Whilst motion controls were a pretty short-lived fad on consoles last generation, the introduction of VR has seen the art of ‘swinging your arms around to play video games’ become trendy again. The immersion that’s offered with virtual reality offers a greater sense of authenticity that the motion controls alone didn’t provide, adding an extra dimension to what could often otherwise feel like a dull experience.
I’ve enjoyed archery across multiple platforms with motion controls, but Ace Banana is the first experience I’ve had of it with VR integration too. In Ace Banana you’re tasked with protecting your bananas from hordes of crazy monkeys that come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. There’s a twist too – the bananas you’re looking after are living baby bananas, painting the monkey foe as a horrendous species who literally want to EAT YOUR BABIES. Ok, so it doesn’t directly say that, but it’s implied… kind of…
Ace Banana allows you to play with either the dual shock controller or, my preferred method, with two move controllers. There was just something special about having that feeling of authenticity when you hold the bow in your hands. You use one move controller as a bow and the other to pull back the string that fires the arrow. It felt natural and works pretty well for the most part, though there were a few issues that I noticed the more I played the game.
I haven’t had any issues with Playstation VR and move controller tracking in other games, but I noticed a few awkward moments whilst playing Ace Banana. Every so often the game seemed to throw my in-game hands all over the place. I experimented a little by moving the camera, changing my position, and altering the lighting in the room, but nothing seemed to permanently fix it. It almost seemed like the game demanded I play outside of the ‘play area’, something difficult to avoid when you have to move your hands around so much to pull back on your bow. You constantly need to shoot quickly at all directions so the inaccuracy of the controller recognition left me with a few frustrating moments. It doesn’t happen all the time though, so the game is certainly not unplayable.
The game also demands you have a bit of space in front of you. I’d initially started the game with a coffee table in front of me thinking I could reach out for anything I needed to, but even the game’s main menu demanded I had space in front of me to grab at a hanging object and start the game. The hub area could actually feel a little awkward to navigate anyway, with no real clear indication of what everything is. Whilst a seasoned gamer shouldn’t have too much of an issue figuring it out, I saw someone with little experience with video games try to play the game and they were simply stumped on the opening menu.
Ace Banana’s gameplay consists of taking out waves upon waves of monkeys, shooting them from varying locations with your plunger-like arrows. Progressing through waves sees differing types of monkeys coming your way too, including baby monkeys, monkeys with boxing gloves, clown monkeys (turns out they’re not just terrorising folks in real life…), and even monkeys with jet packs. There are plenty to take out throughout the game, so the enemy choice certainly keeps things varied. The differing type of monkey typically offer something different to the gameplay too – some may be faster, some might be able to block your shots, whilst others might throw things at you that’ll block your vision. You’ll even have a few monkeys that jump onto the screen, forcing you to punch out at them to get them out of the way. There are also the neat boss battles that come up after a certain amount of waves, such as the giant robot monkey you take on during the game’s fifth wave. They’re fun to take out, demanding that you think a little differently than just blasting arrows at will.
You can use a different variety of arrows too thanks to the power-ups that are dropped when you defeat an enemy. Of course, some of these different ammo types can hinder you rather than help – take the ‘rock’ for example that’ll weigh down your arrows and halt the distance they’re able to travel. There are good power-ups too mind, such as the fish that bounce across surfaces, shuttlecocks that home in on targets, or the big pandas that launch themselves at the monkeys from all angles. It’s trial and error initially as you slowly learn what power-ups are best to use, though in honesty it can feel like the game forces you to use power-ups anyway seeing as they’ll often be placed in front of the monkeys you need to shoot at.
There are sixteen waves to work through in total, but the game offers no form of checkpoints or level selection. It adds to the longevity of the game by forcing you to replay through sections over and over again, but in honesty it could end up feeling like a chore at times. Whilst it’s initially fun to constantly blast arrows at monkeys, the experience could feel old fast – especially since I was often left replaying the same things over and over again.
There’s simply a lack of variety on offer in Ace Banana, with just the one game mode that takes place in the one location. Granted, you can switch between a few spots in this location, but there’s a severe lack of variety to be found for the long-term. At least the location you’re in looks great though, with the environment absolutely full of charming colour that brings the vivid surroundings to life. It was just a feel-good place to be, especially since the pleasant setting that the game features isn’t too common amongst the Playstation VR’s launch line-up.
It’s probably worth mentioning that the game does feature a Tamagotchi-like section in the main hub that sees you raising and nurturing baby bananas, though in honesty it wasn’t something I took too much interest in. It was an interesting endeavour and it does add something different to the game, but the process itself is boring and something I couldn’t see myself getting too invested in.
Whilst Ace Banana certainly isn’t a bad game, it simply doesn’t offer enough to keep players engaged for the long term. I’d pretty much seen all the game had to offer within my first two hours of playing it and with a lack of variety in regards to game modes, there wasn’t a lot to encourage me to come back for more. I also had a few issues with the move controller recognition too, leaving me with moments of frustration that took the sense of immersion away.
It does show that there’s potential for a great archery game in VR though and there were times when the game impressed, but it’s hard to fully recommend it when there are so many better VR experiences around at the moment. If you do fancy grabbing a bow and arrow and taking out some dastardly monkeys though, there is some enjoyment to be found with Ace Banana.
Publisher: Oasis Games
Release Date: 13/10/2016
Format(s): Playstation VR