The VR realm is so exciting and new for early adopters that developers are throwing things at the wall to see what sticks. It sounds weird calling modern VR “new” when the consumer grade technology has been out and about for over a year, but given that only a handful of developers are fully embracing it, there’s still plenty of room to grow. That mentality allows for some more out there ideas—for instance, imagine if the company responsible for American Gladiators made a low budget game about climbing “The Wall.” That’s basically the pitch session for To the Top, but with alcohol involved.
I had to do a double take to see if To the Top was in Early Access right from the main menu. With very basic and solid colour schemes, as well as menus that are literally plain text, it brings a new meaning to the term minimalist. To boot, the really strange R&B soundtrack feels completely out of place in what essentially amounts to a platforming racing game, but like everything else, it grows on you. Even when you’re walking crab style through a course that essentially amounts to a giant version of Andy’s Room from Toy Story.
The very idea of To the Top is to get to, well, the top of every level. Billed as a take on Mirror’s Edge, the VR jaunt times your runs, but doesn’t really shove it in your face if you do poorly or fail to locate any of the game’s many collectables. It’s mostly concerned with giving you a chill environment in which to roam with a cool but flawed sense of locomotion. There are virtual monkey bars and floating platforms galore, all of which give you a real sense of dread and vertigo as you make your way to the goal.
If you’re playing To the Top with motion controllers (and you really should), the concept of using left and right hands to get around is something you can pick up in seconds. You simply grab an object with either hand to hold onto it or climb up a surface. To leap, you only need to hold something with both hands, look in the direction you want to fly, and let go with both hands. Given that consecutive leaps in quick succession fling you further and further, it feels really good when the stars align for an especially brilliant set of obstacles.
But there’s a caveat, as there often is with VR games of this nature—you can’t actually move anywhere manually, or where there isn’t a special surface that you can interact with. There’s no analogue stick interaction, no manual jumping, not even a teleportation element. If you’re stuck you need to press the “last checkpoint” button and try again. There’s really no compromise in the vast majority of each stage, so if you go off book, may God have mercy on your soul.
To compensate there are some orb objects scattered about some sections that you can grab with both hands (even if you’re out of reach), and pull yourself to, but those aren’t always available. Levels frequently teeter on the edge of a rush and a chore. When new concepts like ramps are introduced, you can’t help but smile as you experience everything first-hand. But once the game sends you down an unintended path, with multiple failed attempts to actually traverse it, a feeling of pure irritation sets in.
Once you work your way to the real world plot and the idea that you’re in a virtual training academy, To the Top drops all of its pretences that it’s supposed to make sense. It’s a really strange game for a certain type of person—one that can see past its mostly visual flaws and go to town in a fake jungle gym.