Asteroids! review: a nice short VR animation movie

If you bought a Rift the first moments it came out as me (and so you paid it a lot of money as I did), surely you’ve tried a short animation movie called “Invasion!” where a white smart rabbit was able to push back some stupid aliens that wanted to invade the Earth. That cartoon was very very short, but at the same time very beautiful and funny. For this reason, it won various awards from the critics and also got enthusiastic reviews by the users.

Well, Baobab Studios, that is the creators of Invasion, has decided to make a sequel to that first small experience and this sequel, named “Asteroids!”, has been finally released only some weeks ago and only for mobile platforms Daydream and Gear VR. It has won some awards as well. I’ve just tried it and I want to give you my impressions, without giving you spoilers.

When you launch Asteroids, you are presented with a main menu that is not 3D (again… why? I want something cool as in Face Your Fears), but has this nice feature that all the environment around you changes depending on the menu item that you’re gazing. This is very cool, because this way every item makes you immediately understand what you can expect if you select it, since it immediately puts you in the destination environment. So, even if the menu is not 3D, it is immersive anyway, so I liked it a lot.

The menu offers you five choices:

  • Special Content: shows you some artwork related to the experience. They’re beautiful, but they’re only 6 images (you can get more by registering to Baobab’s newsletter);
  • Visit the ship: lets you explore the ship of the aliens (more on this later on);
  • Asteroids!: lets you see the Asteroids short movie (more on this later on);
  • Invasion!: lets you see the Invasion movie, in case you missed it;
  • Baobab: shows you a video and some info regarding Baobab Studios.

If you have never watched Invasion, my advice is to start by watching it, not because it is fundamental to understand the story of this short movie (it is absolutely not, they’re unrelated), but because it is very beautiful. Then you can watch Asteroids! and in the end you can visit the ship (it is worth it, in my opinion) and if you want, also look at the other special content.

Regarding the short movie, it ends with… no, I’m just kidding! I’ve promised you no spoilers. The story is set inside the spaceship of the two stupid aliens of the Invasion movie, that is Cheez and Mac. With them, there is their little robot dog Pea and you, that is a robot that has to help with their mission. You’ll live with them 11 minutes of their lives, during a mission of theirs in the deep space, where they’ll have to fight against “teeth-gnashing space-bugs and careening asteroids”.

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Wait… what are those monsters?? (Image by Baobab Studios)

The experience is very pleasant and the 11 minutes literally fly away: when it ends, you feel like “wow, it is already over? I want more!”. The plot is very simple and it is all made by little situations that happen during your journey with the spaceship, by those little moments that happen during the everyday life of every alien: there are dogs to feed and pet, there are windshields to be cleaned and things like that. But every situation will give you some emotions: most of the time these funny aliens will make you laugh, but sometimes they’ll also make you worry or be sad. Virtual Reality is an awesome medium to convey emotions and Asteroids is good in conveying you a lot of little emotional moments. That’s why you never get bored.

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The spinning sphere always made me smile. I think it could also be an interesting VR locomotion device 😀 (Image by Baobab Studios)

The experience also offers you little interactions, but in my opinion, those are completely useless: as I said when reviewing First Class VR, either you make a completely interactive experience or you make a non-interactive storytelling one. Providing a storytelling experience where you interact from time to time by just pushing a trigger in the scene to make the experience go on, makes the experience a little worse in my opinion because it just breaks the storyline without offering any further addition. I don’t feel more immersed or part of the scene just because I press a button on the spaceship, that is the only button I can press. I find it useless. It would be different if I could select which button to press so that to change how the story evolves or if I could have fun interacting with all the objects of the scene… but this is not the case. 

What Asteroids really excels in is making you feeling part of the story and not because of the interactions, but because of a lot of little things that happens around you. You are the robot of the ship and all the other members know that and they clearly see you and interact with you. You are not the spectator that is watching the experience through a camera, you are a member of the crew, you are part of the movie. For this reason, the characters look at you, speak to you, interact with you: you play with the dog and sometimes they also take you and teleport you in various positions of the ship. The level of presence inside the story was absolutely good and has been one of the things that I’ve appreciated the most of this little experience.

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Playing with the dog was very funny… I loved the little cute Pea (Image by Baobab Studios)

Also, the graphics are well crafted, but I have to admit that the fact the experience runs on a Gear VR, ruins a little the beauty of it. Watching Invasion through my Rift was great also because images appeared very crisp, while in my old Gear VR they appear a bit less vivid (maybe it is because I still use a Note 4). Furthermore, to make everything run smoothly inside a mobile headset, Baobab’s artists had surely to perform a lot of compromises to optimize the poly count and this has reduced the graphical quality of the whole experience. Anyway, don’t misunderstand this little critic of mine: graphics are really good.

I liked Asteroids!, but honestly I came out a bit disappointed by it. I don’t know how to explain that… but when it ended I felt like something was missing. Invasion was very funny and I think it was more “catchy” than Asteroids, maybe thanks to the character of the bunny. Asteroids was interesting and it made me feel various emotions, but these emotions were never strong enough to convince me to see it again. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. To make a comparison, I loved Dear Angelica, because watching it I almost cried, it conveyed me strong emotions and a meaningful story. Asteroids has not a compelling story and has not moments of strong emotions. So, it feels pleasant, but not awesome.

A last notice on the “Visit the ship” part of the experience. I found it really interesting and worth of trying. It makes you visit the spaceship where the action takes place, with the possibility to look closely to some of its most interesting areas. For these areas, you can see the underlying concepts and 3D arts created by Baobab’s artists and listen to a funny explanation of it made by a guide. I liked it a lot, because it really felt like a guided visit to an alien spaceship and made me smile some times. Really advised.

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Environments of the game are beautiful and visiting them is a pleasure (Image by Baobab Studios)

And so my review ends. Since the experience is really well made, it is pleasant and it is free, I absolutely advise you to see it. I think it is really worth 11 minutes of your time. If you own a Gear VR, you can find it here. And don’t forget to let me know your impressions in the comments section!

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AR/VR developer, startupper, zombie killer. Sometimes I pretend I can blog, but actually I've no idea what I'm doing. I tried to change the world with my startup Immotionar, offering super-awesome full body virtual reality, but now the dream is over. But I've still not waken up...