Box VR is a no-frills virtual reality training simulator from FitXR. While, strictly speaking, it falls more into the app category than games, Box VR does harness many staples from the rhythm game genre to make it more enjoyable than its lacklustre packaging would have you believe at first glance.
After the usual PSVR checks for positioning, Box VR asks you to enter your age, sex, weight and set a session time goal before dropping you into menus presented as a gym locker room with the requisite accompanying weightlifting sounds and the distant peals of music drifting through from one of the ‘studios’.
Where you might expect some sort of PS Move controller calibration and basic training orientation as part of your first session with the app, instead you have to dig through the menus to adjust your virtual gloves and run through the (very) basics of play. This isn’t a deal breaker but unfortunately it isn’t the only rough edge in the game and, more than that, it strikes me as odd that you would be shown the ropes as a matter of course in your first real-life session at a boxing class but are not in software that seeks to emulate that experience.
GIVE ‘EM THE OL’ ONE, TWO!
It’s during the ‘how to play’ tutorial that the ‘gameplay’ of Box VR is introduced. Like most (if not all) rhythm games, objects – in this case orbs – are funnelled down a central channel toward the player. These orbs must be interacted with successfully by punching to increase a multiplier that will in turn increase score and failing to interact correctly with an orb will reset the multiplier to zero. The orbs are colour coded to match your virtual gloves, meaning that the player must strike the correct orb with the correct move controller to successfully score a hit and increase their multiplier.
Boxing, of course, is not all about one type of punch and there are a variety that the player is presented with during a session. Jabs, hooks, uppercuts and blocks (amongst others) are all requirements of play, with anything other than a straight jab displaying a direction indicator on the orbs to denote them. Squats and dodges round out the repertoire, with the player having to move their body to evade horizontal and diagonal blocks respectively.
Each of the boxing sessions plays to music as they would in a real-world training class, and, while the tracks on offer are unlikely to make your Spotify playlist, they are catchy enough to set the tone and tempo of your selected session. You may even find yourself at odds with you inner music snob at times, as I found there were several music tracks that fell out of my normal musical interests but the gameplay accompanying them was challenging and satisfying enough that I began to enjoy them for their accompanying gameplay.
In the standalone classes mode (where you’ll spend the majority of your initial hours with the game), session listings are annoyingly vague to point of mysterious as to their content because they are only classified by time length, with longer classes requiring more elaborate move sets. A beginner section and one that removes squats from sessions for those who either don’t want to include them or (presumably) are unable to do them do offer a little clarity among a dizzying number of sessions, however.
Simple yet hard to master and far from revolutionary, Box VR takes the same premise as games such as the Rock Band series and, more recently, Beat Saber VR, treading those same paths competently. Like rhythm games, Box VR at first seems overwhelming and you could be forgiven for blaming the PSVR’s known tracking issues for some of your failings during your early hours with the game, but as you start to gain confidence and technique, the game becomes a fun and satisfying challenge.
While Box VR’s presentation is yet another first impression stumbling block – chock full of lo-res images and PS3 assets – the gameplay is the big draw here. Many games eschew the move controllers for the precision of a gamepad but the move controllers are tailor-made for this sort of activity, allowing the player to properly engage by imitating real-world boxing moves. Correct strikes reward the player with audio feedback accompanied by a satisfying tremor of vibration from the controllers and sessions are surprisingly good at giving a full-body workout despite the focus naturally being on the upper body.
Scoring may seem redundant in a game that is designed to be instructive – in fact, there is no fail state if you continue to miss targets – but it allows for personal benchmarks to be set and comparisons to be made against other players on your friends list or even globally: a sort of friendlier PvP. Something that is also available but I’ll discuss that further down the line.
Even as a person who would last about 10 seconds in a boxing ring, my Rocky/Raging Bull grasp of boxing began to recognise combinations of moves during a session and this is one of the more satisfying aspects of Box VR. As music tracks become more frenetic and the targets rushing towards you appear in increasingly elaborate formations, it’s tremendously empowering cracking the timing for them and, even more so, getting a complex move set right first time.
The difference between the likes of Rock Band or Beat Saber and Box VR is that both show the player how the gameplay works more effectively: how to hold a guitar note or slash at a beat block. While Box VR’s perfunctory tutorial does tell you where to punch and what to dodge, it falls flat as a fitness product because it doesn’t contain guidance on how to punch or dodge properly, or even suggest what the player’s posture should be while playing.
There are a few different modes on offer in Box VR: a list of stand alone classes created by FitXR’s real-life fitness instructors ranging from 2 minutes up to 60, a personal mix list where you can add sessions from the stand alone classes together to play one after the other or shuffled and a survival mode where you lose a life every time you miss a target and continue until you have no lives left.
Metrics are available at the end of each session, be it independent class, mix or survival, showing the player percentages of successful strikes or dodges. There are also approximate calories burned and session time tracking to match to your goals. Like the sessions scores, these numbers are useful for baseline comparisons and tracking player progress. We all know how humans like watching numbers go up.
I COULD HAVE BEEN A CONTENDER
Multiplayer is also available, in so far that you can host a session that other players can join, or you can jump into random sessions yourself. I would presume that MP plays out identically to single player and simply compares scores at the end of a session, but there were neither sessions to join nor players to populate any sessions I hosted during my time with the game.
At £25 on the PS store, Box VR compares poorly to the likes of Beat Saber at the same price as it feels very much like a cheap cash-in port of a PC application. Where a console edition of a piece of software could have benefited from support in the form of better tutorialisation, added modes, extra tracks or even additional virtual gyms to switch up the scenery (there are only 3 and two of them are just the same set at different times of day), FitXR have just transferred over the same game with the minimum amount of effort and that’s a missed opportunity to make a better, more appealing product.
Box VR should at least look stylish because of its simple visuals – the assets are even more simplified than the gorgeous Astrobot Rescue VR – but instead we’re left with a gym menu screen from Max Payne, instructors portraits that are lo-res to the point of being unrecognisable and blurry targets that only properly come into focus right in front of the virtual camera. Unfortunately, this isn’t going to be a PSVR system seller and it won’t convert a friend to the VR cause (incidentally, the trailer on the store is a good indication of gameplay but the visual representation isn’t nearly so accurate).
The biggest frustration is that the game itself is actually robustly made and fun to play. It’s basic to be sure, but it’s a good example of how the hardware works and what it can be used for. For someone who doesn’t have access to a gym or boxing trainer, Box VR is a good solution that is enjoyable without all of the real-world fuss. Multiplayer is a nice addition but I would have rather had some extra features to smooth out the experience and increase replayability. Even if those come at the cost of micro-transactions. On the whole, it’s an enjoyably functional rhythm trainer hiding under mediocre packaging.