Ever since the console wars of the 1990s video game fans have been obsessed with how things look.
For decades now gamers have been captivated by concepts like 8 bit, 16 bit, HD, 4K, “Mode 7,” or even the infamous “blast processing” that makes the Sega Genesis so obviously superior to any other console. Today, games look better than they ever have but along the way we may have forgotten about one very important part of what it takes to create a truly amazing gaming experience: fun.
At some point the question became how many hairs we could count on our character’s knuckle rather than how fun it was to use those knuckles to obliterate the bad guys. At the end of the day, all that should really matter is how enjoyable a game is and Electric Hat Games new VR platform To The Top is proof.
To The Top is not the best looking VR game I’ve ever seen. It’s not even in the top ten. Heck, it’s not even in the top thirty. However, in terms of gameplay, music and controls it has quickly become one of my all time favorites. It’s just plain fun.
Your main goal in To The Top is to traverse a variety of cleverly designed obstacle courses using a kit of entertaining mechanics.
A basic color coding system lets you know what elements around the courses you can grab using the triggers on either your Oculus Rift of HTC Vive controllers. By grabbing one of these handholds with both hands and then releasing your grip you will leap in the direction of your gaze. Chaining together leaps lets you move steadily faster as you jump, grab, soar and slide your way to the finish line. That basic loop never really changes and it never really gets old either.
The phrase “easy to learn difficult to master” applies well to the controls in To The Top. It never ceases to feel amazing when you pull off an amazing string of jumps and stick the landing at your next checkpoint. That feeling of freedom and exhilaration only increases as you slowly perfect your skills and master even more complex bouts of immersive parkour.
The controls are made doubly fun by the levels themselves. Like I said before, To The Top is not a game that will impress on raw visuals. However, the design and layout of each level is thoughtfully crafted with their own interesting and unique gameplay challenges. Despite the simple graphics, there will be tons of moments that will bring a smile to your face while simultaneously dropping your jaw.
There are collectibles and secrets to find for the explorers in our midst and each new level feels satisfyingly different from the one before. You might be jumping around skyscrapers one moment and diving into caves the next. Getting to the end of each stage feels satisfying while also instilling a large dose of that “just one more” feeling that all great games aspire to dish out.
On top of all the fantastic gameplay To The Top is also the best use of music in a VR game I’ve ever come across. The entire game is set against a sonic backdrop of pre-selected tunes that I, at first, was hoping I could swap out for my own tracks. However, halfway through the first level I realized how perfectly these songs pair with this game and the idea of changing them never crossed my mind again. Landing an excellent jump combo to the rhythm of a perfectly selected bass line never truly gets old.
To The Top offers a lot of bang for your buck. The standard campaign can be run through in about 4-6 hours depending on how good you are but unfortunately Electric Hat opted to put in one of my least favorite machinations in all of gaming: progression gates.
In order to unlock new stages you need to collect a certain number of medals by performing well on past stages. This is a tried and true method for amping up a game’s challenge factor and squeaking a few more hours into an overall gameplay time. However, it’s never fun to have to backtrack and replay old levels over and over for achievements when all you really want to do is get to that one new stage.
The studio is also promising a multiplayer mode where you can compete and enjoy levels directly with friends online. This is a fantastic idea and one that probably should have been included in this initial release.
Despite the lack of multiplayer and the horror of ham-fisted progression gates, To The Top is still one of the most singularly fun experiences I’ve ever had inside my VR headset. It’s gameplay is simple, but addictive, and rewards skillful play while never demanding you become an expert all at once. The progression gates are annoying but mostly because they held me back from tearing into more of this truly amazing experience.