lose weight with wii and nutrisystem

Archive for the VR Fitness Game Reviews

The 14 Best Playstation 4 Workout Games with PSVR for 2020

Christmas is over, and that means three things. First, a lot of you are stuffed from feasting on Who pudding and rare Who roast beast. Second, it’s way, way, way too cold to go out and exercise. And third, a lot of you found brand new PSVR and Playstation 4 units under the three.

One tradition I had when I used to blog about Wii fitness games was releasing my annual Best Wii Fitness Games list right after Christmas. There’d be a huge spike in Google traffic looking for the best games that were both fun and also helped provide a great workout for trimming some of the fat that the one-two punch of Thanksgiving and Christmas eating.

And so here’s my list of the best exercise games for the PSVR. My schedule has been such lately that I haven’t been able to write an in-depth review of these, but those will be coming in the near future. But in the meantime, I wanted to share what I found so you can start your workouts now.

Most of these games are available as downloads to the Playstation Store, so you’ll need a Playstation Store Gift Card to find your account.

1. Beat Saber – Hands down (and up, and to the side), this is the best video game workout for the PSVR, and one of the best video game workouts ever. The concept is deceptively simple: you hold a move controller in each hand and as blocks come toward you, you need to swipe at them, in the right direction to the beat of some catchy music. Think of it like Dance Dance Revolution for your hands.

Of course, this isn’t your father’s DDR. What VR brings to the table is incredible precision–it’s no longer “swipe and pray” as it’s been with every other motion control game in the past. As long as your camera is set up in the right place, the game can pick up your full range of motion as you swipe your light sabers and duck to avoid giant blocks. As with any great video game exercise, it’s so much fun you won’t want to quit, and as each level gets progressively more difficult your dopamine and adrenaline kick in to the point where you don’t want to stop until you conquer the level. This game is the perfect balance of fun and exercise, which means it should be on the top of everyone’s workout list.

2.  BoxVR – While Beat Saber takes the prize for the most immersive and fun workout, BoxVR tops the list for a good cardio workout. The concept here is simple as well. You hold a Move Controller in each hand, and through the magic of VR they turn into boxing gloves. Targets come hurtling towards you that direct you to throw jabs, hooks, upper cuts, or blocks. There are multiple levels ranging from easy to intense. The workouts are designed by real instructors, so the programs feel just like the kind an instructor would give you at a gym. In fact, you can choose from a handful of gym motifs to put you in the mood.

3. Creed – Rise to GloryCreed: Rise to Glory launched with the release of the movie Creed 2. While most movie tie-in video games are horrible games that are rushed to market and where most of the money went into paying for licensing vs. paying actual video game developers, this one completely bucks that trend. It’s developed by Survios, creators of other huge VR hits like Raw Data and Sprint Vector. And while it’s not the same as real boxing, with the power of VR it’s by far the most realistic boxing simulation ever on a video game console.

You can play as Adonis Creed or as other characters from the film universe. You can get trained by Rocky Balboa himself (an uncanny valley representation of Sylvester Stallone) and then go straight to different venues where you fight various opponents. The VR is done well–the environments really do feel realistic when you look around, from small gyms to giant arenas. The boxing basics are there–punch, block, and dodge, and learn the patterns of your opponents to beat them.

4. VirZOOMVirZOOM is not just a game, but comes with its own accessory–a full-sized exercise bike that’s surprisingly solid and sturdy and lets you control resistance. There’s also a VZ Sensor that turns any existing stationary bike into a VirZOOM controller.

The star of the show are the games, all of which you use the exercise bike to control your speed and buttons on the exercise bike to do things like shoot. There’s not just one game but multiple, including driving a race car, flying a helicopter, riding a horse, driving a tank, riding a pegasus, and rowing a kayak. While the $400 price tag may seem pricey, bear in mind that you get a number of these games as part of the price. I’ll describe more when I write my full review, but there are moments in the game that are truly jaw-dropping (the most amazing of which is when you’re riding your Pegasus off the side of a cliff into the air and look down for the first time).

If you look at VirZOOM’s founders and team, you’ll see that it isn’t just a startup of wide-eyed millennials. Among its team is are multiple former executives and staff at Harmonix (behind the creation of Rock Band, among other things), and the head developer of the Nintendo Wiimote, so there’s some impressive DNA in this product. Try it and you’ll see how amazing it is, and how $400 is a steal when you consider the hours you’ll be spending getting effective cardio vs. at the gym.

5. Knockout League – Released on February 13, 2018, Knockout League is a game that evokes the spirit of the old Punch-Out!! game on the Nintendo Entertainment System, but takes it to brand new, virtual reality levels. In it, you’re a boxer fighting through round after round of cartoon  fighters with their own idiosyncratic styles. You can block, duck, punch, get an up-close look inside your opponent’s mouth, and do just about everything you can in real life, without getting punched for real. Read our full review here.

6. SuperHOT – Released on July 21, 2017, SuperHOT is a shooter game where you’re shooting hoardes of people chasing after you. For the faint of heart don’t worry, it’s rated “T” for teen, so you won’t see see blood and guts splattering everywhere; you’re just shooting at red block figures that disintegrate as you shoot them. This is another surprisingly good workout as you’re constantly turning and aiming and shooting.

7. SparcSparc is a virtual sports game that was released on August 29, 2017. It takes the single-player concepts of Holoball and Proton Pulse Plus (see below) but brings it to a whole new level. Like those games, it’s a virtual game similar to racquetball or squash. Unlike them, you can play against real people around the world. You stand inside an enclosed court and use your Move controllers to control your hands just like you’re playing racquetball. The graphics are simple, stylized line art, but the gameplay physics are remarkably similar to playing real racquet sports. In fact, after a while of playing, you get a workout similar to tennis, fencing, or boxing.

8. Sprint Vector – The object of the game is–to sprint. The PSVR, of course, doesn’t allow you to run very far on your legs, so this game has you swinging your arms to propel forward. Like a speed skater, you’ll be in a crouching position for much of the game, which ultimately will help you work out your core. You time your arm swings to move forward, as well as to jump, glide, shoot, use power ups, and climb. As confusing as that sounds, after completing the training and playing a few times the motions become surprisingly intuitive, and then it’s off to the races.

9. HoloBallHoloball was the first of two “racquet sports” PSVR games released on November 22, 2016. Racquet sports is one of the more obvious applications of virtual reality fitness–true racquet sports requires you to run back and forth, and of course that aspect of the sport is missing in PSVR (until they invent wireless VR headsets and shatterproof table lamps). But just moving within a few square feet of space and moving your hands produces a surprisingly effective workout. Between this and Proton Pulse Plus (below), this was definitely the stronger of the two.

10. Fruit Ninja VR – Released on December 20, 2016, Fruit Ninja VR is the ultimate incarnation of this classic game. Fruit Ninja on your smartphone was a nice diversion, and Fruit Ninja on the Xbox was the first to give your whole body a workout. But the PSVR version of the game brings the game to a whole new level, and is just about the closest you can get to the real thing without a set of machetes and fresh fruit. Watching animated fruit fly all around you in 3D is something everyone should experience.

11. Headmaster – Headmaster is a heady (sorry) game where you head off soccer balls just like in read life. There’s a fair amount of ducking, squatting, jumping, and moving that gets you a decent workout.

12. Carnival Games VR – Carnival Games on the Wii was a fun set of games that you might find in your local carnival or amusement park. The VR version brings it to a whole new level, where you can play 12 different carnival games. Most of them don’t provide a workout, but there are a few where you do build up a sweat, especially as you get obsessed into beating them (without having to spend $5 a pop as in real life). The standout, by far, is the climbing wall game where you need to race the clock to climb walls way up high going from hand hold to hand hold.

13. Dick WildeDick Wilde is a shoot-em-up game that a lot of people have reported provides a pretty good workout, thanks to a lot of dodging and ducking as you shoot everything in sight.

14. Proton Pulse PlusProton Pulse Plus was the second of two “racquet sports” PSVR games released on November 22, 2016. Again, it’s a game where you use your Move controller as a paddle to hit a bouncy ball; the goal is much like “brick breaking” arcade games. There’s a frenetic soundtrack and constantly flashing graphics that the game publisher touts as a throwback to the 90’s. The gameplay is a level lower than Sparc and Holoball, but at $10 it’s still a worthy addition to your collection, as it does some pretty good cardio as you get into the game.

As I said, in time I’ll be providing in-depth reviews of all these games, but I wanted to get this list to all of you with brand spanking new PSVRs who are looking for ways to get your heart pumping and your body sweating.

Working out with the PSVR does have its disadvantages, the main one bring that perspiration and VR headsets don’t really mix. I’ll dedicate an upcoming post to that as well, but the spoiler alert is that you typically need two things: a good fan blowing right at you (helps with motion sickness too), and a good sanitary mask to protect your headset from sweat.

Review of Sparc for PSVR

The PSVR doesn’t seem to be at a loss for racquet sports games. In November 2017 Holoball and Proton Pulse Plus came out. And then in August 2017, Sparc was released simultaneously for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and the PSVR. Outside of a few tutorial and training mini-games, the entire game is played online (meaning that PSVR users need a Playstation Plus subscription).

The developers made the decision that your opponents would be real humans, so they didn’t provide the option of playing against an AI. In fact, they go so far as to not call it a “video game” but rather a “virtual sport – a unique physical sport only possible in virtual reality”.  While this probably saved them some development time, it’s a risky choice. It’s seven months since the launch, and there are some scattered reports of servers being down or users not being able to find opponents for long periods of time. My own experience has been hit or miss. At certain times of the day I’ll be waiting in an empty lobby for 10-15 minutes before someone joins. But other times of the day I get matched up right away. The dilemma of having to find opponents is largely helped by the fact that you can play against opponents on any VR platform, a welcome development that I hope continues.

The best way to describe Sparc is that it’s sort of a combination of racquetball, handball, and dodgeball. The rules are a little quirky, so you definitely do need to go through the tutorial a few times to get it. To summarize:

  • You and your opponent are standing at opposite ends of a court. One of you has a blue ball, the other an orange one. You pick up the ball by grabbing it with your hand and pressing the trigger button.
  • You hurl your ball at your opponent by releasing the trigger button as you make a throwing motion with your arm. They’ll hurl their ball at you. If your opponent gets hit by either ball at any time, you’ll get one point.  If either ball hits you, your opponent gets one point. The player with the most points after three minutes wins.
  • If your ball doesn’t hit your opponent it’ll come back to you. If it first bounces behind your opponent’s wall in an area marked as the “strike zone” it’ll come back to you bigger and faster.
  • Once you catch your own ball, it becomes a “shield” that you can use as a racquet to block your opponent’s balls and hit it back. Or you can simply throw it and it’ll become your own ball again.
  • Ultimately as you get more advanced in the game you’ll start devising ways to strategize against your opponent, for example by deflecting your ball off walls at odd angles or by trying to confuse your opponent by throwing your ball at the same time you’re deflecting their own ball back at them.
  • You can dodge out of the way of balls, although your playing space is limited to only about 2 feet to your left and right.
  • If you’re playing in beginner mode, your fists can also be used to deflect your opponent’s balls.

The controls are very intuitive, although some of the mechanics do require a bit of a learning curve. For example,  I eventually found that throwing in a backhand motion tends to get your ball moving much faster than attempting an overhead throw.

In the video you see here, I found myself getting beaten mercilessly by my opponent who quickly discovered my weakness–I was unable to deal with her bouncing balls up and down off the ceiling and floor. But in our re-match game I quickly adjusted by figuring out how to dodge them and throw her off by doing my own side-to-side bounces. Even though we were both obviously extreme rookies, being at comparable levels we managed to play some pretty competitive and exciting games.

There are two levels, Basic and Advanced, both with the same gameplay and rules and a few alterations to let players compete with or without assistance.

Once you select a level, you’ll ostensibly be matched with someone at your skill level to play again. It was great whenever I was matched with someone of equal skill, but more often than not I’d be matched up with a seasoned player who’d wallop me in a shutout. I wish the developers would have done something to ensure that matches were even–the current system leaves it much too open for Advanced players to come into the Basic queue to bully new players, and I’m sure it’s frustrating for players of moderate-to-advanced skill to have to deal with other players who are just learning the game.

I love the details of the game. You can customize your avatar to some extent, and then during the game it mirrors your physical movements exactly, from your throwing and blocking motions right down to body language so you start to get a little bit of a sense of your opponent’s personality (or at least their humanity).  Every match won’t start until you give your opponent a virtual “fist bump”. As you’re waiting in the queue to start a match, you can be a spectator watching the current match take place in very cool miniature form. After each match, there are lots of stats you can view to savor a victory or look for areas of improvement after a loss. They put a lot of thought into every detail.

Can you get a great workout from Sparc? Absolutely! Your arms are constantly in motion, of course, but you’ll also be working out your core as you crouch and dodge out of the way of incoming balls. I found myself sweating after just two or three 3-minute matches.

My biggest gripe is the one I mentioned before; I wish they’d built an AI you could play rather than forcing you to go online and play human opponents–this would allow you to truly practice first before challenging a human. The mini-games are supposed to be like “batting cages” or “automatic ball launchers for tennis”, but they’re so far from the real game that they don’t really help you except in learning basic mechanics.

Another gripe is the reliance on PSN and online multiplayer. Granted, the cost isn’t something the developer could control, but as we’ve seen with other active motion games in the past, the typical player of Sparc isn’t going to be the hardcore gamer that tends to pay the fee for PSN every year, so ultimately I think this is going to hurt the game, especially among people like you and me who are less interested in play as a “competitive sport” as we are trying to get a workout. Again, the “solution” would have been for the developer to allow players without PSN to play against a bot, but all indications are that they’re not going that route.

All said, the game gets a solid 4.5 out of 5 stars from me. It’s clearly the best developed of all the “racquet sports” games for the PSVR, and you can get a solid workout from it. If you have a PSN account and a lot of patience to practice and get good at the “sport”, there aren’t many better motivators than real human players to get you playing again and again.



Review of Knockout League for PSVR

VirZOOM is the best fitness game for working out your lower body–everything from your thighs (quadriceps) to the back of your legs (hamstrings) to your hips (flexors) to your butt (gluteals), as well as your abs. But what to do if you want to work out your upper body? Here’s the game for that.

If you’re old like me, you can remember when an arcade game called Punch-Out!! came out in the mid-80s, followed by a port of the game to the Nintendo Entertainment System. It had you fight against round after round of interesting characters, each with their own signature moves to figure out. In 2001, Konami released Mocap Boxing for arcades; a game where you held two boxing glove controllers and the image on screen punched and bobbed and weaved with you. In 2006, the Wii was released along with Wii Sports and its addictive boxing game. Microsoft and Sony followed with Kinect Sports Boxing and The Fight: Lights Out in 2010.

The Fight: Lights Out and Sports Champions 2 by Sony had been the closest video gaming came to real boxing, especially when you played the games in 3D. But Knockout League for PSVR takes video game boxing to an entirely new level.

When you start up the game, you see a message: “This is an active game. Please make sure that your play space is clear. Stay in the center of the cleared play area and do not walk around.” This was great news for me, as I’m playing in a tiny space, so if I were to move a few inches to the right, I’d likely punch a hole in the wall, and a few inches forward and I’d punch that same hole in my TV screen. To meet the minimum space requirements for Knockout League, you need to be standing 6-8 feet away from your TV, and being able to stretch out your arms and move them around without hitting anything or knocking anything over. At first I was concerned that I wouldn’t get as good a workout if I couldn’t use move around, but that concern went away very quickly.

The opening scene has you in a gym that’s both cartoony and realistic, like a Pixar movie. You can look all around the gym and see trash cans, bulletin boards, water bottles, weights, trophy cabinets, shelves, posters, and mats, with florescent lights above just like a real gym. Your hands turn into boxing gloves, where you can examine them close up down to the laces (okay, I still geek out over just exploring VR worlds…I’m sure my grandkids will look at me like we look at those people in the 1800’s who spent hours looking in amazement at movies of horses running).

You select “New Game” and then you’re asked to enter your height (presumably for the game to get your play area right) and optionally, your weight (for the game to track your calories burned). You then set a name–you get to choose from a pre-determined adjective or honorific (big, little, mr., etc.) and a noun (rebel, princess, lightning, etc.). I suppose this is their way of making sure online leaderboards never have naughty words.

Next, you see a message saying “Get Ready“, with blue arrows of increasing size on the floor leading to you, and a green circle under your feet. This is where you need to double-check if you’re comfortably away from walls and furniture–the green spot marks the place you’ll be standing throughout the game. If you want to change positions, you can select ADJUST.

Next, you find yourself inside a boxing ring face to face (and I mean face to face) with your trainer, “Doug Johnson, the greatest fighter in the history of the Knockout League”. The developers (thankfully) decided not to go down the road of The Fight: Lights Out, which took themselves a little too seriously but it all came undone when you saw the image of tough guy Danny Trejo holding two magic wands. Knockout League channeled Punch-Out!! by creating characters that are over-the-top caricatures, each with their own signature boxing moves and styles.

Your trainer is reminiscent of every boxing trainer you’ve seen in the movies. He’s tough on the outside, but you know he has a heart of gold (and if you peer closely into his mouth, teeth and perhaps a tongue of gold as well). You start out with some tutorial sessions where he teaches you the basics of punching, blocking, and dodging. The mechanics and simple–to punch, you simply throw your punches like you’re really boxing. To block, you need to hold your gloves in front of your face–but the gloves will glow blue, and then quickly turn pink, and then back to normal. You need to time it so that your opponent’s punch hits your gloves when they’re blue. To dodge, you just move your move out of the way of the punch.

It took me a while to get used to it, but I realized it was because I was trying to play “video game boxing” instead of thinking like a real boxer. Once I got more comfortable with the three-dimensional space, I found myself playing more effectively.

There are several rounds of tutorials and training, but you can go right to the fighting as well. Before you fight, there’s one last “Tip From Doug”: “Dodge or block attacks to create openings for your punches, but NEVER chase after your opponent if they stumble backwards“. This is where you need to block your instinct to chase after your opponent.

You start off in a room where you can see pictures of your next three opponents and watch “films” that talk about them (on a wide movie theater screen, no less). You’ll also see your current opponent’s name, the number of wins you have against him, the best time, the fewest hits, and the best score. Press the red RIGHT button to continue.

Your opponent comes face to face (and I mean face-to-face) with you. You can see your and your opponents health indicator in the corner.

As with Punch-Out!!, you’ll find yourself facing quirky opponent after quirky opponent. Also similar to Punch-Out!!, you’re not really “boxing” as much as you’re finding repetitive patterns in your opponent, and strategically punching, blocking, and dodging at the right times (in fact, if you try to punch your opponent’s face without blocking first, you’ll be hard-pressed to land a thing).

Those who are expecting a Wii Sports-like “flail your arms wildly at your opponent until he goes down” will be disappointed, as are those who might be expecting a completely accurate boxing simulation. But IMO, it was brilliant of the game designers to go with a winning formula introduced with Punch-Out!! Once you start noticing mastering the whole idea of studying your opponent’s moments weaknesses and attacking them, and studying your opponent’s strengths and finding ways to counter them, the game becomes boatload of fun–and very addictive. Also similar to Punch-Out!!, your opponent starts to annoy you so much that you don’t want to stop until you can get the satisfaction of kicking the snot out of him.

There is a bit of a learning curve with the game. It took me a while to even get through the tutorial in one shot, and it took me about a dozen tries before I figured out how to beat the first opponent, Tri-Tip (the epiphany for me was when I realized I can literally duck UNDER an opponent’s punch–glancing out of the corner of my eye at his glove going over my body–and then counter with a barrage of punches. This is not your grandfather’s boxing game.

The video doesn’t do the VR justice. With your PSVR glasses on, you can look right into the eyes of your opponent where it seems like his face is only a couple inches from yours.

As for fitness, wow. Up to now, the most sweaty I’ve gotten on a PSVR game other than VirZOOM was SuperHOT, where it’d take me an hour of play to build up a sweat. With this game, within seconds my heart was pounding, my arms were sore, and I was perspiring profusely (and this on a wintry day outside with the ceiling fan going).

From the first video game I reviewed on this blog many years ago, I’ve said that the holy grail for video game exercise is having a game so fun that you don’t realize you’re exercising. Knockout League represents the pinnacle of that dream. This is as real an experience as you can get without actually having to have your head punched in over and over again.

Knockout League was developed by Grab Games and Vive Studios. I love the fact that they decided to release the game for all major VR platforms, and not just the HTC Vive. So everyone with a PSVR, HTC Vive, or Oculus can play it, and at less than $30 it’s a steal compared to much lower quality PSVR games being sold in stores.

Knockout Leagues easily gets a 5 out of 5 stars. If you enjoyed Punch-Out!! on the original NES, and if you’re looking for one of the best upper body video game workouts of all time, you are going to love it. PSVR owners can download it at the Playstation Store.

Fitness on the Playstation VR & Review of Playroom VR and Playstation Worlds

A few years ago when it was clear that Virtual Reality headsets were going to be a reality, I sensed that this would be the biggest (and maybe the last) opportunity for exergaming to make a “comeback” after it so dramatically burst on the scene and then disappeared back in the mid-2000s. As those of you who’ve followed this blog in any of its previous incarnations (Nutwiisystem.com, PS3Fitness.com, 3dPlaystation.net) know, the “holy grail” I’d been seeking for so many years was a active gaming experience on a console so immersive and compelling that “you got a workout without even realizing you were exercising”. We’ve come close over the years, with popular games like Just Dance for the Wii, Kung Fu for Kinect for the Xbox One, and Move Fitness for the PS3. But as fun as those games were and as captivating as the experiences became, you never quite forgot that you were in front of a TV as you tried to stay within the game console sensors.

So I’ve decided to be an early adopter to virtual reality technology. But that begged the question, do I choose an HTC Vive, an Oculus Rift, or a Playstation VR? In my last post on the subject I went through the rationale of why I was choosing the PSVR and the Playstation 4. The main reason came down to cost: it’d cost close to $2000 for me to buy a new high-end PC and an Oculus or Vive, when it’d be closer to $800 for me to get both a new PS4 and a PSVR.

But User-friendliness was another reason. I tried out the Vive at my brother-in-law’s place recently and I was impressed by the technology, but as with a lot of things in the PC gaming world, setting it up and using it just felt more involved and “technical” than I would have liked. While I’m a pretty technical person in my work life, in my leisure time, I really just prefer not to think too much to set up hardware and software. I just want to start using it. So that reinforced my decision to go with the PS4, as Sony has a lot more experience with “plug and play” than Oculus/Facebook or HTC.

Honestly, I hadn’t really been planning on getting a Playstation 4. There just aren’t enough hours in a day for me to play console games anymore. But with the potential of virtual reality for fitness, suddenly that equation changed. From a perspective of time, I wouldn’t be wasting time playing video games if that playing resulted in me working out and improving my health. And from a cost perspective, the cost would be comparable to buying an expensive piece of home exercise equipment or a gym membership–with the difference being that I’d actually use it.

So throwing caution to the wind, I bought a Playstation 4 Pro and a PSVR, knowing full well that there weren’t likely to be any mainstream game developers developing “active games” for them today. This is thanks largely to Microsoft. Remember when they tried to “force” all their users to the Kinect? There was a huge backlash from the gaming community, and most industry experts point to that as the moment that the Xbox One was forever doomed to lag behind the PS4–and that motion controls in gaming officially died. Not soon after that, Microsoft, Sony, and even Nintendo abandoned active games and motion controls.

While executives at Microsoft are probably still scratching their heads at why the Kinect failed, to me the answer has always been obvious. With the exception of Nintendo and maybe one or two independent developers out there like Virtual Air Guitar, most developers just didn’t “get it” when it came to motion controls. They lazily tried to develop video games the way they always did and slap the Kinect interface over them, essentially making motion controls just a proxy for button mashing on a controller.  The result was awkward experience after awkward experience.

In a signal that they didn’t “get this” either, a few months ago Sony put out a statement stressing that all PSVR games WOULD require Dualshock Controllers. Luckily there was a backlash the other way and they quickly backtracked and said that some PSVR games MAY NOT require Dualshock Controllers.

To Sony’s credit, something else they did was rather than tossing the Playstation Move (which had always been pretty good technology), they’ve decided made it part of the PSVR experience, to the point of including it in the launch bundle. I think this was prescient of them. While the marketing folks at Sony are clearly skittish, my prediction is that once people try out a few VR games, they will DEMAND motion controls. In other words, players of virtual reality games want to replicate “real” reality–and the reality is that most of us “move” when interacting with our world.

But we will probably have to wait a bit. Looking over the launch titles it looks like most games still depend heavily on the DualShock and/or your head movement to control things. And even games that do use the Move controllers seem to do so fairly passively–you use the Move controllers to pick up and examine objects, shoot a gun, and so on. So as far as the launch titles go, there doesn’t seem to be much as far as “PS4 fitness games” go as far as creating games that will get you sweating and your heart rate up.

But hopefully once enough people adopt the technology some independent developers will start to “get it” and develop native VR games that toss away old paradigms. Here’s hoping that someone, somewhere is working on games that’ll let you go boxing, hit a baseball, swing a tennis racket, and so on.

That said, I’m always scouring the Playstation Store online to see if there are any games that might fall into the category of an active game that’s good for a workout. If you hear of any PSVR games that sound like they might be good for exercise and workout (or if you’re a developer working on such a game), definitely let me know in the comments and I’ll be happy to showcase it here.

Having said that, here are some of my first observations about the VR technology itself.

Playstation VR

To be honest, my first impressions of my new PS4 really weren’t much different than my old PS3. Granted, it has better better graphics (and still no 4K Blu-Ray…why, Sony, why?). But outwardly, it doesn’t seem too much different than the big black box that was the PS2 and the big black box that was the PS3.

On the other hand, the PSVR unit impressed me as soon as I unboxed it. I decided to go for the launch bundle.

psvr launch bundle box

Opening the box there were two other boxes, one holding the Playstation Worlds CD, the Move controllers, and the Playstation 4 Camera, and the other with the PSVR unit.

nice packaging

They clearly engineered the PSVR box not just to be utilitarian but also to be impressively designed a la Apple. The box is made of thick glossy cardboard, the top cover dramatically opens to reveal the contents (and stays propped open with a built-in strap), and inside you’ll find all the parts neatly organized in other boxes, underneath which is the VR headset itself. It was clearly designed to reflect a premium product.

nice packaging 2

It could have been an involved process getting it set up, but they made it easy by including a giant instruction manual with big, clear pictures for each step–literally devoting a page for each time you have to unplug or plug a cable.

psvr's simple instruction manual

Every included cable is even tagged with a large number tag, which is repeated on the outer box and in the manual. Clearly unlike HTC and Facebook, they intend to sell this to the masses and not just to techies. It’s really hard to mess this up.

numbered cables

The parts consist of the VR headset, a processor unit (controller box), an HDMI cable, a USB cable, an AC adaptor and power cord, a connection cable for the VR headset with two plugs on one end and two jacks on the other, and stereo headphones. If you bought the launch bundle you also got a Playstation 4 camera (required) and Move controllers (required for certain games).

psvr parts

They made installation pretty simple. All wires go into what they call the Processor Unit, which is the “brains” of the PSVR.

psvr processor box

It has ports for a power, a micro USB connection to the PS4, an HDMI connection to the PS4, an HDMI connection to your TV, and two jacks for you to plug in the cable to the PSVR headset.

To start, you basically need to unplug your HDMI cable from your PS4 and plug it into the VR box. You’ll plug a new HDMI cable from the box to your PS4. This allows video signals to be sent to the VR headset’s OLED display.

You also will need to plug your Playstation Camera into your PS4, if you haven’t already. This is not the same Playstation Camera for the PS3. It’s a unit with two lenses about the size of a large roll of Menthos that you put in front of your TV screen. You should also install your PS Move controllers if you haven’t already (these are the same that they sold for the PS3).

Finally, you plug the VR processor box’s power adapter into an AC outlet, and plug the VR headset to the VR processor box using a long cable they included.

The cable was the one thing I wasn’t crazy about with the PSVR–I like the fact that they made it long so you can sit plenty far from your TV, but the way the cable goes into the headset it always seems to get in your way when you try to put the headset on and off.

The headset consists of a bulky white headband holding bulky lenses that look like a cross between ski goggles and a Star Wars stormtrooper mask.

psvr headset

It took some getting used to getting it to fit properly on my head, but it’s pretty well engineered to accommodate just about any head size and shape.

You can expand the circumference of the headband to accommodate individuals of any head size by pressing a white button on the back and stretching it, or you can tighten it by rotating a round gear.

adjust head band on psvr

Similarly, by pressing a black button on the bottom, you can move the goggles closer to or away from your face to ensure a snug fit against your face.

adjust snugness

Between the cables, adjusting the top band for your head, and adjusting the snugness of the goggles to your eyes it takes a bit of effort to get your headset on. But after about 10 tries I finally was able to get it on and off pretty quickly. I wear glasses, but the goggles fit perfectly on top of them.

You then power on the PSVR unit by pressing the power button that’s on a small control unit on the long cable (which also includes volume control, a headphone jack, and a mute button). They wisely didn’t make all the buttons the same feel–the volume buttons stick out, while the power button is flush with the unit, so you don’t have to guess when you’ve got the glasses on and are pressing it.

When you look through the goggles, you’ll see the familiar Playstation 4 menu interface, clear as a bell (if it’s not clear, just shift the headset around a little until it fits snugly, you see a clear picture, and the black silicone flaps to your left and right are comfortable and properly blocking the outside light). From there, you’re no longer interacting in the real world but the virtual world.

One thing that disappointed me was that unlike the HTC Vive, which lets you press certain buttons to let you “scan” your real world surroundings while you’re wearing the VR goggles, with the PSVR you’re completely blind to the outside world. So before you put the glasses on, just make sure you’re far away from people, animals, and furniture.

You can navigate the menu by using the Dualshock controller. One thing I tried right away was opening Netflix. That was my first mind-blowing experience. Instead of watching a movie on a TV, you’re watching in on what feels like a big screen in a theater. Granted, the resolution of the glasses is not as fine as its competitors (the Vive and Oculus both have two 1200 x 1800 pixel OLED displays for a total of 2160 x 1200 pixels vs the PSVR which displays 960 x 1080 per eye using one 1920 x 1800 OLED display), but it makes up for it with a higher refresh rate (120Hz on the PSVR vs 90Hz on the Vive and Oculus). For a first generation product, I was impressed by the picture quality.

Playroom VR

When you purchase the PSVR, the only “free” game you get straight away is one you can download from the Playstation Store called Playroom VR. It offers five mini-games. None of them are really “active games”, but all of them do a fantastic job of showcasing the basics of virtual reality, as well as showcasing how VR doesn’t have to be a lonely one-person affair. Most of the games are party games where the developers incorporated multiplayer action into games, where one player is wearing the headset and using a Dualshock controller and up to four friends are interacting with the TV screen using additional Dualshock controllers.

Robots Rescue (1-4 players) – This is by far the best game of the lot, and the first one that elicited a real “whoa” reaction from me. 20 of your robot friends are being chased by evil “blocks” and are hiding throughout a virtual world. Your job is to seek them out.

What I love about the 3D effects are that they’re subtle and not in-your-face “look how cool VR is”. When you start the game, you look down at your hands and your Dualshock controller is transformed into a brand new robot-catching controller. When you find a robot, your robot “boots” it and it goes flying right into your controller and waves happily back at you. As you walk along a cliff, you can peer over the edge and see way down over the edge (if you experience vertigo or acrophobia the effect may be a little too real for you). And of course, you can explore your world left, right, up, down, backwards, and forward. This is the one game of the lot that can be played solo (although if you want to catch all 20 robots you will need help from a player on the TV).

Cat and Mouse (2-4 players) – The main player using the headset is a “cat” hiding behind a curtain, while the other players watching the TV are mice trying to collect cheese without the cat seeing them whenever the curtain opens.

Monster Escape (2-4 players) – The main player is a “sea monster” that uses his head to destroy buildings, knock down helicopters, and attempt to hit the TV players running away. The TV players run away and pick up debris to throw at the monster a la dodgeball.

Sea Monster – VR View

Sea Monster – Console View

Wanted (2-∞ players) – The VR player is a sheriff in a Wild West setting attempting to shoot bandits, but with no idea who the bandit is. The players watching the TV see the bandit and have to describe different features so the VR player can identify him.

Wanted – VR View

Wanted – Console View

Ghost House (1+ players) – There was a rather ingenious game for the Wii called Wii Play Motion that used sounds and vibrations on the Wii controller to let players “hunt” for ghosts around the real room. This game brings that idea to fruition by letting the VR player literally look around the room to follow the ghost around.

Ghost House - VR View

Playstation Worlds

If you bought the launch bundle of the PSVR, you also got a game called Playstation Worlds. This game can also be purchased separately for a retail price of $59.99, but honestly, they should have included it free in every PSVR, because like Playroom VR, it’s really not much more than a set of relatively short technical demos.

I wish Sony would have learned the lesson from Nintendo and Wii Sports that in the long run they’ll make more money with new technology if they can convince users to adopt it first–and that sometimes means “giving away” enough to ensure that their first experiences with the technology will be amazing. But some number-cruncher at Sony obviously felt that they could make money off this by selling it separately.

As a standalone game, Playstation Worlds feels like it’s missing depth. But as a tech demo, it does a fabulous job of showcasing the potential of virtual reality beyond what Playroom VR could. Again, it consists of five standalone (and relatively short) experiences, all for single players wearing the VR headset.

The London Heist – Here, you find yourself locked in a dingy room with a big mean-looking British guy with muscles and tattoos hovering over you, apparently holding you hostage. It’s not a pleasant feeling, but that’s by design. There are a few gimmicky moments (such as when the guy points a gun at you, which is about as unsettling as it would be in real life), but for me, the “whoa” moment was when he puts some things on a table for you to interact with–a lighter, a cigar, and other mundane objects which you’ll gasp at how realistic they look. You can pick them up and examine them as if they were real objects, holding them close to your face and rotating them to view them in 360 degrees. The effect was stunningly realistic (and all the more realistic when you use the Move controllers).

From there, you embark on a few short adventures where you get into a shootout, a car chase, and other typical experiences. Perhaps because they knew that no one under 12 would be using the PSVR, they decided to make this game “M for mature”, which means real blood and gore and lots and lots of uses of the “F” word. Honestly, I found the game itself to be pretty gratuitous and contrived and the “storyline” weak, but of course the main purpose of it was to show off 3D, which it does stunningly well.

Ocean Descent – This is a passive experience where you’re in a cage underwater and the cage dives down into the deep sea. Not much to do here but watch and enjoy the scenery, which is pretty well done and I’m guessing pretty accurate as you dive into deep sea. I enjoyed not just viewing the sights outside, but also just the process of looking around and examining the detail of the cage I was in.

Scavengers Odyssey – Here, you fly a spaceship around shooting things, and then land on a planet, shooting things. Again, the thing I was most impressed with at first as just looking down at my chest and my lap and hands and seeing someone else’s body. But flying through the stars is also an exhilarating experience.

VR Luge – Remember a Playstation Move game called “Kung Fu Rider” where you glide down the road in an office chair? For the VR they went the slightly less silly route and have you glide down roads lying on your back on a skateboard. You steer by moving your head left and right and let “gravity” do the rest. This is by far the fastest action of all the games, and is served well by the PSVR’s quick refresh rate.

Danger Ball – This is essentially Pong in 3D. It plays a lot like racketball in that you’re in a square court and hitting a ball to try to get it past your competitor. You control the action by moving your head up, down, left, and right. This is one where the Move controllers probably would have made more sense, but using your head works too.

Like I said, you won’t get much of a workout playing any of these games. Your heart rate might elevate a little at moments like when the British dude is pointing a gun at your head, and you may have a sore neck after playing too much Danger Ball, but that’s not going to help you lose weight.

That said, despite Playstation Worlds being sold as a standalone game, I’d consider both Playroom VR and Playstation Worlds as very polished tech demos that do a great job of showcasing the potential of VR.

But again, as far as exercise and working out, of course neither of these games do that. But I’ll be following up this post with exciting news on what I consider the killer app for virtual reality and fitness. Stay tuned.