Ever since I first started reading J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, the dream of being a wizard was a very real thought in the back of my head. My owl may be over 15 years late at this point, but that doesn’t mean my heart of hearts will ever stop hoping that some shred of magical powers could awaken one day. Maybe Diagon Alley was hiding just behind that lonely brick wall on Main Street? Or maybe if I knew where a train station was, I could find Platform 9 3/4?
While my Hogwarts-bound dreams are all but unrealized at this point in my life, every now and then a game like Wands comes along. It doesn’t let me actually inhabit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or visit Hogwarts, or interact with anything from that iconic property, but it feels pretty close. By strapping a Gear VR to my face, I can transport myself to a mystical world of magical powers and wand duels unlike anything before.
At its heart, Wands wants very much to be The Unspoken, Insomniac’s upcoming Oculus Touch exclusive wizard dueling game. Since I’ve played The Unspoken already, I can’t help but draw the comparison. Whereas Wands doesn’t even require the use of a bluetooth controller — the whole game can be played using just the touchpad if you want — The Unspoken requires not only the Gear VR’s younger, but much more powerful, brother, it also necessitates the yet-to-be-released Touch motion controllers. In many ways, Wands feels like a capable, albeit slightly watered down version, of the forthcoming game-which-must-not-be-named.
If we set aside that comparison, however, and consider Wands for what it is — a versatile, fun, magic-dueling game on a mobile VR headset without positional tracking — then what we’ll find is one of the more visually appealing and polished entries on the headset to date.
The game begins in a magical workshop of sorts with a variety of choices. First and foremost, however, is designing your wand. Every wand is equipped with a teleportation spell, but you’ll also select 4 other spells — represented by relics. As you play the game, you’ll unlock more relics. Some early examples consist of a small fireball, electric sparks that bounce around, poison clouds, and more.
From there, you can either go down into the basement to practice on a dummy, or you can head into the portal to pick one of the three core game modes — Competitive, Duel a Friend, or Practice. If you select practice, you’ll fight an actual AI opponent, rather than a lifeless dummy. I found the AI opponent to be more difficult than actual human players in many cases. Part of that has to do with the way the menu system works.
If you’re using the touchpad, you must swipe to bring up the menu for selecting a spell. Then you must select it with your head movement, tap to pick it, then tap again to cast it. The result is you sifting through a menu and performing several taps and swipes just to change the spell you have active. Even moving your character to a different location on the map requires all of these same steps. It’s a bit cumbersome.
Once you get into the rhythm of it all though, you’re in store for some pretty exciting duels. My favorite moment occurred when my opponent — another actualy player — and I were faced off at opposite ends of an ordinate medieval-style hallway. There was a great deal of distance between the two of us. We engaged in a volley of spells back and forth, both attacking and deflecting.
He’d launch a fireball at me, I’d pull up my shield to deflect it back at him, then quickly switch to a fireball of my own. He’d teleport to the side to dodge, then launch a giant meteor at me. While it’s traveling in the air, I’d quickly switch back to me shield and deflect it back at him. Moments like these, which usually occur at least one per match, are where the game truly shines. Luckily, you can also spectate matches using Wands‘ web viewer as well — which is a nice added feature.
It can be frustrating, however, if you’re out of mana and your enemy has triggered a poison trap on your location. When all you can do is stand there and wait to die, the game feels immensely frustrating. That’s when the limitations of the Gear VR start to reveal their ugly faces. You can’t duck or dodge spells by moving your head since there is no positional tracking. You can’t quickly switch spells with the press of a button or hand gesture.
Luckily, the variety of spells to unlock and choose from, combined with the multitude of maps in which you can do battle, all keep Wands feeling fresh and fun far longer than I initially expected. I never had trouble finding someone to play with — there are a lot of Gear VR users out there now after all — and the connections were always buttery smooth. As a result, Wands feels like both a great starting point for these types of games moving forward.
Wands may not feature positional tracking or motion controllers like the hotly anticipated Oculus Touch exclusive, The Unspoken, but it makes up for the lack of interactivity in sheer content. There are lots of different maps to battle on, an inventive spell customization interface, and some truly intense duels waiting to be had in the depths of this mysterious and mystical world. NUX Studios have crafted what is now one of the most exciting multiplayer titles available on Gear VR.
Wands is available for download on the Gear VR via the Oculus Store.
Read our Game Review Guidelines for more information on how we arrived at this score.