Duck, dodge, punch and… jump?!

Here at VR Fitness Insider, we got an early beta invite to Box VR and so I decided to give it a spin to see how well it would lend itself to a true, heart-pumping workout. Although there were a few nuances that needed tweaked, it didn’t disappoint in getting my heart rate up in a very short period of time.

The music was very well done and probably my favorite part. I’m a big advocate of creating flow experiences in fitness to create time dilation (making workouts feel shorter than they actually are). The beat of the music was well-timed with the objects coming at me in the Box VR game, and as I punched or dodged objects, I felt myself slipping into a rhythm that made for a fun workout experience.

Graphics-wise, the game was pretty basic. The environments were very low fidelity (especially the room where the user selects which routine to follow) but the music made up where the graphics lacked. Another design pattern that didn’t hit the mark was the color of the different spheres I had to punch. There was a yellow and lime green sphere that were very difficult to tell apart. These spheres were meant to be punched specifically with your left or right hand. Because of this, it became frustrating at times and broke my flow when I was trying to figure out the subtle tint of the sphere color just to hit it with the correct hand.

As you can see, graphics are fairly basic in Box VR. But the music makes up for it.

My last piece of constructive criticism had to do with the “logs” I had to actually jump over. Although it is a good idea in theory to get people jumping to increase the intensity of the workout, I found my HTC Vive jiggling around and making me feel weird. I believe this will be solved in the future with sport-adapted head-mounted displays, but at the moment it is a bad experience.

Other than some minor shortcomings, I really enjoyed the game. It was fun, didn’t feel like a workout, and it was gratifying once I got into a rhythm with the punches, dodges and squats. For those that are looking to simply get started on their path to accomplishing their health and fitness goals, I would definitely recommend Box VR as a solid first start.

Intensity – 8/10

To test it out, I used a Wahoo heart rate chest strap connected to their iPhone app. For comfort and sweat elimination, I wore a simple headband and used a removable VR Cover and I didn’t notice any sweat or fogging in the headset. Zero.

Here are my stats for 8+ minutes of gameplay. There were a few times that I stopped the experience because I was frustrated at not being able to tell the lime green from the yellow apart and kept missing the spheres I was trying to punch:

  • Calories burned: 83 (~600/hour)
  • Average heart rate: 112 bpm (60% of my max heart rate)
  • Max heart rate: 137 bpm (73% of max heart rate)

Using the 220-age max heart rate formula, you can see that I was close to a mid to high level limit which should increase my VO2 Max and increase my post-exercise calorie burn. To be fair, I was giving my full effort for MOST the entire experience but not all since the color combinations were throwing me off.

Arms – 1/10

For the most part I was simply holding my hands close to my body and focusing on my legs and torso. If I had put on weighted gloves, I probably would’ve felt more burn in my arms and shoulders but for the most part, the simple jabs weren’t intense enough to make my arms sore.

Legs – 6/10

The leg portion of the workout was the most intense with the ducking, squatting and jumping. However, when my legs started to burn, the movements switched to punching or dodging side to side. I only tried the 7 minute experience so there might be some more leg burning routines in the game. If you really want to get your legs burning, I would recommend a weighted vest. They are pretty inexpensive and will take your VR workouts to what I call “hard mode.”

Core and Balance – 5/10

The core and balancing parts of this workout were really prevalent when doing the jumping movements and quick side to side dodging. However, I didn’t really feel a muscular burn in my core, I felt more of an all-around cardio exhaustion, which is what I think the developers are going for. Finding your balance after jumping was probably the hardest part since the head-mounted display likes to jiggle around and it’s hard to keep your bearings. I would recommend the developers remove the jumps and make the squats more intense.

Time Perception – 10/10

One of the best aspects of working out inside VR is time dilation. When games are designed correctly, they keep you immersed in the experience and take your mind off any pain or discomfort you might feel from the workout. I compare it to levels of running. If you simply run on a treadmill with no music, a 30 minute run can feel like 2 hours. If you have headphones (more immersive / entertaining), a 30 minute run might feel like 20 minutes. If you are now watching a movie and immersed in the content, a 30 minute run can feel like 10 minutes or less. The awesome thing about VR is its potential to take advantage of full immersion and make workouts feel very short (if designed correctly). The music in Box VR and well-timed delivery of objects I needed to interact with really made the workout feel fun and around 2 minutes in length. Sure it was a quick workout overall but the elements mentioned really helped with the time dilation and enjoyment factor.

Pain and Effort Perception – 8/10

I didn’t feel a lot of pain in the workout and I also didn’t feel like I was having to put forth much effort. Looking at my heart rate throughout the workout, however, tells a different story. Although I didn’t get close to my max heart rate, the level I did get to was less painful to achieve in Box VR than traditional workouts I’ve experienced in the gym. In saying that, I’d give kudos to the Box VR team for creating an experience that increased time dilation and made for a more enjoyable workout. I think if I did a longer workout with a weighted vest I’d score this game a 10/10.

Replay-ability – 7/10

The Box VR team has done a good job at combining consistent game mechanics with variables in environments and music. This makes the experience feel familiar each time but also different in that the rhythm and flow you experience can keep things fresh. I think to really dial up the replay-ability, it’d be great to see how I stack up to others in the community, my age range, etc. That, and the addition of more tracks and environments, might increase the score to an 8/10 for replay-ability.

Fitness Scalability – 10/10

This game is 100% scalable for fitness. Every movement in the game is specifically designed to help you get a good workout. With Dance Dance Revolution type mechanics, there are potentials for vSports, competitions, leaderboards and many other elements to be added to the game and to make working out fun. Also, since you don’t need any special equipment, this is something those looking to get started on their fitness journey can dive into right away from the comfort of their homes.

Minimal Pauses in the Action – 10/10

The pauses in action I noticed were intentionally planned rest periods, which I think are important for a high intensity interval training workout. I did have to adjust my headset quite a bit due to the jump. I think the jumps should be removed from the experience to avoid motion sickness and headset discomfort. Instead, the user should be prescribed more air squats.

Enjoyment – 8/10

As mentioned before, I really enjoyed the flow state this game created. You really start to get into the rhythm of the beat and the combinations of punches and dodges. This rhythm really upped the enjoyment factor. Also, the quality of the music was higher than other games I’ve played that feel more like Mario Brothers. Box VR felt more like an electronic dance festival… in a good way.

Lack of Nausea – 5/10

The only reason I’d give this game a low score for nausea is the jumps. I know I’ve said it over and over again but until we get sport-adapted head-mounted displays, jumping movements just aren’t great. The jumbling around of the view made me feel a little sick at times. If these jumps were removed, I’d give the game a 10/10.

Social and Competition – 5/10

There is definitely potential for the developers to make this game more competitive and therefore social and fun.

VR Fitness Insider’s VR FIT SCORE – 9/10

As of May, 2017, there are no commercially available hardware devices to bring real resistance or sports training experiences into VR, so we can only use virtual reality apps to get a cardio, endurance, and muscle burning workout. I haven’t seen anything out there that competes with Box VR when it comes to the in-workout flow experience. AudioShield is close but that is only punching, not squatting and dodging. With two to three 30 minute game play sessions a week, you will burn fat and get fit in record time… all while having fun.

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Preston Lewis
Preston is the Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer at Black Box VR. Preston is a fitness fanatic, UXUI junkie, product design ninja and product visionary. Preston has provided creative direction and product management to some of the largest brands in the world. His passion for amazing products and solving difficult design problems has earned him numerous awards for projects ranging from traditional print campaigns and packaging design, to chart-topping mobile applications with complex information architectures. After helping grow multi-million dollar brands, Preston decided to leap back into the world of entrepreneurship with a mission to combine his passions for technology, games, fitness, and changing lives, to create the future of fitness; with this vision, Black Box VR was born. When he's not creating new digital products and growing brands, he can be found enjoying paleo treats with his wife that she posts on her blog, AmazingPaleo.com, playing the guitar, singing, working out in VR and dreaming up the next tech innovation.