Rift, Vive

De­vel­oper/pub­lisher Funom­ena For­mat Rift (tested), Vive Re­lease Out now

Ev­ery­thing is sim­pler when you’re a child. If some­body is hurt­ing, some­thing is wrong. So you try to make them feel better. Per­haps you even give them a hug. Funom­ena gives in­no­cent com­pas­sion a vir­tual form with Luna, a short in­ter­ac­tive fa­ble that cel­e­brates the phys­i­cal lan­guage of VR, and its power to tap into our in­nate propen­sity for ten­der­ness.

One still night, an owl con­vinces our hero, a lit­tle red bird, to swal­low the last piece of the moon. Na­ture is thrown into dis­ar­ray: the only thing to be done is to phys­i­cally set things right. Do­ing so is a tac­tile and ther­a­peu­tic process. You tend to each of Luna’s tiny ter­rar­i­ums, and plant and ma­nip­u­late var­i­ous flora. The del­i­cate tips of your talons prompt mag­i­cal changes in be­hav­iour: ev­ery move­ment be­comes care­ful, hand mo­tions con­duc­tor-like. Well-pop­u­lated sec­tions pro­duce cheer­ful chimes and drag­on­flies. Even­tu­ally, an an­i­mal guardian ap­pears, where­upon you are placed in­side your cre­ation to me­di­ate a kind of sur­real coun­selling ses­sion up-close.

Other crea­tures – a tur­tle, a swan, a bear and a fox – have also been tricked. Each nurses a frag­ment of the moon in­side them. Coax­ing the for­eign body out in­volves mas­sag­ing ha­los of light in sooth­ing cir­cles, pro­duc­ing waves of ju­bi­lant sound and song be­tween bird and an­i­mal. There is some­thing about the mo­tion that in­stantly strikes a chord: us­ing your hands to reach out and al­le­vi­ate the pain right there be­fore you. It is an act of in­stinc­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion only pos­si­ble in this kind of vir­tual space, pre­sented with clar­ity and charm.

The way in which you’re obliged to en­ter these scenes, how­ever, quickly grows tire­some. Ba­sic, Si­mon Says in­ter­ac­tions and con­stel­la­tion-sort­ing pre­cede each one. Luna isn’t the type of ex­pe­ri­ence that needs so­phis­ti­cated puz­zles to be en­gag­ing: on the con­trary, it might have ben­e­fit­ted from avoid­ing puz­zles com­pletely. Pick­ing up stars and slot­ting them into place is a process of pure trial-and-er­ror. When the num­ber of stars and po­ten­tial slots mul­ti­plies, it tips into te­dium. But even untangling these sparkling three-di­men­sional webs with both hands, putting cos­mic con­fu­sion into happy or­der, man­ages to be oddly cathar­tic.

Like most things in Luna, it com­ple­ments the re­frain of a chil­dren’s sto­ry­book: work through your feel­ings, give them shape, and voice, and help oth­ers to do the same un­con­di­tion­ally. In­deed, the end­ing is de­signed to up­lift. But there’s a hint of sad­ness caught up in it: if only reach­ing out to the bad guys, with a gen­tle touch and a will­ing­ness to un­der­stand, was so sim­ple out there in the real world. Per­haps, Luna seems to sug­gest, we could start with our own lit­tle ter­rar­i­ums.

Space-gar­den­ing is en­cour­aged – you can change a plant’s size, ori­en­ta­tion and colour. Not ev­ery­thing you’ve placed makes the tran­si­tion to the story scene, sadly: we wish the fox’s ship­wreck could re­main cov­ered in flow­ers

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