Anytime I’ve paid much attention to Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia I’ve never been sure what to make of it.
The trailers for Rotu Entertainment’s VR fantasy are undoubtedly flashy, sprinkling a touch of Dark Crystal magic only swapping out Jim Henson puppets for beautifully imaginative virtual life. But there’s also something faintly rusty about it, like a 90’s-era FMV, and this wouldn’t be the first VR game to tease breathtaking visuals and epic pathos in hopes of pulling a veil over shallow gameplay (I’m looking at you, Eden Tomorrow). I also had my doubts about the game’s performance given recent hiccups with ambitious indie titles like Hinge.
Truth be told, even after playing the Steam Games Festival demo I’m not entirely convinced; Ionia’s pacing seems glacial and there’s little in the way of interaction. But I can say with at least some certainty that the game has its own arresting aura that makes it quite different from anything else on the VR radar. Take a look at the demo gameplay in the video above.
What’s on offer in the demo is slight: roughly 10 minutes of tried-and-true VR climbing mechanics and a fairly simple music puzzle that sees you match notes on a xylophone. What’s more important is its backdrop. The world of Ionia is, simply put, an absolutely stunning leafy wonder, dense with alien vegetation that reacts to the touch and populated with strange and awe-inspiring wildlife. The opening 10 minutes slathers on the spectacle and left me wanted to see much more of this world.
I’d like to see the game trust players to go at their own pace – teleportation-based movement is painfully sluggish, there’s no smooth locomotion in the demo and it’s fond of locking you in place whilst someone’s talking to you. But it is trying to make players stop and breathe in its world just a little more and, in that, it’s successful.
Ultimately I suspect that the light interaction and plodding control scheme might hold Rhythm of the Universe back from the full glory of the world ROTU is building. But the strength of that creative vision alone might well be enough to pull it through. Plus the team’s already proved me wrong once, and I’d love them to do it again.
Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia is due for release on PC VR, PSVR and Oculus Quest in Q2 of 2021.