Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing Review
VR games tend to give off duct tape vibes. Maybe it’s the motion controls, maybe it’s the camera being attached to your head, but there’s often a sense of high-speed travel in an unsafe vessel. Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing exemplifies this idea to a degree I hadn’t thought possible. While there is fun to be had, your good times are zip-tied to a creaking rig trailing loose wires and a fistful of sparks. How much you enjoy this game is dependent on your ability to see past certain quirks.
There’s a story being told, but it mostly remains on the sidelines, patiently waiting for its turn to participate. You play a new student at a magical academy. Your task is to fly in broom races with a wide variety of people so that the excess magic doesn’t build up and do permanent damage to the school grounds. It’s during the cut scenes that I encountered the first quirk I mentioned before. While you’re glued to a single spot on the ground during story scenes, it’s your job to frantically look back and forth, so that each character’s respective dialogue box appears as they talk. The voice acting mostly works, though it’s made worse by this constant head tracking dance you’re doing. This same constant use of motion controls comes up during the races as well.
Look, Listen, Lose Track Of What She Said To You
Here’s where I get somewhat conflicted. On the one hand, racing with motion controls means you’re at the mercy of the camera-based motion tracking systems. They’re good, but not quite perfect. On the other hand, using the analog sticks to move in VR is an express ticket to Nausea Valley. Having the motion of one controller equal the motion of the broomstick may have been the only way to fight constant waves of sickness in the player. To that end, the flight controls are functional, if not always laser-precise. You also have a wand-based weapon system at your disposal, but no opportunities to use it.
In fact, it seems like the only place you get to fire off shots from said wand is during the ghost hunt races. Targets come flying at your face, and you have to tag as many as possible. Racers – who move in the same direction you do – are laughably impossible to hit. Without weapons, you’re only hope in winning a truly difficult race is the upgrade system. Unfortunately, it’s on the skeletal side. At least the upgrades feel like they do something for you, even if that ‘something’ is convert a leveling system into countless trips to two separate menu trees.
As a licensed property, VR Broom Racing should look and feel like the beloved anime series. The game mostly succeeds on this front. The graphics and the music both evoke the source material, with the character models, in particular, doing great work. None of this feels like Little Witch Academia, however.
The anime series, if you haven’t seen it, drips with charm. It’s an animation triumph, with every scene practically swan diving out the TV screen and into your living room. VR Broom Racing does not live up to this pedigree. It simply can’t. No medium with a perspective strapped to the viewer’s skull can possibly do justice to this bombastic property. I’m more forgiving of this specific shortcoming, as VR games have consistently grappled with this issue, but it needs to be addressed.
Not Quite The Academy You Remember
The perspective problem bears further examination. In particular, the sense of immersion. I wasn’t subject to any serious disconnect, which can lead (again) to terrible nausea, but something felt off. When you complete the tutorial, you burst through a grove of trees into a courtyard in front of the main school building. There’s a moment, just a few seconds, where you’re suddenly hundreds of feet in the air. It’s dizzying, electrifying, and sort of incredible. That brief sensation, which should be just… an integral part of flying on a broom, never comes again.
Every design choice made in this game is sensible and wrong at the same time. The motion controls are an essential feature that rob you of any capacity for precision movements. The courses themselves are marked by a ‘race track’ that enables navigation and interrupts your sense of elevation. The disappearing dialogue boxes keep cutscenes from feeling static while distracting you from what’s being said. VR Broom Racing constantly gets in its own way, and the game is somehow right to do so. If you’re looking for a well-designed magical racing game, Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing is just what you’re looking for. I’m just not sure you’ll enjoy it.
***An Oculus Quest code was provided by the publisher***
- Graphics are simple yet effective
- Controls mostly stick the landing
- Immersion levels feel just right
- Voice acting falls slightly flat
- Little variety in the races
- Upgrade system feels extraneous