We’re a little bit late to the mark on this one, what with Path of the Warrior initially being revealed and released at last year’s Game Awards, but a virtual reality spin on the beat ‘em up genre is something I simply couldn’t miss out on. I mean, I played the HELL out of games like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon when I was younger, so doing it again with a unique and immersive virtual reality twist was something that appealed to me immediately.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t a little bit sceptical of how well it’d work though – boxing sims have proven that throwing punches can be satisfying in virtual reality, but mixing it up with kicks and other attacks whilst working through levels is another thing altogether. Thankfully, it does come together nicely to make for an enjoyable nostalgia-fuelled experience in Path of the Warrior, though it is one that has a few niggles along the way.
Path of the Warrior’s gameplay consists of working through five different beat ‘em up inspired levels in the aptly named Rage City (I wonder what inspired that?), all whilst beating up waves of enemies, disarming the bombs that have been strapped onto the hidden hostages (by pummelling them, of course) and then taking on the boss at the end of the level. It’s pretty much the standard formula you’d expect from a game like this, so it’ll be familiar to anyone who’s played a beat ‘em up before.
You’ll throw punches manually by swinging out your fists, but kicks are activated with a button press on the controller. Admittedly, that could take away some of the immersion of the experience, but given that there’s no foot-tracking with the Oculus Quest (yet!), it’s an understandable caveat. You’re also able to grab at an assortment of weapons scattered around to smash enemies up with, throw enemies into deadly objects in the environment to unleash a quick and satisfying kill, or activate your own powerful ability by filling up your special meter through combat. It all controls just how you’d expect it to with the motion controls, but it all works smoothly and it always felt satisfying to pummel my foes.
Movement is restricted to free-movement only, but there are plenty of comfort settings in place to ensure that you can configure it in a way that best suits you. Whilst I’ll always recommend smooth turning in a game like this or simply turning your body around manually when using the Oculus Quest, being able to activate the likes of no-turning when moving or snap turning ensures that even those that aren’t too comfortable in virtual reality headsets will be able to have a good time playing the game.
Path of the Warrior keeps things fairly simple as far as its level design is concerned, with each environment fairly small in scale but offering plenty of different areas to move between. They’re all packed full of personality though, with the levels varying between the likes of a bar and city streets, a fun-filled pier, and even a casino – each is full of different obstacles to interact with too, so there’s a lot to be seen across them all. Each environment brings with it a fresh set of enemies, which doesn’t only add more personality to them but also gives you something new to look out for. Not only do they become more powerful as you progress but also more mobile, so you’re kept on your toes throughout.
Levels finish up with a boss encounter, each of which certainly likes to make their presence known not only with a spectacular entrance but also by having their name etched across the screen in giant letters. These battles were a particular highlight for me, not only because they were a bit more epic in scale but also because they tested your skills in different ways. I don’t want to detail them too much here so I don’t spoil them for the player, but you can certainly expect to do a bit more than just throwing punches if you want to take these dastardly foes out.
That being said, I wouldn’t exactly call Path of the Warrior a difficult game – in fact, I managed to complete it without dying once. A lot of this comes down to how predictable the enemy AI is, with most foes simply marching their way towards you head on and not doing much in the way of self-defence. Whilst your opponents do become more powerful and have a more versatile moveset as you progress through the game, they never feel like they’re really capable of dishing out heavy damage unless they back you up against a wall somehow. It’s a bit of a shame, especially since the beat ‘em up genre is prolific for offering tough challenges to players.
Path of the Warrior is also a pretty short game, with just the five levels on offer that only take around fifteen to twenty minutes each to beat. There are a few fun mini-games you can unlock after you’ve cleared a level including the likes of a drinking game, a small Arkanoid-style mini-game, darts, and even a punch-bag to try racking up scores on, but they’re small endeavours in the grand scheme of things and won’t extend the gameplay experience too much.
Want to know what does extend the experience, though? Multiplayer. It wasn’t available at launch, but it’s there now for players to go through all of the levels with a friend. Naturally, this is the most fun way to play Path of the Warrior, even if it does make it a little easier again – sure, there are more enemies to fight, but an extra pair of hands to smash an unaware opponent across the skull with a pool cue was always going to make life easier for the player. It’s a blast to play though and really shows off Path of the Warrior’s old-school strengths, whilst the fact that there’s cross-buy available across Oculus platforms makes it a lot easier to find someone to play with.
So I’ve got plenty of praise for Path of the Warrior, but there were some areas of its design where it didn’t always deliver. For one, the punching isn’t physics-based but actually utilises pre-scripted animations, so you’ve only got to prod out your fist gently to land a clean hit on an opponent. It felt a bit unnatural, and whilst there are multiple punch types, they’ll always feel the same when you throw them. It’s a bit of a shame, especially since boxing games like Creed: Rise to Glory have shown how satisfying physics-based punching can be in virtual reality.
You can’t throw punches in bunches either, with the player having to wait for the opponent to respond to their attack before they can land a hit again. This is something that’s a bit more forgivable given that simply flailing your arms with punches would probably make the game a bit too easy, but it did feel a little unnatural to have to simply wait to land another punch at first. It’s a small issue and something you will get used to the more you play the game, but it’s still pretty noticeable. At least the punches themselves look satisfying though, with each opponent’s face getting clearly smashed all over the place when you land a hit – nothing more enjoyable than seeing the damage you’re dealing in motion, right?
Path of the Warrior is a lot of fun to play and will certainly tick plenty of boxes for fans of the beat ‘em up genre, but it does have a few shortcomings that prevent it from striving towards greatness. It won’t take you long to see everything it has to offer with just the five levels to play through, whilst the fact that the punching itself isn’t physics-based means it can get a little bit samey after a while.
Still, there’s plenty of variety to be found within the game’s levels and its enemies, whilst the newly released multiplayer co-op mode gives you a fun-fuelled experience to enjoy with a friend. It might not be the ‘virtual reality Streets of Rage’ that I had hoped it would, but Path of the Warrior is still an entertaining beat ‘em up that Oculus Quest owners will want to take a look at.
Developer: Twisted Pixel Games
Publisher: Oculus Studios
Platform(s): Oculus Quest (Reviewed), Oculus Rift