Review: Space Box Game Makes Your Cheap VR Headset Fun Again!

Review: Space Box Game Makes Your Cheap VR Headset Fun Again!

The cheap virtual reality glasses experience reminds me a little of the early fighter pilot video games of the 80s. After Burner was probably my all-time favorite (I still play it on a home arcade). As awesome as AB was, and it was awesome for its day, I remember even then (years before the movie Top Gun) thinking how much cooler it could have been. Just add a wrap-around high-res screen, simulate a real cockpit view with better graphics, and allow full control of the aircraft in all directions (like a real fighter). Enter VR some 30-plus years later—or maybe what some would call a somewhat passable facsimile. The makings of a much better AB almost. I recently grabbed one of many $20–$30 VR headsets that work with iPhone or Android, and sampled some of the better apps out there (the fighter simulator I tried made me feel sick). After mostly being only mildly impressed with the slightly blurry and jittery experiences, I found an award-winning game that makes the cheap VR thing more interesting again; but it's not a roaring jet fighter game, just a simple platformer called Space Box ($0.99).

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Space Box works on iPhone and Android devices and with practically any VR headset rig that supports Google Cardboard or similar VR apps available in the App store (it also works just fine without VR). If you aren't familiar with Google Cardboard—another even cheaper VR alternative that can be used with an iPhone—you can learn more here. The knockoff goggles I obtained from Amazon worked pretty well, but probably almost any of the el cheapo sets out there are comparable. My expectations of a $30 headset were not high, especially considering the cost of something like an Oculus Rift. I still have to admit to being a little excited when I fired up the first game, but after an hour or so, I was more than ready to yank the contraption off my head and have a soothing adult beverage.

The comfort aspect with VR goggles is only half of the problem, though that is a biggie, in my opinion. The darn things start to feel like, well, you have something bulky, hot, and uncomfortable strapped to your head! The other fakeout about VR is that it's less holodeck than obnoxious eye-trickery. The brain may be fooled for a while, but eventually I felt the strain of constantly staring at a bright screen literally only inches from my eyes (another potential tech-health issue for us to be concerned about, I guess). Anyway, just a bit of background if you're thinking about trying a cheap VR option yourself. You've probably read the reviews already, but if you haven't, don't expect to be seamlessly immersed in a virtual world that you can stay in for endless hours. In the case of the VR headset model I bought from Amazon (UCVR 3D VR Glasses), the opening around the bridge of your nose becomes uncomfortable from constant pressure after an extended length of time. Since moving your head to do anything in VR is the only control mode you have, comfort is an important aspect.

Space Box does a clever thing with game control and play in VR. Many current VR games seem a bit stunted because there's  not much to do that doesn't involve movement with your iPhone strapped to your face Uh, yeah; you mostly look around at stuff. So games are limited to mainly moving your head and focusing on something in a certain perceived direction. Once focus is achieved, the game automatically fires a weapon or some other activity is executed on your behalf, which becomes pretty boring. Space Box overcomes this limitation by leveraging the iPhone sensors to allow you to to use head gestures (like a tilt) to make a box-like avator to jump from platform to platform. Another pretty cool game that deserves a mention here is a free game called InCell VR, which is more of a biological tube racer.

In Space Box, the control strategy doesn't always work perfectly in execution. Sometimes when setting the vector (a magnitude arrow appears as you move your head before jumping), and doing the quick head tilt (to execute the jump), the game interprets the tilt instead as part of the gesture or vice versa. The result is you fall into the abyss or greatly overjump (or don't jump at all). When it works, it's pretty cool; and like with anything, practice definitely makes it easier.

Pros

  • Better-than-average VR graphic elements, gameplay, and control

Cons

  • Head movement not always correctly interpreted

Final Verdict

Space Box won 4th place in the Shanghai Global VR awards recently, which is not surprising. The VR experience is polished all round: music, sounds, graphics. The game was made by Polish developer Tom Graczyk, and gets a big iPhoneLife stamp of approval, so go grab a copy; and even if you don't yet have a VR rig, the game is completely playable on iPad and iPhone in non-VR mode.

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Nate Adcock's picture

Nate Adcock is a system and integration engineer with experience managing and administering a variety of computing environments. He has worked extensively with mobile gadgets of all shapes and sizes for many years. He is also a former military weather forecaster. Nate is a regular contributor for the iphonelife.com and smartphonemag.com blogs and helps manage both websites. Read more from Nate at natestera.tumblr.com or e-mail him at nate@iphonelife.com.