Augmented Reality is a term that’s seen some growth in popularity with the rise of smartphones. The idea behind it is in overlaying useful information over live video – useful locations, directions, information about famous landmarks, and so on.
Augmented Reality gaming (and by extension, the PlayStation Vita) aims to merge the virtual world of gaming with real-world environments and props. Despite Sony promoting the feature and its potential, the Vita launched with three thoroughly underwhelming AR titles that were closer to tech demos than actual games. So, how do the latest offerings from Sony’s XDev studios hold up?
Both games have learned a lot from Sony’s previous foray into AR. The launch titles offered little physical interaction beyond determining the size of a virtual soccer pitch with marker cards. However, PulzAR and Tabletop Tanks both work to include physical objects into gameplay.
As the name implies, Tabletop Tanks is a simple arena shooter that projects its battlefield onto a surface of your choosing. The core gameplay mechanics are utterly nondescript and offer no surprises, and the AI is far from competent. What does make it special is the ability to mark real objects (not just AR cards) as physical objects in the game, turning your coffee mug into a massive tower, and your TV remote into a roadblock.
Sadly, the game only supports two real objects, the virtual item palette is tiny, and the home base for each player is always in a corner. With fewer restrictions, Tabletop Tanks could be a fantastic multiplayer game and a great excuse for putting together battlefields made from office supplies.
There’s already cosmetic DLC out for it - a toy tank pack that costs almost as much as the actual game. I only hope that future development of the game offers more than just a few new coats of paint. There is a ton of potential here, but as it is, Tabletop Tanks is just a neat toy best played with another Vita-owning friend.
PulzAR is XDev’s other new offering, and is evidence of AR beginning to mature as a platform. It’s a puzzle game based around using a variety of tools to redirect laser beams to a receiver dish. Powering the dish activates a missile launch meant to save the earth from a giant meteor looming threateningly from your ceiling. This simple concept takes on a new life with the best use of the Vita’s AR cards to date: the player physically places more cards down, creating a corresponding laser reflector or other tool in the game.
This simple physical connection with the gameplay instantly makes it far more engaging and challenging, since card placement matters. Most of the time the system works really well; however, it is prone to losing track of objects for a few milliseconds in situations with poor lighting or camera angles, which interrupts the victory countdown.
This means a large and clean desk or table is required to play. Not a problem for most players, but it does limit the game’s portability. It can also be a little awkward to keep the entire game field in shot when fiddling with cards at the game’s edges. Knocking the ‘base’ AR card on accident can also ruin a carefully constructed contraption by causing the game field to rotate.
The levels of PulzAR are fairly well-designed, and the game handles its learning curve well with new gameplay objects introduced every so often. At 25 levels, PulzAR is short, but sweet. The lack of a level editor is extremely unfortunate, as it’d be the perfect feature to round off this game.
Both games are priced at $3.90, a price point that wouldn’t be out of place on the Apple App Store or Android Market (now Google Play). It would be fair to say they are like smartphone games in terms of overall content, too. However, they also represent a good step forward in AR gaming. I hope that future AR titles for the Vita tap its potential more thoroughly.
If you are a Vita owner and like puzzles, PulzAR is definitely worth the price of admission. Tabletop Tanks is ok, but only really worth playing with friends.
Lasting Appeal: 5
Lasting Appeal: 5