I’m always skeptical going into any game that that’s a licensed property. More often than not, it’s a cash grab that never does the subject matter justice. It’s handed off to some team with no love for whatever property is to be emulated, enabling a quick turnaround for a soulless shell of a game wearing the skin of something popular. Too often, gamers and fans are burned by these titles, but the companies involved get their money back and life moves on, everyone wary of the next licensed game being paired with the release of a big movie or popular TV show.
Cue getting an email about DreamWorks Voltron VR Chronicles. The above skepticism washed over me, but an open part of my mind wanted to give it a shot. Virtual reality has managed to do some really special things in terms of immersive experiences, and I hoped this might be one of the exceptions to that licensed property rule. In many ways it was an exception, though it managed to spark out in other areas.
Crafted around the Netflix revival of the ’80s cartoon, it’s hard for me to call Voltron VR Chronicles a game. It strikes me more as an interactive episode of the show, giving players a chance to get inside one the the robot lions to perform diagnostics, fly around, and shoot down enemy ships for themselves. Outside of the light gameplay moments, there are a number of cutscenes allowing players to feel like they are a part of the Saturday morning cartoon (or whenever you want to watch the cartoon, seeing as it’s on Netflix now). Every kid has dreamed of being a part of their favorite animation, and for many, Voltron VR Chronicles will fulfill that dream.
Faithful Use of License
The cel-shading is fantastically implemented, allowing a three dimensional world to still feel like hand drawn animation. It’s visually fascinating, and the choice of where to put player perspective for each scene makes the massive mechs seem monumental. In addition to the great animation, the entire voice cast from the Netflix series Voltron: Legendary Defender lends their talents to the VR experience. Instead of relying on reused voice lines from the show, or worse, changing up voice actors, each character reprises their role for an original story. Here’s where things start to get murky though.
There isn’t any kind of set-up at all. Voltron VR Chronicles is by and by a supplementary experience to Legendary Defender, made strictly for the fans. If you aren’t familiar with the characters or the backstory of the world, don’t expect the VR experience to provide that information to you. While it did manage to pique my interest in the Netflix series–which I haven’t actually had a chance to watch yet–there was a lot that I just explained away as “because cartoons” in my mind.
Interactivity plays a role, but it’s more along the lines of a kid excitedly jetting around the living room while watching the cartoon, pretending he or she is the pilot of their very own space-faring robot lion. I don’t think it’s possible to actual fail at any point during the experience, though to be fair, I didn’t outright try. Puzzles don’t have timers and eventually clue players in to the correct answer. Flight sections allow for very limited movement along a pre-determined path. Only combat with enemy ships and the final boss seemed to offer anything that I would consider a challenge, even if that challenge was minimal at best. Let me be clear that this isn’t a negative point. Voltron VR Chronicles aims to spark imagination and immersion, rather than engage players with difficult gameplay, and it does so spectacularly. It’s again why I hesitate to call this a game as much as it is an interactive VR experience.
One of the biggest barriers that DreamWorks Voltron VR Chronicles will have is the price to length ratio for the experience. I managed to finish in about 45 minutes, and that was with a couple of interruptions disengaging me from playing. If I went through again, I wouldn’t expect it to take any longer than half an hour. 30 minutes is exceptionally short when asking players to pay $14.99 out the door, though that’s another thing I was left confused about.
Is it Episodic?
Apparently, what I played is simply the first episode, which makes sense given that nothing much got resolved in the end. It ends on a cliffhanger indicating there is more to come, not to mention that Voltron only makes an appearance during a cutscene. Not getting to play as the sword wielding mega mech is a significant downside for the something titled Voltron VR Chronicles. For anyone not researching, nothing about Voltron VR Chronicles indicates this is merely episode one. Even doing research, the most I found was a throwaway line in the announcement for the experience: “Described as ‘a new cinematic, episodic VR experience,’ VR Chronicles starts with Episode 1: Seeds of Corruption.”
The game itself makes no mention of this being a single episode. The review email I got said nothing about this being a solo episode. In fact, the title of the episode, Seeds of Corruption—while it makes sense after playing—is nowhere to be found in either the game itself or promotional material I’ve seen about the game. Of course, this leads to further questions. Does the $14.99 price including future entries into the VR Chronicles? If not, how much will they cost? When can we expect them? How many can we expect? It’s not like episodic games haven’t been done before, and looking to the likes of Telltale titles and King’s Quest presents plenty of solutions that could easily clear this up for players.
Voltron VR Chronicles is an amazingly immersive way to jump into a Saturday morning cartoon, something I’ve only dreamed of my entire life. It’s not going to provide an engaging gameplay experience for anyone looking for a challenge, but it’s an innovative new way to participate in the action of a popular animated series. If they can clear up confusion about the episodic nature of the experience—not just through press releases, but in game as well—that would go a long way towards providing incentive for fans of Voltron and newcomers alike to keep an eye on DreamWorks Voltron VR Chronicles as future additions are announced.
DreamWorks Voltron VR Chronicles review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4 and PSVR. For more information on review scores, please read our Review Policy.