SpellPunk VR is a frustrating but barely passable multiplayer shooter that works best as a concept. Its approach to a magic-based dueling game is enough to make players feel like Doctor Strange – if he never became the Sorcerer Supreme. Even in its Beta version, the game’s lack of accessibility affects its frustrating controls while players find themselves spending more time trying to conjure spells.
Its premise is simple: You’re a wizard practicing spells in a mystical void. Floating rocks become a platform for sorcery, which can be summoned through drawing figures and shapes. The world SpellPunk tries to immerse players with is vibrant to behold in VR, with bright patterns and some electric music under a consistent neon-grunge tone. This sets the game apart in aesthetics, but that’s as much as players get.
SpellPunk lacks any deeper immersion without voice acting or even a story to engage players with. They’re simply thrown into a platform without context to duel with magic. The game would have benefitted with characters guiding players through an introduction to help. But, a barebones tutorial does manage to teach you the basics solo. SpellPunk’s direction as a multiplayer-based game also makes it dependent on drawing spells while making players wonder what they’re fighting for (it might involve a dancing robot?).
Spells only work if players drew shapes with mathematical precision (which of course is unrealistic). VR users simply hold down the grip button to start drawing. It’s a mechanic that’s meant to be practiced with a challenge, but a poor response means the learning curve never goes away. As some spells continue to work, most fizzle out and turn sorcerers-to-be into punching bags for opponents (assuming they figured out how to nail SpellPunk‘s controls).
Right away, players have a total of nine abilities which can be drawn. Of course, each spell is based on an element and offer different levels of damage/speed. But the game’s biggest gimmick is also its weakness, which makes spells tedious and difficult to draw. But as much as I tried to draw simple arrows (and even a circle), it just doesn’t work as it’s supposed to. The feeling of finally making a spell is muddled by horrible feedback from a user’s hands. Incineration Studios has yet to loosen its incredibly constrictive controls, which would make SpellPunk at the very least a solid experience.
This is made to alleviate some of SpellPunk’s lack of open-ended feedback response, which comes from players drawing shapes differently. Unless a spell is drawn with great stenciling to the game’s chart, you’re greeted with a failing clap that becomes all too familiar.
But when players are successful, they feel like sorcerers with a creative spark. It’s satisfying to fire off spells and watch each unique one hit an enemy. SpellPunk shines when players find their own hot streak with spells and some are easier to draw than others. But the more complicated spells are traded for familiar ones during intense duels. In turn, players could find themselves sticking to their drawable spells to win matches.
This is where the game deserves some credit on delivering a magical presentation. Each of the elements make each hand glow with solid audio effects and dazzle when fired with the trigger button. But the visual reward comes with repeated attempts at drawing a spell.
A patch after its Beta release did improve its spell recognitions slightly, but players would still find themselves struggling to chain together a combination of attacks during intense battles with opponents. A lack of fluidity from SpellPunk breaks the rhythm it tries to keep. Instead of countering and deflecting spells, I found myself sidestepping to dodge attacks while sparking up nothing from dozens of memorized sketches. Worst of all, the process starts all over again once a spell knocks players back or misses. This rinse-and-repeat cycle could only go as far as your patience does before taking the headset off.
Admittedly, I did manage to triumph over the AI in an offline Versus mode after the patch. The added feedback was enough to screw up less on spells. However, my odds were only increased while spells continued to fail. The biggest enemy knocking me off the stage was still SpellPunk’s biggest mechanic. Thanks to this, it was hard to remember some of the cooler moments that came from countering fireballs with water or having two spells in each hand.
Its offline versus mode adds some replay value for incredibly patient sorcerers. But bots are automatic with their spells, sending a volley of attacks at you before you’re able to get a shield up. It makes it all the more disappointing as players become knocked out of their platforms and fall to their deaths.
Opposite-handed players are unable to draw spells backwards or in any other direction in SpellPunk. It’s subjective to say that players draw shapes differently, and the game fails to meet most players in this part.
Adding to SpellPunk‘s limitations is the lack of a Settings menu. Players don’t get to make adjustments for video, controls or even accessible alternatives to drawing spells. SpellPunk VR stands on its own and hopes players are able to go with it. Many of the options are also limited to choosing some detailed characters, which change your appearance for the game’s different modes. The characters also lack voice-acting or personality to go with their colorful themes, making players a hermit in an edgy, soulless shell.
At the time of writing this review, SpellPunk VR feels like an empty game with its dependency on multiplayer. It was nearly impossible to find an online match to share my wizard woes with. For five minutes, I decided to sit on the floor of my room and wait before going back to offline play again. However, no matchmaking happened after a reasonable amount of tries as I hoped things would improve at final launch.
Until developers take major UI and gameplay overhauls into consideration for its official release, SpellPunk is a clumsy interpretation of VR magic which only works for a few players. The game’s imagination is limited to a colourful presentation at face-value while its strongest drawing-based mechanic is far from reliable (especially against other real players)
What worked for Incineration Productions simply didn’t translate to players trying SpellPunk without a visual guide at all times. Its efforts are clear in improving the game, but does so by staying in place.