Virtual Virtual Reality 2, the sequel to Tender Claws’ original satirical puzzle game from 2016, is available now for the Meta Quest platform. But is the game an exciting romp through a fictional metaverse or a frustrating pastiche of VR’s finest moments that ultimately falls flat? Here’s our review-in-progress.
Note: We’ve yet to finalise our review of Virtual Virtual Reality 2, as we’ve been unable to finish the game in time, mainly due to extensive and disruptive bugs. Despite this, the game makes several smart and important innovations in its gameplay. We’ve decided to put up this review-in-progress for now, overviewing the inventive gameplay mechanics, while also describing the bugs that we encountered. Tender Claws says an update addressing several bugs is already in the works, so keep an eye out for our finalized review at a later date.
A Different Type of Sequel
In my eyes, Tender Claws is one of the most interesting studios currently making virtual reality experiences. They’re not afraid to shy away from nuanced and deeply thematic narratives that explore complicated topics with an artistic flair and a critical eye. The studio truly engages with critical thought about the world we live in and the technology we’re developing for it. What’s more, the approach to gameplay is always in service of the narrative – the gameplay isn’t just for fun, but also an essential part of how you engage with the narrative themes at hand.
This sophisticated and symbiotic depth of experience is what marked Tender Claws as a studio to watch in 2016, after the release of Virtual Virtual Reality (VVR). While VVR wasn’t a flawless experience – it certainly had moments of confusion and obscurity, both its gameplay and writing – it did have a sense of experimental, critical and artistic engagement in its storytelling and design that is, even now, often lacking in VR experiences. The studio has carried this flair with them across other projects as well, present in both The Under Presents and, this week, Virtual Virtual Reality 2 (VVR2).
Where the first game dissected the very concept of VR itself (engaging not just with the idea of a VR headset, but everything that comes with it – instant satisfaction, consumerism, capitalism and more), VVR2 pivots to a different kind of game that explores the concept and conceit of the metaverse. You start in a the fictional metaverse realm of Scottsdale, which is soon ‘taken offline’. This leaves you merged with, and stuck inside, a giant mech – one of the Activitude robots from the first game – fighting to escape the metaverse before you get deleted.
While Virtual Virtual Reality 2 (VVR2) is a sequel, it’s also clearly designed to work on its own merits. You’ll benefit from having played the first game – it sets the tone and premise, and there’s plenty of returning characters and call-back references – but it’s probably not essential.
It also helps that VVR2 is a very different game to the original. VVR focused on small areas – which the game automatically ferreted you between – and emphasised environmental puzzles and interactions in service of a linear but engaging story. VVR2 is almost completely different. Besides a similar style of environmental puzzles in some sections, the game adds a variety of new mechanics and ideas – it’s essentially a different game entirely, just set in the same narrative universe.
Tender Claws describes it as an “action-adventure mech platformer”, which isn’t wrong, but also doesn’t fully summarise the breadth of what’s on offer. Most of the game takes place inside a giant robot mech, which feels noticeably large when moving around the game’s human-scale environments. You will also move around inside the mech, interact with other characters on board and even solve environmental puzzles in its various rooms (in m