I recently tuned into the MLB Homerun Derby finals and was impressed at the age diversity I saw there. The game puts players in the batter’s box to swing for the stands. A volley of balls comes flying at the player while gamers rush to make full contact. Old and young were thriving at the game.
We talk a lot about how the individual can benefit from VR, and we have looked at a few multiplayer games to try with friends online, but which games are best for local VR with your family and close friends?
You would need games that are heavy on gameplay, light on violence and technical movement, and easy to play. Fortunately, I happen to have a pile of suggestions for you. Get ready to host your all ages VR night and make some new fans with these can’t miss experiences.
I wrote the article on safety, literally, so I want to recap some tips and offer a few more I’ve discovered over the months.
- Warm up and Cool Off: Stay mindful of hydration
- Space: rid yourself of sharp corners, tripping hazards, and opportunities to tangle the cord
- Care for Your Extras, Accessories, and Peripherals: trust me. I’ve dealt with HTC support twice now, and you don’t want to go down that route. It’s dark and full of terrors.
Sweat is a small issue, especially when you have multiple people playing. We’ve covered the basics of sweat management, and for this type of gathering, we recommend just grabbing some extra eye pads or covers you can change out quickly.
One thing I didn’t mention in my safety article was drawing/mapping out your space. I use an HTC Vive, but the Oculus also has you walk the perimeter of your room to establish your boundaries. When running an all-ages night, I know that my younger ones are going to really get into the experience. I want to make sure I give them plenty of room to flail their arms and jump and spin and all of the other stuff they’re going to do without hitting my TV or its stand. I recommend redrawing your experience to give plenty of space between walls, couches, and other objects that might get hit.
For older users, it might be useful to constrain the proportions. I found my older folks had trouble navigating in VR but loved the experience. With a stand-in place game like Space Pirate Trainer, they got the experience without having to worry about all of the artificial stuff in VR.
Which leads to my next point: the games you choose matter. With an all-ages crowd, you want games that will have fast rounds with a scoring system to encourage some friendly competition. Let’s jump into a few examples.
Pros: Basic VR app that introduces everyone to the controls and provides a useful primer.
Cons: Not a lot of longevity to be found, but still fun.
I’ll start with the basic app, which everyone who owns VR and Steam should have installed. The Lab, made by Valve, is an excellent primer for your all ages group to learn the basics of VR. Most of the adults will have sampled VR in some form by now, either through training at work or at an arcade. Kids and elders might need help figuring out the fineries of controlling and movement, but The Lab is a nice confined space to experience the wonder of VR for the first time.
The Lab’s mini-games include a pseudo hiking app to show off how photorealistic VR can get, an archery game, a space shooter and a few other goodies that you’ll need to track down on your own. We like the exploratory sense this app has to it, and we hope it will be a good primer for your group.
Pros: Exciting, colorful, not overwhelming to the senses, easy to pick up and play.
Cons: Rounds may get stale and a bit repetitive.
Racket NX is like breakout inside of a pinball machine. It’s a lot like the squash mini-game in Arcade Saga, with the basic premise of smashing a ball as hard as you can with your digital racket. To win, hit the ball into glowing targets and pathways that score depending on how hard you hit and whether you score a direct hit. There’s also a timer to keep rounds fast and encourage players to get a little wild.
Racket NX is an excellent light to medium intensity game that challenges timing, accuracy, and works the arms and shoulders.
Pros: Free to play with lots of diverse games to choose from.
Cons: It might be hard to settle on a game everyone loves.
Rec Room was a game I avoided for a long time, but when I dove in I realized why it remains one of the most popular games on VR. It’s just a fun social experience. Of course, some games do require skill, but the diverse selection makes it easy to find your groove.
The diversity can work against you, though, if your group can’t settle on something you all want to play. Disc Golf and Rec Royale are more extended experiences, creating lots of downtime for everyone else in the room. Rec Royale and Laser Tag are super fun, but Dodgeball and Disc Golf are also great!
One final cool factor is that your friends can join your game later and help you do things, like build rooms or events that you can share with the wider community.
Still, Rec Room offers variety packaged in either short, medium or long experiences that everyone can enjoy in a non-violent and fun atmosphere.
Pros: Decent workout, fun physics, colorful game.
Cons: Poor presentation and a lack of extras.
Fruit Ninja is one of my favorite VR apps to do with friends and couples, but the presentation is a little lacking. The game has time attack or arcade modes, where players compete for the top score or to see who survives the longest. You will need to slice fruit in groups to score combos while avoiding bombs.
There are lots of opportunities to do fun and stylish things in Fruit Ninja, and the setting isn’t overly violent. You get that satisfying feeling that comes from chopping stuff without the violence generally associated with that in video games.
The trouble comes from the lack of extras and goodies. Games have conditioned us to unlock new gadgets, but Fruit Ninja seems happy to let its gameplay and the competition for a higher score motivate players. That may or may not work on little ones, who might want to see all the cool special effects they get on the mobile version.
Pros: Exciting and active.
Cons: Maybe too physical for some.
Bring back the good ol’ days of NES Track and Field with Sprint Vector! Multiplayer matches keep everyone hyped to win, with all of you rooting for the same person rather than everyone trying to undercut each other. It’s a different dynamic to be sure.
Sprint Vector has lots of shortcuts and what I like to call “hidden tech,” like drifting and flying, which give you a slight edge over competitors. Make sure you maintain situational awareness at all times, just like Mario Kart.
Although Sprint Vector requires high energy and is a very physical game, it’s also a lot of fun to watch. Races get tight, and some players out there are quite good. Even if not everyone chooses to participate, everyone will have fun with this one.
Pros: Fun and diverse challenges packaged in short bursts, plus folks on the side can dance.
Cons: Hand-eye coordination and rhythm are necessities. Not everyone has those.
I’m not going to point to any single rhythm game I think you should play, but if I had to choose right now, I would choose Beat Saber. It is the first to bring the true nature of the rhythm game genre to VR. AudioShield does a good job of using the beats to form gameplay, but it falls short of what I consider a traditional “rhythm game.”
True dancing games, like Holodance, are very engaging and can be quite tricky. Holodance is like target practice, dodging, and dancing all at once. Players will need to punch incoming orbs, take down drones, and dance in exotic virtual worlds. If Beat Saber is like playing the drums while you dance, Holodance is like freeform dancing with a game attached to it.
All particulars aside, the entire genre of rhythm games (traditional or not) is quite fun. The key is to start slow and work your way into gradually more difficult songs. These days, most rhythm games allow you to upload your playlist. You can have a jukebox for your party, with the option for players to get in on the action and dance for a high score.
All ages nights are about experience, showing off your cool VR setup, and making the evening fun. Keep lots of water handy and run those fans. Even with a light intensity game like Racket NX, you will find the room heats up pretty quickly.
Wait for sales if you plan on frequently hosting, as you’ll get the best possible chance to save money buying games in bulk.
VR is quite popular for arcades, and many retail games are modeled after arcade experiences if not a direct port. Like any family-friendly arcade, there are many all-ages experiences to be had that are both physical and engaging for the whole family.