The thought that kept popping into my head while playing through the cute puzzle game Waddle Home was a sad one: why can’t I play this without VR? This thought, despite sounding very disparaging, existed because I wanted to play the game more. But I didn’t want to play in the way the developers intended. Waddle Home is an example of a game that makes the player feel present and powerful, but sacrifices intuitive gameplay to do so.
Very much inspired by Lemmings, Waddle Home tasks players with getting penguins to safety through a twisting 3D maze. Utilizing walls, buttons and other gadgets, players maneuver a series of penguins through 40 levels, each of which end with a spaceship ride home for the adorable animals. What makes Waddle Home unique is its use of virtual reality to immerse players into the icy, arctic tundra. You’ll feel like you are controlling the penguins’ fate more than you would be just playing on the TV. You can even turn a fan on and have it blow on you to get fully immersed. Unfortunately, none of that fixes the ever-present problems with PlayStation VR’s tracking.
It has been a consistent issue with most games and Waddle Home is no exception. Early on in the game’s campaign it’s fine. You’re still learning the ropes and there aren’t really threats to the penguins until later in the game. You move blocks around and try to get the penguins to move in the correct direction to get them to their spaceship. The tracking issues start becoming more of a nuisance though when you run into areas that require more timing and precise actions. Jittery aiming makes selecting blocks to turn, raise or lower almost impossible in high-stress scenarios. Plus, you have to rotate the board every now and then as penguins move out of your sight but remain in play.
All of this compounds into a frustrating experience once you get past the halfway mark of the game. There are even eggs that you can collect as you progress through each level, but once the frustration kicks in from just trying to wrestle with the controls you’re probably not going to be concerned with collecting them. It’s all a shame because the actual idea of just pointing at and selecting something to make it work is smart and is a perfect fit for virtual reality. But with PlayStation VR, the game frequently runs into problems that just can’t be helped because it’s a system-wide problem. It’s not even a complicated game. It even has some very good puzzles that will make you think for a little while about how to tackle the problem.
There are neat mechanics in Waddle Home that also make it more frustrating that I couldn’t really enjoy the game. Being able to speed up your penguin by bopping it on the head is a neat little touch that helps get past some frustrating close calls with robot enemies. Plus, there’s a use of depth that only VR can provide. Being immersed in the world and having the capability of looking down and seeing nooks and crannies of the map is nice. Balancing the rotation of the map, where the penguins are, and looking in and around corners yourself is a satisfying feeling when it all clicks. However, it rarely does because you’re always fighting those damn controls!
Tracking issues aside, the world which you’re inhabiting is adorable. The arctic setting meshes well with everything you’re doing, though there’s no real explanation as to why the penguins are forced on these cubes of ice besides, “Hey, it’s a video game!” The sound design is cute and all of the characters seem to be just as endearing. Bopping a penguin on the head is mildly amusing because of its aesthetic and the result of doing so. Everything just feels cold and it’s up to the player to create that sense of urgency.
I’m not going to dwell on it much further, but because this game exists on other VR platforms that are known to have less tracking issues it may be better to seek Waddle Home out on those. With PlayStation VR, the option should have been there to play the game without a VR headset. Unfortunately, it is not present. Without VR, you’d lose the immersion, but with VR you get the frustration. It’s a tough situation to be in, but by not even giving the option to bail out of the headset, Waddle Home makes its case for why PlayStation VR is still not quite there.
A PS4 Review Code for Waddle Home was provided by Archiact Interactive for the purpose of this review