Do you like penguins? Of course you do, you’re not a monster. The real question is, do you like diving into the VR arctic to protect penguins from being enslaved by robotic overlords? Still yes? Then first, that’s a really specific thing to like, and second, do I have a game for you.
Waddle Home from Archiact is an interactive puzzle game where the player is a benevolent alien who has to rescue penguins from their robotic captors and guide them to the safety of your flying saucer. Reminiscent of games like Lemmings, players don’t control the penguins directly, and instead must manipulate elements within the three dimensional level to guide the penguins as they march relentlessly forward.
Fun fact about penguins: did you know they can only turn right? Strange quirk in their biology, but extremely helpful information in a game like this. Knowing that when a penguin hits an obstacle it always turns right allows you to plan out your strategy in the level before releasing the penguins from their cage. Once you do, the clock starts and the fun begins. The faster you complete each level, the better your score will be. Also, each level has three eggs stashed in out-of-the-way places for you to collect, to add some additional challenge once you’re familiar with the layout. The interface is simple enough, allowing you to rotate the 3D level to see it from all angles, and uses a physical tap with your controller/Move wand on virtual elements within the game to interact with them.
Some obstacles are harmless, from simple blocks that can be raised and lowered to force the penguins onto another path, to sliding doors tied to buttons that your penguins must walk over to trigger their opening. Other obstacles are more dangerous, like capture traps that if stepped on will send your penguin all the way to the beginning. The robot guards will hinder your progress as well, their tireless metal bodies patrolling the level, just waiting to run into unfortunate penguins who cross their path and zap them back to their cage. Luckily, the robots’ movement patterns are also predictable ,being the anti-penguin monsters that they are — they always turn left when they hit an obstacle, making for some interesting puzzle opportunities.
While you can’t interact with the robots directly, sometimes you have to raise and lower obstacles to cause them to activate buttons that are otherwise unreachable to your penguins, cleverly turning your enemies into the means of your escape! If you’re cornered and are forced to just “go for it”, you can also bop your penguin on the head to get him to run faster for a short time, hopefully getting them out of harm’s way in a hurry. After all of those challenges, you’ve hopefully managed to guide your tuxedo birds all the way to their goal: the transport pad beneath your hovering flying saucer, where they will be teleported to safety. Don’t be so hasty if you’re going for egg collection though, because sometimes you’ll need more than one penguin to manipulate switches and once they’re in the safety of the mothership, you can’t get them back without starting the level over again.
Even though this is categorically not my kind of game, I still found it fairly enjoyable. Its design is clean and simple, easy to navigate even for kids, and has a layer of challenge that brings something to the table for the adults as well. The virtual environment is interesting to look at, and viewing each level in 3D allows for easy planning of your strategy before you even start. But while there is a significant amount of variation in the layout of the levels and each brings a new strategy to the table, the game lacks visual variety. Each level will look relatively the same, and the environment around the 3D level remains essentially the same with few decorative elements to distract your attention like some other VR titles have. Though the game benefits from VR when looking at the level design, I was not entirely convinced that it was necessary for the game and at times I found myself wishing that I could just sit down and play it on a conventional screen.
In terms of controls, I have to stress that I highly recommend using the Move controller instead of a Dual Shock 4, to the point where I would personally consider it a mandatory requirement. Playing this game with the standard PlayStation 4 controller was, for me, a completely different and frustrating experience. By the nature of the way you interact with the level, it requires frequent turning of the controller in such a way that the camera loses track of the controller easily, resulting in some jitter and control issues as the system tries to extrapolate your movements from the internal SIXAXIS tracking. Since you’re activating things in real time while your penguins are in motion, any time it tries to correct in this way it impacts your gameplay and adds a layer of frustration to the game that it does not need. Using the Move controller however, results in a much better experience in terms of accuracy and ease of use. Tracking was always essentially one-to-one at all times, and never lost track of the Move while I was playing it. So much of the frustration I had with my initial play of the game was wiped away, giving a much more positive impression of the game.
You will want to play this game standing to be able to look around the level from different angles, particularly when tunnels go through the level itself, hiding eggs out of view from above. One issue of note however was the way the size of the levels can sometimes trigger issues with the PlayStation VR head tracking. Because the levels are quite wide, and you stand fairly close to them in the play area, sometimes you will be forced to move further to the left and right than normal when you’re examining them, which can cause your head and the VR headset to brush the edges of the PlayStation Camera’s tracking envelope. This happened repeatedly with me, causing several instances of the game trying to readjust your viewpoint without prompting you that you were at the boundaries of the play area. These frequent and unprompted adjustments triggered a few brief moments of vertigo and after a while I started to feel motion sick. For context, I’m not prone to motion sickness, and can play hours of VR at a stretch without issue, so to have this occur in a low action game like Waddle Home was surprising until I realized what was causing it. Subsequent experiences were better once I’d identified the problem, but after that it was something that I was constantly aware of during play.
At $13.49, Waddle Home is a reasonably-priced puzzle game that kids and adults can enjoy, and is a good challenge for both age groups. It’s a good intro for kids of 12 and up to learn the basics of VR play, offering a decent mix of action and puzzle-solving, and suitable for the whole family.
Jack McBastard is a contributor for AYBOnline. His opinions are his own. He also kind of wonders what this alien intends to do with all of these penguins they’ve “saved.” #penguinlivesmatter