Temple Run in virtual reality places you inside the eponymous temple, and you're free to take a minute to look around and get a sense of your surroundings.
The second you take that idol though? It's time to run for your life.
"Overall, the biggest challenge we faced was really trying to sell the immersion of the experience. We really wanted the player to feel like they personally took the idol and are now running for their life because some giant Arctic Demon Monkeys are chasing them," Keith Shepherd, Imangi's co-founder, told Polygon.
"It’s also one of the reasons that we really expanded upon the intro of the game and put the player actually inside the temple," he continued. "That way when you take the idol, you can actually see the Demon Monkeys creep out of the shadow and get right into your face. It’s clear you’ve done something they don’t like and if you don’t get out of there immediately, you are going to die."
It turns out Temple Run is kind of terrifying when played in virtual reality. Who knew?
When you die it all goes black
Temple Run VR is a free download for the Gear VR, and as of this writing there's no coin economy or upgrade system. You can collect the coins, although it's hard to hear the sound effect when you do, but there's little reason to care about them. If anything this seems like an early look at what a full version may become.
"I see VR as a huge long-term opportunity, and we’re excited to be a part of the Gear VR launch. Our team learned a ton about developing games for VR, and hopefully being involved as an early adopter on this platform will put us in a great position as VR takes off into the mainstream," Shepherd explained. According to him they had always planned to make the game free.
It's an interesting experiment, and the game translates into VR much better than expected. Seeing the Demon Monkey's shadow over your shadow gives you a bit more motivation to avoid the obstacles, and being able to look down the pits you avoid as you weave left and right is nice and scary. Jumping over chasms gives you a pleasant lump in your stomach, although the death effects simply cause the game to fade to black.
This is a mixed blessing. It's a little jarring to have the game just end when you miss a jump or dodge, but having one of the monkeys actually eat you, or watching the view spin around as you fall to your death, would likely be way too intense for what it still at heart a family game. This is already an intense way to play, and it's unclear whether graphic deaths would have improved the experience.
You can use a gamepad to change lanes, jump or slide, or use the Gear VR's touchpad located on the right side of the device while you're wearing it. It takes some practice to learn how to reliably swipe in each direction to move in either direction or to jump and slide, however and it's easy to miss a movement and end your run.
It's also hard to get used to the left and right controls being map to forward or backward swipes. My vote is for the controller.
All things considered, this is a surprisingly adept first draft at turning a mobile hit into a working virtual reality game. It's also worth tempering expectations when you're dealing with hardware aimed at developers and enthusiasts that's so early in its lifecycle there's currently no way to charge for content.
This is a fun, free download, and it shows just how intense existing properties can become with some design thought given to the strengths of VR.