One of the things that I love the most about virtual reality is that it can take an incredibly simple concept and turn it into a uniquely fun experience that’ll keep you hooked in for hours on end. That’s exactly what happened to me with Racket: Nx – a game that’s best described as a cross of Squash and Arkanoid. It might sound like a bit of a strange combination, but it actually makes for one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had in the Oculus Quest headset so far, with its simple yet immersive mechanics making chasing high scores a whole lot of fun.
Racket: Nx’s gameplay is fairly simple in design: you’ve got to use a racket to blast a glowing ball around a 360-degree dome, all whilst hitting specifically marked tiles to score points. If you hit one of those tiles the scoring mark upon it will begin to disappear, with most scoring tiles only completely disappearing once you’ve hit the area that they are built up in multiple times. These scoring tiles are found all around you in each wave of a level, and once you’ve cleared all of the scoring marks in a wave you’ll move onto the next one until you eventually clear the level. You’ve got to be careful though, because you have an energy meter that is constantly draining – if it reaches zero, it’s game over. Fortunately, amongst the scoring tiles there are energy tiles that when hit restore your energy to keep your momentum going.
It’s all pretty straightforward to get to grips with, especially for anyone who has played a racket-based sport or video games like Arkanoid and Breakout before. However, Racket: Nx does have a few additional features that spice things up. The power that you hit the ball plays a big part, for example – if you hit the ball gently it’ll come bouncing straight back towards you off the tile, but if you hit it with a bit of power it’s able to slide across multiple marked tiles at once to rack up additional points. It’s an effective way to wipe out scoring tiles easily to move onto the next wave, though I must admit that it also feels incredibly satisfying to just smash the ball anyway.
Then there’s the fact that you can suck the ball into your direction with a quick button press, which is incredibly useful given the size of the arena in-game. You’re in a 360-degree dome after all and it can be easy to miss the ball when it’s coming your way, so knowing that you can quickly call it back with a simple button press can save you from wasting precious time. It can also be used tactically to line up specific shots or ensure that your energy doesn’t drain too much, which is something that is especially useful when hazards are introduced into the game.
The main hazard you face in the game are the energy draining tiles, which when hit zap away at your energy. The worst thing about these is that they’re often bunched together, so if you hit the ball so hard that it zips across multiple energy draining tiles at once, you can quickly find your energy taking a big hit (unless you suck the ball back into yourself first – got to be clever). Whilst it’s easy enough to just smash the ball around in Racket: Nx, you’ll need a fair bit of accuracy if you’re going to score the highest amount of points or stop yourself from getting an unfortunate game over.
There are other things that can affect how you play too, though a lot of these are more beneficial. There’s the speed boosting tile that’ll launch the ball across multiple tiles at a quick pace for example, or the walls that’ll keep your ball smashing around in a confined area (that’s often full of scoring tiles). Then there are the power ups, which give you things like extra balls or convert the energy draining tiles into energy restoration ones. You’ll also have flying robots blocking the path of your shots at times too, though a quick smash of the ball at these is usually an adequate way to dispose of them.
It all comes together nicely to make for an incredibly satisfying experience that balances out quick, arcade-style gameplay with a fair challenge. It’s made all the more better thanks to the Oculus Quest though, with the 360-degree movement and the great tracking on the controller ensuring that the only thing stopping you from hitting the ball with finesse is… well… yourself. You’ll definitely break a sweat playing the game, but it’s so fun that you won’t mind. It can become addictive fast too, with the simple mechanics making it easy to keep having those ‘one more goes’ that end up keeping you playing all night – or, in my case, until the Oculus Quest runs out of power.
Whilst there is a decent selection of levels to play through to completion, a lot of the replayability you’ll get from Racket: Nx will be from chasing scores. There is a real rewarding feeling to be had when you clear a level again to find that you’ve bested your previous high score, cleared a level in a faster time, or nudged yourself higher on the global leaderboard. There’s also a multiplayer option in place to compete against other players, though unfortunately during my time playing I struggled to find any other players to play with – I’m sure this would be a blast to play though, so I’m hoping to spend some time competing against others in the future.
Developer: One Hamsa
Publisher: One Hamsa
Platforms(s): Oculus Quest (Reviewed), Oculus Rift, HTC Vive