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