I’ve had the opportunity to test Marius And The Magic Library, a virtual reality experience that is being developed by Granola Studios. It is a game in Early Access, but after having tried it, I can say that it actually is in Early Early Early Access, an alpha preview as the one of Elemental Combat, so the game has a long road to go before the release and we have to forgive it lots of its sins. The developers of this indie studios are trying to spread the word about their little creation so that they can obtain feedback from the community and improve it (a nice approach, similar to the one Luden.io had with VRobot). That’s why in this review I will highlight all the problems of the game: to help the developers, not because I want to critic a game that is in its alpha stage (and you have to read this review in the exact same way).
Marius is a game focused on storytelling. When you launch it, you’re presented with the story of this little rabbit. A voice with the help of some pictures in front of you describes the plot: Marius was born in a family of librarians and so he’s always been an avid reader. One day, his father shows him the magical power of the books: using a special book, the father takes him in a new magical world, where Marius is astonished. Marius starts traveling with all books of the library, traveling to oceans, mountains, lakes and lots of other marvelous places. One sad day, Marius’s dad dies and the magic of the books vanishes. Marius starts managing the library, but this is a too heavy task for such a little rabbit, so the family decides to hire an intern to help in keeping the library clean, tidy and working. This intern is… you.
After this initial moment, that is very similar to the one of Henry, you find yourself in a room, with lots of books and a phone. Your hands are pink and cartoon-like. The phone rings, you pick up the phone and Marius’s mom tells you some recommendations for your job. Then a shy Marius appears behind the books: it is scared by your presence… you’re such a tall human. It comes next to you and then goes away. When he exits the room, the WOW moment of the experience happens: the frontal portal vanishes and all around you appears the big library of the rabbits. The graphic of the library is surely good and thanks to good lighting and some particle filter magic, it appears awesome in that first moment. I loved the surprise effect of the little room becoming a part of the big library room. The best moment of the experience, in my opinion.
Then… well, I found myself stuck. What was I supposed to do? How was I supposed to move??? I had no f***ing idea. At first, I tried with teleporting, but it didn’t work. So I started pressing all the buttons and thumbsticks on my Oculus Touch controllers until I found that the game uses standard locomotion and it is possible to move using the left thumbstick to walk and the right thumbstick to perform snap rotations. I didn’t like the locomotion scheme at all:
- It was terribly slow to reduce motion sickness, so I felt as having snails in place of my feet;
- Notwithstanding the first point, it caused me motion sickness anyway (seriously, this is an epic fail!);
- The rotation of the head modifies the direction of the locomotion: this means that if you rotate your head to look around while you’re walking, you start moving in random directions instead of walking straight.
About the interaction scheme: you just use the index trigger to take objects: usually, games on the Rift use the middle trigger for that and the index trigger for interaction, so I got a bit confused on this point.
Once I understood how I could move, I started exploring the library. Inside the library some objects are interactive:
- You can spin a globe;
- You can take books and throw them to make some mess;
- You can break mugs;
- You can read the diary of Marius.
I loved the choice of making things interactive since it makes the game more immersive. But it is true that interactions are very simple and do not produce interesting results. So I resorted going around and exploring the library. As I’ve said, the graphical quality is good, so the exploration is nice. Then I found a way to overcome the barriers of a no-entry area (as an Italian, if something is forbidden, I have to do it) and I started exploring some forbidden zones, like the garden, that I found very calming
and some other parts of the 3D model of the house that I shouldn’t be allowed to see, with the stellar sky and the pink clouds that really relaxed me. I found this forbidden areas’ tour, with the soothing background music, a very relaxing experience that I enjoyed having. It is a pity that actually this is not something that should be part of the experience and only my rebel soul has permitted me to enjoy it.
After returning to the library, I found a photo of Marius and his family. Suddenly he came next to me and started interacting with me, making clear gestures with his hands as if I had to give him something. Since I’m really a bad person, the first thing that I started to do has been throwing books to his head, but he didn’t react to that in any way. I was quite disappointed since Granola Studios underlined the fact that they want to use AI to make the character to react to the players’ behavior. When I handed him the photo, Marius was so happy that he started making huge jumps, then gave me his hand. I didn’t know if I want to marry a rabbit, so I was hesitant to give him my hand. In the end, I gave him my hands and we teleported to….
Game over. At this point, I was like “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeh where is the game? Why is it already over????”.
This is why in the intro I defined this game an “Early Early Early access” one. To me this is only a sneak peek of the whole experience, it can’t be even considered a demo. The problem is that the game should heavily rely on a “participatory form of storytelling”, but the demo offers nothing similar. Yes, there is an introductory story, but apart from that, the storytelling features of the game are close to zero. The other important feature, the intelligent reaction of the characters to the player’s behavior, is almost absent as well: whatever I tried to do to Marius, he always behaved the same way. So the demo doesn’t contain the main features of the game and this is the biggest problem in my opinion. I can’t judge a game that doesn’t show me its best traits.
I’m not saying that I’ve not enjoyed the experience… I found the multimedia elements interesting and I relaxed with my secret tour. But I felt like I’ve not grasped it.
Since Granola Studios’s developers desire to have feedbacks (and this is something that I really appreciate), this is mine: improve the demo experience to offer more participative storytelling: the user, with his actions, has to unveil the plot, to make things happen. He has to do more things with Marius. And Marius should respond more to the action of the player. At last, the locomotion scheme has to be fixed. I think that the game has potential because from what I’ve played I can see that it has been made by people that care about their product, so I think that if they’ll listen to all our feedbacks, time after time they’ll be able to make a great game. But at the moment it is really in its very early stages.
If you want to give your feedback to Granola Studios’ guys and girls, you can request access to Marius And The Magic Library here on its official website. Let’s all help these enthusiast VR developers!
(Header image by Granola Studios)
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