A VR Swingers Party
HIGH Crossing a room in seconds with a few perfect swings.
LOW The underwater bits.
WTF Why is this not attempted more often?
Web-slinging in virtual reality is such a no-brainer that I’m surprised it’s not something we see more often. One would think that Sony, with its ownership of the Spider-Man rights and its commitment to VR, would have thought to combine the two by now — a big missed opportunity.
Yupitergrad is by no means a brilliant product, but it earns a lot of points for filling a hole previously occupied by the Windlands series and little else of note. There’s so much inherent joy in using motion controls to sling oneself through a VR landscape that it makes the otherwise-scant Yupitergrad worth a look.
The player isn’t using actual web shooters, of course, but rather handheld devices called “kosmosticks” that fire suction cups attached to cables. Upon sticking to a surface, the player can extend or retract the cables at will, work up some motion with their arms, and then release the grapples at the appropriate moment in a swing to propel themselves across the environment. It’s an elemental, easy-to-understand movement system, and the transfer of momentum from one swing to the next feels reliable and intuitive.
Yupitergrad shares more than a bit of DNA with Portal in that it’s a first-person puzzle-platformer that introduces a sleek method of traversing environments, adds new complications every few minutes just as we’re starting to get comfortable, and settles for a brief campaign that doesn’t re-use the same ideas too many times. It even does that Portal thing where our device only works on surfaces of a certain color, and the chief means of ramping up the difficulty is to progressively limit said surfaces more and more.
I don’t know that I’d call any of Yupitergrad’s navigational puzzles fiendishly clever or anything – there was never a moment when I was particularly stuck – but actually executing some of the stunts is a unique thrill, especially given the physical exhilaration of it happening in VR. It’s hard for a developer to get any movement to feel fluid in VR, let alone movement as acrobatic as this, but when it’s done properly I feel like I’m on a roller coaster.
The controls are so phenomenal that they elevate an otherwise fairly no-frills package. I like seeing cel shading in VR as stylized visuals mix well with the higher hardware demands, but the levels are all just nondescript metal corridors that wear out their welcome in what little time we spend in them. The adventure is set on a station that’s floating above the surface of Jupiter and run by a dieselpunk alternate-reality version of the Soviet Union. That should be cool, yet we rarely get any indication that this isn’t happening in some warehouse on Earth.
Portal had similarly sparse environments, of course, but it was famously not lacking in personality to counteract it. Yupitergrad’s humor finds considerably less success. Maybe I just don’t find Russian accents as inherently hilarious as developer Gamedust does, but the bulk of Yupitergrad’s jokes seem to center on how capitalism is bad, red is the best color, and everybody in the Soviet Union is a “komrade.”
However, my biggest complaint by far is that the underwater segments are absolutely awful. They’re based around jet boosters rather than grapples, meaning that these sections don’t even fit with the rest of the game, in addition to controlling with dreadfully low precision. They’re not terribly frequent, but they leave a mark, and an early trip through a vertical chamber full of spinning blades ranks among the most frustrating portions of any game I’ve played this year.
Despite all of its faults, Yupitergrad skates by on how perfectly it nails the feeling of essentially being Spider-Man in VR. There’s room to improve the formula with stronger writing and more varied environments, and perhaps someday Yupitergrad will feel outdated. For now, though, it provides a very specific kind of fix, and one that I imagine nearly every owner of a VR headset is itching for.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Gamedust. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC using Vive. Approximately three hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: As of press time, this game has not been rated by the ESRB. I detected absolutely nothing objectionable about it. I’d say it’s suitable for all ages.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: Subtitles are available for all dialogue and I didn’t pick up on audio cues being crucial in any way. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.