Enter purgatory in Tibetan style with Bardo!
Load up your quiver and ready your bow, it’s time to fight your way out of the void between life and death in this Tibetan archery fire fest!
As Valve’s The Lab proved as far back as 2016 bow mechanics translate exceptionally well to VR. With the addition of a haptic feel as you pull back the bowstring, it’s a sure fire way to feel immediately immersed, guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of every VR newbie when introduced for the first time. But with so many archery titles available, is there room for yet one more, and what does Bardo offer to differentiate it from the rest?
Bardo is a modestly priced, intentionally stripped down wave based archery shooter that brings an old-school retro feel to modern VR gaming. A simple forward-facing experience only, the enemies advance towards your space invaders style, requiring you to pick them off before they eventually reach and devour you.
It’s a very simple premise, but the game does feature a couple of interesting novelties. Firstly, like one of the Dragonborn in Skyrim you have a powerful ‘shout’ to drive enemies back when they approach too close. This is limited to once per wave however so use it wisely. Second, and more intriguing, drawing the bow actually slows time, giving you precious seconds to quickly determine which enemy represents the most imminent threat, and adding a strategic subtlety to the whole experience.
What this title also has in spades is an awesome sense of sonic and visual style. The oriental setting is very cool and the enemy Tsen spirits float menacingly towards you like characters from a Bhutanese mask dance. The sound effects are equally impressive, with an ominous drumbeat that heralds the advance of the enemies, a malevolent distortion and stretching of sounds as you slow down time, and most sinister of all, the unnerving screams of the banshees as they hurl themselves at you in rapid succession!
It’s a fun and addictive little title for sure, but let’s take a look at what this game is like as a workout.
I set up a 30-minute play session with my Fitbit Charge 2. As always I sweat-proofed the headset with a sweatband and detachable cover and tried to play as actively as possible, with no pauses or downtime. The game gives you a large circular area to stand in and move about so I made sure my play space was cleared to be able to take maximum advantage.
- Calories burned: 127
- Average heart rate: 115
- Max heart rate: 133
- Steps: 1450
- Active Minutes: 10
In terms of getting your heart rate up, I’d say this is a fairly low-level activity. Whilst you can move within your playspace it’s a mostly stationary, forward facing game where you pick off enemies at a distance. In later levels, it certainly gets a lot more hectic, and I did find myself ducking and leaning back to give myself precious extra time to fire off shots, but those occasions occur fairly fleetingly, usually at the end of a wave of enemies. Subjectively though it feels much harder, as my arms really started to ache after 20 minutes or so of play, and the frantic nature of trying to stave off the next wave of evil spirits as they continued their relentless onslaught certainly made me feel like I was fighting for my virtual life.
As with all archery games, this is a great arm workout. One feature I really liked was the ability to switch bow hands on the fly with just a push of the thumbstick so you can ensure you work out both arms equally, as well as work on your ambidextrous skills!
The game does allow you to walk around but there is little need to do so. You can play the whole game stationary if you like, possibly even seated. Whilst this is good for accessibility I’d like to see a bit more variety and maybe some creatures or projectiles that need to be ducked under to avoid. An earlier archery game Holopoint demonstrates perfectly how physically demanding such a shoot and duck type game can be, and something similar here would add a real physical challenge to the game.
Core and Balance 6/10
If you’re playing this standing and putting effort into drawing your virtual bow you will be engaging your core and stabilizer muscles to some extent. As the levels progress you will often reach a crisis point in a wave where multiple enemies are upon you and you have to frantically dodge and weave whilst firing off a flurry of arrows. This will tax your core and balance but unfortunately, these moments are the exception rather than the norm.
Time Perception 7/10
I like archery games and the bow mechanics in this are really excellent. Combined with great sound and visuals I really enjoyed my time with this game and had no problem playing it for 30 minutes straight. Levels start easy but by about wave 6 or 7 things start to get a lot harder. In these moments I was just focused intently on surviving and eliminating the current threat. If I died before making a checkpoint however it did give me a sinking feeling to know I had to repeat the previous 3 or 4 waves to get back to where I was. Depending on your love for archery titles such failure will either be a source of game-ending frustration or the birth of a powerful new addiction as you seek to prove who’s boss!
This game only launched into early access in October 2018 and currently has 20 waves with 5 enemy types and a big boss fight at the end. On their Steam store page, the developers outline future plans for a full story campaign, more enemies and environments and some extra skills and abilities to unlock. If they manage to hit these goals they could have a really solid game with lots of content for the price. At present, I’ve spent about two hours with the game and not beaten it yet, and am definitely going to continue until I’ve defeated the end boss so I feel there’s enough here to recommend if you enjoy these sorts of games.
Fitness Scalability 5/10
It’s a great way to get a bit of active gaming in, but it’s not a particularly physically demanding game. If you want the most intense archery experience you can get, well that’s still Holopoint and it’s not even close. But not everybody has the room setup or the heart and lungs to be able to cope with enemies coming from 360 degrees and having to squat under multiple projectiles, so for the less physically fit this is a great starting place. If you’ve played the archery mini-game in The Lab (it’s free and awesome so if you haven’t go to Steam and download it right now!) then I’d say this game is physically equal to that. There are much more physically demanding games in VR, but this one is a lot of fun, and a decent title to start out with.
Lack of Nausea 10/10
This game places you on a circular playing area within a courtyard looking towards a temple. You remain in your area at all times no artificial movement at all so motion sickness won’t be an issue.
Social Competition 1/10
It’s a single player only game at present. The developer outlines plans for global leaderboards and Steam achievements further down the line, but currently, these aren’t implemented.
VRFI Fit Score 5.5/10
Reviewed solely from a fitness perspective there is a much better archery choice out there. Holopoint has a 360-degree arena, and its shoot and duck gameplay will have you gasping for breath after 10 minutes, and on the floor after 30. I must say though I found Bardo a lot more fun to play. The bow mechanics are really solid and it has an immediate and intuitive accessibility that means anybody can pick up and play. Early reviews on both Steam and Oculus suggest players are enjoying the game, and I certainly don’t regret my purchase. If you love archery games you will certainly enjoy this.
Excellent bow mechanics and novel time slowing ability make for a fun and addictive archery experience.
Ability to switch bow hand instantly mid-game.
Superb visual flair and atmosphere
Immediately accessible and intuitive to play
As for exercise, it works the arms only, legs are neglected.
Not nearly as challenging as Holopoint, but more fun, at least in my opinion!