By Leah McDonald / October 13th, 2020
|Title||Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing|
|Release Date||Oct. 13, 2020|
|Genre||Virtual reality, racing, flight sim|
When I was a kid, I used to have this recurring dream where I was a bird. I’d fly through the air and feel the wind in my feathers, see the ground blur below me as I swooped about on the breeze. It’s one of the most potent memories I have and that sensation of gliding through the air hasn’t left me for 30 years. So it was something of a delight to get even a fraction of that feeling from the opening sequence of Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing, which does an impressive job of actually simulating flight.
I have a seen a grand total of one episode of Little Witch Academia, just enough to be familiar with the characters and setting. So in a way I was a great pick to review this title, because you need exactly zero knowledge of the source material to find enjoyment here. As a guest student to Luna Nova Witchcraft Academy, you’ll be introduced to the main cast and get a taste of each witch’s personality through the small story interludes between each broom race. Akko is energetic but also a troublemaker; Lotte is quiet and studious; Sucy enjoys experimenting with mushrooms; Diana is haughty but intelligent. You’ll also get to meet Constanze, Amanda and Jasminka, as well as game-specific Neby, a smart crystal assigned to help guide you while you stay at the academy.
The story in VR Broom Racing feels a bit like a self-contained episode. Excess magic is swirling about the academy, and the witches need to use their magic in order to keep the surplus under control. The easiest way to do so is to fly as pairs using Bond Magic, since the spelled used to do so is quite potent. That’s why you’ve been invited to the academy: the more witches flying around and using magic, the better chance the professors have of keeping all the excess magic from running amok by performing the Starlink Ritual. Unfortunately, it might be not be enough to keep all that power at bay, and so it’s up to you and the witches to find the Seven Broom Stars to save the day.
There are a total of 12 story courses in the game, split up between racing and Stardust Ghost hunting. Racing is pretty straightforward: You and the witch partner of your choice will challenge two other pairs to see who can make it through the course the fastest. Each course has an assortment of rings to fly through, as well as treasure box pick-ups that give either a speed boost or a slow debuff. Scattered along the track are also large green balls that boost your speed, and large purple ones that will slow you down. Make it to the end of the race without going too far off course or hitting the scenery and win bonuses in three categories: Finish under a specific time; come in first place; and fly through every ring. Ghost hunting pits you and your partner against ghosts created from the excess magic. During these runs, you and your partner need to shoot as many ghosts as possible to dissipate their energy. These challenges also come with bonuses at the end for finishing under a specific time and killing X number of ghosts. Achieving each of these awards bonus tickets and points you can use in the Lunanet for upgraded brooms and attribute gems to up your stats or give you specific bonuses. (For instance, I used a gem that gave me a homing shot when hunting ghosts.)
Once the 12 story missions are done, you unlock the Stella Cup, which is just a retread of the courses you’ve run before. In order to beat the game, you’ll need to run the Cup once with each witch. In total, it took me about two hours to get through the entire story campaign for VR Broom Racing. Short and sweet, but like I said, it felt like an episode of the anime, and it was a fun romp. The Japanese voice actors reprise their roles and they brought a ton of energy to bear, and the animations are really fluid. Trigger and UNIVRS did a great job translating the show into digital form with expressive characters and really colorful locales. There are only about four different race tracks, but they never feel like they overstay their welcome. That being said, I would have liked at least one more track for variety.
The actual flying in this game feels great. You can play sitting or standing, though in my experience standing worked significantly better. But a simple tilt forward will get you moving, and you direct your broom by twisting your controllers left, right, etc. It only took a couple tries before it felt like second nature, and there’s a palpable sense of weightlessness when your broom initially lifts off the ground. The opening sequence has you literally flying over the school and it is the most amazing feeling. This is one of those places where VR really shines, and why this was such a good property to adapt into a VR title. You honestly feel like you’re riding a witch’s broom.
That being said, the aforementioned difficulty with sitting and playing was a bit frustrating, since the game says you can play it while seated. I ended up having to stand so I could twist around to stay on some of the courses. This is only really a problem in the racing sequences, since you move so much faster than the ghost hunting ones. I also had a lot of trouble triggering my special move. When you pick up a treasure chest, you press the middle side button and swipe your hand to use the item you grabbed. More often than not I’d have to flail my hand to trigger it, often messing up my navigation. I had fresh batteries in my controllers so I don’t think it was a problem with them. None of these were deal breakers and I was still able to enjoy playing, but they did mar an otherwise stellar presentation.
The untranslated tutorial menus and the lack of translations in the opening sequences of each race were more amusing to me than anything, since they didn’t impact gameplay at all. The tutorials have very clear visual direction and you can pretty easily figure out what each witch is saying at the beginning of the race based on her personality. The only time it was an issue was the beginning of the Stella Cup, because the announcer isn’t translated either and she talks for a good 30 seconds before you can do anything. It’s also not skippable. I suspect these will be addressed once the game is actually released.
Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing is a fun little title that takes advantage of virtual reality’s ability to break physical boundaries to provide an engaging flight simulation. The animation and acting help bring these quirky characters to life in an immersive episode that has a rather predictable story but still sticks the landing thanks to wearing its heart on its sleeve. If you’re into VR, this is a great title to grab.
VR Broom Racing is $29.99 USD on the Oculus Quest. It will eventually release on the Oculus Rift S, PlayStation VR, and Steam VR in early 2021.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Little Witch AcademiaLittle Witch Academia: VR Broom RacingOculus QuestReviewvirtual realityVR