projector screens. This one announcing which two games would be bundled for free with every purchase of the Rift. There on the screens was the news Guerrero and his team at Sanzaru Games had been hoping for. Their creation, VR Sports Challenge, had been selected.
Creating a bundled title is a huge accomplishment for any game studio as it usually means a huge influx of capital from hardware manufacturers that are willing to balance their inability to sell the game at full price with a major cash subsidy. The costs of making a game are all front-loaded during development and then you wait with baited breath to see if the market will respond and you’ll be able to turn a profit. Being named a pack-in for a major platform removes that ambiguity and essentially guarantees a successful game in one moment. This is a huge win for Sanzaru, but it is not exactly a shock.
The best selling video game of all time on a single platform is Wii Sports at 82.69 million copies (for context, the next highest is Super Mario Bros. at 40.24 million). A copy of Wii Sports was bundled in with every Nintendo Wii console sold for the first several years of the insanely popular systems life. The Wii, like Oculus Touch, was also a brand new idea for consumers that centered around motion controls. Nintendo decided that the best way for a mass audience to understand its new hardware was to pack in a game that combined it with the familiar mechanics of well known sports. This worked phenomenally well for the Japanese juggernaut, and now our friends in Menlo Park seem to be adopting a very similar strategy.
Bundling a game like VR Sports Challenge may not be an original idea for a new motion platform, but from what we saw at the show it has the potential to be every bit as successful as the phenomenon that proceeded it.
VR Sports Challenge is new and improved since it was last seen at a pre-GDC Oculus event months ago. At that time only the three-point challenge for basketball, and the passing challenge for football were being shown. At OC3, the game was almost complete with a massive deluge of new content and features.
First and foremost lets talk about the sports themselves. This most recent version of VR Sports Challenge now lets you play football, basketball, baseball and hockey with a variety of game modes to chose from. For baseball there’s home run derby; for basketball there’s three point shooting and a five on five mode; for football there’s a catching challenge as well as a quarterback experience; and for hockey there is a goalkeeping challenge and a fist-fighting section as well.
Guererro also revealed on the show floor that the game will have a loose single player campaign complete with cut scenes and a FIFA-esque manager mode that tasks you with creating the most dominant sporting franchise in the world.
Seeing this single-player mode also revealed more of the world building and personality of this game. As the inclusion of hockey fist fights may have already indicated, VR Sports Challenge is a game with a healthy sense of humor. The cut scenes are funny, the visuals are cartoony, and there are easter eggs hidden in the ads and backgrounds of each mini game that are sure to draw a chuckle or two.
According to Guerrero, there will be no multiplayer and no DLC for VR Sports Challenge at all. Sanzaru’s mission was to create a game that, “focused on nailing skill and fun” rather than trying to shoehorn in a complicated multiplayer system.
VR Sports Challenge is addictively fun and captures that same “hey let me try that” evangelistic opportunity that Wii Sports gave Nintendo years ago. After watching a friend nail a three-pointer or crack a home run in immersive, hand-tracked VR, it’s almost impossible not to want to take a turn.
We will have a full review of VR Sports Challenge as its launch date gets closer. In the meantime, however, we’re hoping that one of the first games you’ll get with Oculus Touch will also be one of the best in its early lineup.