Superhot, a clever puzzle game that masquerades as a shooter, has received praise for good reason. Tying the passage of time to one's movements is an inspired concept and, reportedly, its execution in prior releases has been impressive. Superhot VR on Oculus Quest is my introduction to this gameplay, and looks to raise the bar for a game so heavily influenced by motion.
The Superhot Team to a certain extent went back to the drawing board to recreate their game in virtual reality. The rebuilt game apparently features levels and gameplay that differ from prior versions. Others can address how those compare. I'll focus on how Superhot VR works as its own virtual reality game, and in the process presume that readers are unfamiliar with the game, as I was.
The first thing made clear to the player is that there is no story. The fact is that the game is a series of shooting galleries and wastes no time establishing that. And while Superhot VR works exceedingly well on that level, and plenty of games suffer with tacked on storylines, I was disappointed to discover that prior versions have a compelling narrative that is conspicuously absent here.
Still, an approach that forgoes such attempts in favor of immediate action, especially when that action is so immersive, has its advantages. Call it "bullet time" a la Max Payne or Stranglehold. I prefer bullet ballet. Whereas the former is more offensive and allows players to get the drop on foes with precise targeting, the latter emphasizes defense by dodging bullets or melee attacks to set up the next shot.
The jumping off point is a closet-sized room with tables holding computers, monitors and floppy disks, and walls covered with challenges written on Post-Its. Players select from disks labeled to reflect each mode or option the game offers, put one in the hard drive and place the virtual visor over their head to begin. In between missions, completed challenges will have moved to the door.
The disks themselves represent the main Superhot game and related options like Reset Progress and Guest, or other modes that are variations on the core content, including Speedrun Game Time, Speedrun Real Time, Hard Core, Headshot Only, Don't Die and Endless. I found the main game surprisingly short despite multiple deaths, but the various other modes provide a ton of replayability.
Whichever disk is selected, each mission unfolds in the same way. You stand in a white environment over black guns or melee objects (bottles, ash trays, billiard balls, etc.) and opposite advancing, featureless red avatars that carry guns, knives or fists of fury. Levels might lack detail or texture but are varied, including an airport, mall, helipad, office, construction yard, bar and restaurant.
The settings usually provide some cover and weapons, and the moment you reach for either time starts to advance along with your assailants. That's why it's important to always assess your situation and plan your next move. In this way Superhot VR plays out more like a puzzle game where the player carefully choreographs every engagement, though deaths and trial and error gameplay figure prominently.
What's especially impressive about this setup is that I rarely felt frustrated or cheated. There are never so many foes or so few weapons or cover that players can't survive, so it comes down to how well one can analyze each scenario and choose which weapon to use when and on which enemy. Getting killed becomes a lesson in the pitfalls of impatience or carelessness.
Players gauge who is an immediate risk, either due to proximity or weapon. If nearby, a fist or melee weapon will save ammo. Are they bunched up or spread out? Find a submachine gun or shotgun for the former, handgun or melee for the latter. Have they raised their weapon? They're the first target at range. Of course, a quick check of your nearby arsenal will inform each decision.
Thankfully, foes will react to your choices. Fire too far in front of a distant moving target and they might change direction. Too close and they might avoid your shot. Waste your bullets on errant shots and you'll find yourself hiding behind cover or contorting yourself in borderline uncomfortable ways to avoid taking just one of many bullets and starting from the beginning of the mission.
Every single firefight boils down to how well you plan and execute every single move, and the game brilliantly takes advantage of that in virtual reality. Reaching for weapons at arm's length or farther, throwing melee weapons while firing a pistol, or dual-wielding guns to target different enemies, all the while positioning yourself low or high, right or left, creates a unique, immersive and entertaining experience.
I don't recall a VR game that challenged me in this way, demanding I use my entire body at all times in a relatively quick, responsive and thoughtful way while also anticipating how each scenario will play out. It's exciting, fluid and rewarding, especially when weapons can also stop bullets and a kind of energy beam from extended fists can help in a pinch (never mind its odd placement in a game without a story).
It's fun, when it all works. Thankfully that's often the case, but I was frustrated on several occasions by grab/hold buttons that stuck in place. Of course that's a problem with the Oculus Touch controllers, however, it's also a function of game design when players are required to hold weapons by continuously pressing down on the grab buttons. Release the buttons, and the weapons fall. (Usually.)
In most games such as Robo Recall, one press will grab an item/weapon, a second will release it. In a game that requires pressing down until you want to let the item/weapon go, the chances are greater that the button will stick. At best, I lost precious time trying to throw or change weapons; at worst, I suffered multiple cheap deaths because I could do neither.
This wasn't a constant problem, and it only became worse the longer I played. While annoying, there were few other issues that I had with game design/controls. Despite the main Superhot VR mode being surprisingly short, the variety of other modes adds considerably to the game's replayability. I found myself playing levels over and over to improve my kills in Endless or times in Speedrun.
My overall experience with Superhot VR was a joyous one that lived up to the hype. The immersion of full body movement, including (SPOILER ALERT) a required leap from a building, was exhilarating and still rare in virtual reality. Also, while my play space is limited, I was impressed to read how others on Quest could take advantage of larger spaces to reach farther weapons and foes.
Another feature of level design that was appreciated is the option on some levels to teleport to a second position within eyesight. This allows players to flank unsuspecting foes at a moment's notice and also enjoy a different perspective on the same map. Like the energy beams, I didn't take advantage as often as I should have, but their inclusion likewise increases replayability.
While there's room for improvement, the Superhot Team has crafted inventive must-play scenarios that provide a great foundation for future VR content. More than most virtual reality games, Superhot VR exploits the medium in entertaining ways that impress and inspire, and hopefully will lead to similar quality experiences going forward.
(This review is based on a review code of Superhot VR for the Oculus Quest. The game released May 21 on this console.)
Square Enix representatives were on hand at Anime Expo this year to detail the company's new Square Enix Manga and Square Enix Books imprints unveiled in May. Lead presenter Masa of the manga/book program was joined by lead editor Tania Biswas (responsible for bringing titles from Japan) and Square Enix America PR representatives Stephanie and Rachel.
Soul Eater: The Perfect Edition, by Atsushi Ohkubo, is about Maka, a weapon meister at Death Weapon Meister Academy, who is determined to turn her partner, the living scythe Soul Eater, into the Death Scythe -- the ultimate weapon of Death himself. She just has to find the tainted souls of 99 humans and one witch first. This edition includes new cover illustrations by Ohkubo-sensei, all color pages from the magazine serialization (never available in English before), a larger format and the full 25 volumes of the series now condensed into 17. The manga is coming later this year.
Hi Score Girl, by Rensuke Oshikiri, is set in the early 1990s and follows skilled gamer Haruo who is confronted with a gamer girl who defeats him and halts his winning streak. A rivalry ensues, but so does an unlikely friendship. The manga is expected this year; the anime is on Netflix, with the second season debuting in Japan in October.
A Man and His Cat, by Umi Sakurai, follows the heartwarming and funny story of an elegant man who stops in a pet store one day and leaves for home with a 1-year-old cat named Fukumaru. The series is about how much love an animal can bring into your life and how much better your life can be with a pet. This manga was the No. 1 top launch in Japan in the first half of 2018, and is coming in 2019. Stamps are available for purchase by searching Ojisama to Neko on the LINE messaging app.
Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town (story by Toshio Satou, art by Hajime Fusemachi, character design by Nao Watanuki) is about a young boy with big dreams who heads to the imperial capital to become a soldier in defiance of neighbors who consider him weak. Everyone around him soon discovers that weak is relative when you're descended from heroes. This manga is expected to hit stores in 2020.
Marked for Failure, the World's Strongest Sage Reincarnates for a Do-Over! -- story by Shinkoshoto, art by Kansho and Hyoko (Friendly Land), character design by Huuka Kazabana -- is the tale of the world's strongest sage who reincarnates to become even stronger, only to be born into a world where no one recognizes his potential. Mathias faces an uphill battle to prove everyone wrong. This manga includes new short stories written by the author of the original light novel and is expected to arrive in 2020.
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina (story by Jougi Shiraishi, art by Itsuki Nanao, character design by Azuru) is about a full-fledged witch named Elaina who, instead of receiving great fanfare in the Land of Witches, is waylaid by a chance encounter and denied the recognition she deserves. Propelled on an unexpected adventure as a result, she leaves a mark on the creatures and people she meets. This adaptation of the light novel that ranked No. 1 on Amazon Kindle in Japan is anticipated to make its manga debut in 2020.
Cherry Magic! Thirty Years of Virginity Can Make You a Wizard?, by Yuu Toyota, is a heartwarming romantic comedy that tells the tale of a 30-year-old virgin named Adachi who has developed the ability to read people's minds by touching them, and what happens when a brush with a handsome colleague reveals that he has a crush on Adachi himself. Ranked No. 1 on Japan's Bookstore Employees' Recommended Boys Love Manga of 2019, this first BL series by Square Enix is a popular series on Pixiv Comics and expected to release in 2020.
My Dress-Up Darling, by Shinichi Fukuda, is about a high school boy with a passion for traditional dolls and a talent for sewing and crafting who finds himself making cosplay outfits for one of the prettiest, most popular girls in his class. This odd couple's interactions get racier as they grow closer. The manga is anticipated in 2020.
The Misfit of Demon King Academy: History's Strongest Demon King Reincarnates and Goes to School with His Descendants (story by SHU, art by Kayaharuka, character design by Yoshinori Shizuma) is the tale of demon king Anoth and what happens when his hoped-for peaceful reincarnation results in attending school with his descendants 2,000 years later. With magic on its last legs in this era, no one can assess or appreciate Anoth's true power and he has to overcome a reputation as a failure. This manga is anticipated in 2020.
To oppose the gods or to follow your destiny? Final Fantasy XV: The Dawn of the Future, by Jun Eishima, is a follow-up story about the dawn of the world, a new history of Final Fantasy XV and its characters: Ardyn, Aranea, Lunafreya and Noctis. The novel (~400 pages in the Japanese edition) contains basically four stories following the characters with additional context to their stories that weren't fully seen in the game and also sheds some new light on what happens after the game so kind of provides a new ending to Final Fantasy XV. It is coming this year. (The expanded cover illustration seen below might be included as a poster inside the book exclusively for the English edition.)
For more information and updates about Square Enix titles, visit Square-Enix-Books.com.
More Anime Expo coverage can be found here: Anime Expo 2019: Exhibitors, Artists & Cosplay.
More photos from Anime Expo can be found in the Photography section.
Anime Expo continues to be a huge draw for the industry, content creators and fans of anime, manga and Japanese culture in general. Reportedly the four-day event attracted 110,000 unique attendees and 350,000 total turnstile visits last year. This year, too, packed exhibit halls, meeting rooms and theaters with countless representatives and consumers eager to share their enjoyment of these popular mediums.
Besides shelves, tabletops and boxes of anime and manga, exhibitors offered attendees a range of goods such as action figures, plushies, bobbleheads, models, video games, music, arts and crafts, cosplay garments, Japanese fashion, T-shirts and caps, and accessories, not to mention the opportunity to obtain merchandise exclusive to the expo. They also provided performances, photo ops, playable video games, contests and more.
Exhibitors this year included Aksys Games, ATLUS, Bandai Namco, Crunchyroll, Cygames, Funimation, Gungho Online, Kinokuniya Bookstore, Lab Zero Games, NIS America, Toei Animation and VIZ Media, among many, many more both large and small. Booths ranged from large exhibits with banners/signage, video screens, statues, art, etc., including interactive displays, to single booths displaying tons of product.
If looking for artwork, the show floor and Artist Alley had more than enough for even avid collectors. The latter is in Kentia Hall, which is basically parking area A. The many long aisles are filled with artist booths and attendees can spend a long time walking up and down while appreciating the wide variety and consistently quality artistry on display. All mediums and crafts are well represented, with unique takes on popular characters and franchises.
Entertainment of course went beyond the exhibit hall to include the Welcome & Closing Ceremonies, traditional cosplay Masquerade (and World Cosplay Summit USA Finals), a Japanese fashion show, Late Comedy Showdown, Cosplay Chess, AMV (Anime Music Video) Showdown, Butler/Maid Cafes, anime premieres/screenings, Community Stage, concerts, the burlesque and cabaret After Hours, Lounge 21, Manga Lounge, karaoke and AX Dance.
Every day was full of insightful, compelling and/or entertaining content in the form of panel discussions on a variety of topics. What caught my eye were Diversity in Manga, Warner Bros. Japan Anime Lineup, Aksys Games, Square Enix Announcements, Gundam 40th Anniversary Panel, Japanese Game Creativity With New Game From CyberConnect2, Introduction to Shinto by Shinto Priest, and Play Anime! With Bandai Namco.
Last but not least was what attendees brought to the expo in the form of cosplay costumes. Year in and year out visitors and Masquerade contestants dazzle with impressive gear made from scratch to pay homage to their favorite anime or manga characters. They show a range of skill but all show off the attendees' love for the mediums. See below and in the Photography section of this website for examples.
The expo has grown by leaps and bounds, and not only in attendance. The breadth of exhibitors and especially artists is truly impressive. One day is scarcely enough time to even scrape the surface of this huge expo. I did overhear attendees complain about Thursday admission, but my experience was not too restrictive and, once inside, I felt it went reasonably well despite the huge throngs. If a fan of anime or manga, it's worth a visit.
More Anime Expo coverage can be found here: Anime Expo 2019: Square Enix Announces New Manga & Books.
More photos from Anime Expo can be found in the Photography section.
(SEE "ABOUT" PAGE FOR LINKS TO SPECIFIC BLOGS.)