If there’s one genre that’s made for VR, it’s first person shooters. On the HTC Vive, the motion controller is the perfect stand-in for a grip and trigger and its haptic feedback allows you feel each shot, if not realistically, at least satisfyingly. Gunball takes this truth and pushes it into new territory. It’s a futuristic sports game. It’s a score chaser. Its tongue is planted firmly in its left cheek, and for $14.99, it’s a lot of fun.
Gunball is a simple game. In one hand you hold a revolver. With the other, you throw dodge balls and shoot them into goals. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. The goals revolve around you and pass in front of each other. Big goals are worth a paltry few points. Small goals can be worth as much as 10,000 but are often high in the air or moving so fast they take real aiming to make. Even “easy” shots have to be lead. The longer the ball is in the air, the more the shot is worth, so there’s an element of strategy to how you throw the ball on top of which shots you choose to take.
There is no movement in Gunball. Every match, you begin in the center of an arena as pillars materialize around you to supply balls. You can track a single goal the entire time if you want and don’t trip over the wires wrapping around your ankles – and there’s merit to that. Some of my best scores came from hammering away at an easy 2000 point goal, racking up points. Gunball uses local and global leaderboards, too, so you can see how you compare to the rest of the community. Matches are short, only a few minutes long, so starting over for another go at your high score is an easy thing to let yourself do.
Gunball is fun to play, but it’s almost too simple. Yes, levels evolve slightly, but not enough to feel substantially different. Sure, area has launch pads that guarantee you 10,000 points if you can hit them, but apart from that, it’s the same gameplay on repeat in different backgrounds. The game holds up, thankfully, but the lack of variety and overall lack of levels is a problem that cuts down its staying power. After half an hour, you’ll have seen all the game has to offer and will be left to the mechanics of it.
Which, in fairness, is what it’s about. The game would be fun in a black box, frankly, but there needs to be more than that to hold a gamer’s attention for long. It’s also possible to game certain levels. I mentioned honing in on a single 2000 point goal before. It worked. It’s legitimate. It still felt a little cheesy that I could rack up a high score so easily. And the narrator (a talking ball) needs to learn a few more one liners and not repeat himself so often.
One of the wonderful parts of virtual reality is that it breathes new life into simple or well-trod concepts. Gunball is a prime example of this. Outside of VR, its conceit would be much to simple to hold your attention for long. Inside, where you actually feel like you’re holding the gun, like you’re throwing a ball, and you’re judging the physics of bounce and trajectory, it’s easy to lose yourself in the minutes of the match. Gunball isn’t a perfect game. It’s simple, too short, and its narrator repeats itself too much. But mechanically? It’s got it where it counts.