Arca's Path Shows VR is Best at the Simple Things

By Rich Stanton on at

I've recently felt slightly guilty about VR because, stunning as the technology can be, I find myself more charmed by the simple experiences than the barnstormers. Quiet, meditative atmospheres like that of Deraciné, or a cerebral puzzler like Statik, are the worlds that linger on once I've removed the headset. The more in-your-face and complex offerings (horror games and shooters especially) are almost too intense. The corollary to this is that a game which might not seem so special on a flat screen – such as Arca's Path, which is entirely about rolling a ball around – can be elevated enormously by immersion.

The heart of Arca's Path is the control scheme, which is built around the player's head movements: obviously I'm simplifying, but you basically 'look' where you want the ball you're piloting to roll. What distinguishes the game, after you've acclimatised, is the degree of subtlety you're able to exert over the ball. In the opening area I rocked back-and-forth like a drunk but, soon enough, had learned to soothe the wilder bursts of acceleration and, conscious of an upcoming corner, start massaging my momentum into the curve.

At this point one thing was going through my mind: Super Monkey Ball, my friend and lover, it has been too long. If you ever managed to play SEGA's superlative ball-rolling original, Arca's Path will feel familiar in a good way (though sadly there's no Monkey Target equivalent). The initial levels are fenced-in at the sides and make it pretty hard to fall off but, after these gentle openers, the environments start to branch a little more, the opportunities to fall are everywhere, and the scenery starts to introduce little kinks to mess with your beautiful controlled head movements.

This rather neatly dovetails with the game's aesthetic; earlier levels being lush and bright and non-threatening before the environments get a little grimmer, more hard-edged, and seem to hover on the brink of collapsing.

Any experienced player knows where this kind of game goes next. Ramps, lifts, multiple routes with goodies on the tougher ones, environmental puzzles, momentum challenges, and a cavalcade of other little tests to see just how well your head has mastered this ball's characteristics. You have extremely fine control over the ball, the weight of which is quickly second nature, and soon enough Arca's Path is doing exactly what you're hoping for: that is, offering up a giant downhill slalom that lets you really pick up some pace.

The joy of rushing down hills, in real life or VR, is hard to overstate. Here it represents the moment where the training wheels come off and the player can luxuriate in speed and control as the floating, transitory world flashes by. The chute weaves from side-to-side so you do too and, if you're like me, on the initial attempts wildly overestimate the turning circle and shoot off into the void. Once you've grasped how to fine-tune at this speed it's an utter rush, a pleasure that derives such intense focus that, for those few minutes of joyous tweaks and tumbling, you're immersed in virtual reality.

The first time I reached the end of this slide, and saw the level's goal, I tossed myself off the edge so I'd respawn at the top and could do it once more. Why not, right? That little moment of magic is what you can spend hours searching for, and so rarely find.

VR can make one feel like a Luddite. You stick on the helmet, are transferred into a far-flung galaxy's war against the bugs, or a haunted house, and... it's not quite as impressive as it should be. The feeling's hard to put your finger on; all this razzle-dazzle should surely be worth something, so why do you feel disconnected from it? Arca's Path isn't a visual spectacle, and it's far from the first game to use head-tracking, but the link it creates between player and ball is spectacular. One might think it odd to play a game without a controller but, as soon as you do, it's as easy as breathing fresh air.

Arca's Path is out now on PC and PSVR.