When I got PlayStation VR, I expected my favorite games to be shooters, ones that would give you more control over guns than a controller can manage. While the few I’ve played with guns I’ve found to be fun, it seems a game I totally didn’t expect launched itself to my favorites list. The calming flight of How We Soar has become my favorite VR experience that I’ve gotten to partake in yet.
How We Soar has you flying around on the back of a giant phoenix living through the memories of an author. At first, you just see his initial books as he crafts a fantasy novel in which he casts himself as the main character. As his life continues, he falls in love, gets married, and has a kid, and all of this affects the books he writes as he continues to desperately try and pull himself away from his usual stories and write his masterpiece. Just a quick skim of that can probably make you guess where the plots already going to go, and indeed How We Soar doesn’t do anything too shocking or surprising. That said, its simple tale is well told, and I cared about the author and his family as he wrote his stories and I got to see more and more of his life.
You play the game on the back of a giant paper phoenix, the controller in your hands looking like a rein. You can speed up and slow down, plus giving the controller a shake allows you to get a quick boost of speed. Using these simple controls, you’ll be exploring papercraft levels of floating scenes that are important moments in the author’s life. Everything is made out of blank papercraft, but if you get close to any of the environments you can paint them, which fills them with color and life. On one hand, it’s a neat mechanic that makes the levels look lovely while marking where you’ve been. On the other hand, painting levels becomes a bit of a chore. Many of the late game levels are massive, and if you’re going to paint the whole level then you’re easily looking at a three-hour experience being turned into something that can last for eight hours. Thankfully, it’s never necessary for finishing the game.
Your real goal is to continue the story by unlocking all the books. To do this you need to fly through rings. When you get through a set you cause the level to dramatically rebuild itself and spawn orbs. Watching the levels put themselves together was a real treat, things assembling together in creative ways. When they’re all together orbs spawn, and your second goal is to collect these orbs. Orbs can come in one of four colors, related to the face buttons on the PlayStation controller, and hitting the button shows how many orbs related to the color you need to find.
Collect all those orbs and you’ll spawn a bird, which then turns the game into a chase. Your goal is to catch these birds, something that starts off pretty easy as they often did nothing other than run in a line with a few turns. Later in the game the birds would loop, corkscrew, and flip to try and avoid me, offering up some extra challenge for a bit, but not changing the chase in any major way. Once you catch the bird, it will recreate a major moment in the author’s life or a major plot point in his book that relates to those moments. This also unlocks a key to the next level. Levels can have one to four birds to find, which can happen quickly or take some time depending on their size.
It’s a pretty basic loop, one that gives you a full chance to explore every level and get used to its intricacies. Some of the shorter, smaller, levels really shine in this loop, providing plenty to explore and still give you a visual treat. The bigger levels are a little more iffy, sometimes feeling so large that you spend more time flying from point A to Z rather than actually painting the level, flying through rings, and collecting orbs. One level taking place in space, in one of the author’s sci-fi stories, is huge and the time to get between the planets where the orbs are felt unnecessary. Likewise, an underwater level seemed to take forever to get around its huge area thanks to the bird’s slower movement speed, even when using the boost. Thankfully, out of the 15ish levels in the game, I only really had a problem with those two.
You’ll also get to spend some time enjoying How We Soar‘s visuals. The paper phoenix you ride on looks cool, watching all its parts blow in the wind as you fly being a treat. The levels themselves have some great set-pieces to fly through. A fantasy level where the author’s self-insert character battles with a dragon allows you to fly through said dragon, twisting through it’s inside before flying out the tail, painting the dragon the whole way. All of this is accompanied by a lovely soundtrack, the music ramping up and picking up pace as the author goes through his good moments while quieting to just a piano when the game’s slower sadder moments hit.
By the end of How We Soar I was amazed at the feeling I got from the game. I was waiting for a shooter or some silly puzzle game to sell me on VR. Instead, it was How We Soar that did it. It has some faults, but its an experience that I’ll be remembering for some time and gladly showing off to anyone who wants to see what VR is capable of. When you take your first flight, make sure you soar.
How We Soar was reviewed on PlayStation VR using a copy provided by the developer.
How We Soar shows off some lovely locations, making some great use of VR. More than that, though, it tells a good relatable story, has fun mechanics that take advantage of flight, and is the game that made me stop and rethink how VR can be used for other games.
- Heartfelt Story
- Intersting Painting Mechanic
- Beautiful Art Style
- Lovely Soundtrack
- Fun Gameplay Loop Allows for Great Moments
- Some Levels Too Big
- Takes Too Long to Paint Levels