Some of my favourite virtual reality (VR) puzzle games are the ones that have simple yet brilliant mechanics, rather than overcomplicating things. Titles like Cubism, for example, or in this very recent case PathCraft from Devil Cow Studio. Published by VR veterans, Vertigo Games, PathCraft is a delightful puzzle experience all about moving blocks to get a little character to their destination.
In a similar fashion to classics like Lemmings, you have absolutely no control over the main child-like character. They simply wander along paths and it’s up to you to guide them by picking up blocks and strategically placing them. Which makes PathCraft wonderfully easy to grasp. Early levels help facilitate your understanding of how the kid moves and what’s the most optimum use of the items at your disposal. As the levels progress, new blocks and other features are introduced to increase the difficulty and really test your on-the-fly decision-making.
A speedy situation
At the beginning of each level you’ve got time to assess the situation, see what you can manipulate and, most importantly, where the batteries are. Because rather than a door or portal to get to, the aim in PathCraft is to collect all the batteries. Whether that’s a nice easy one or a devilishly difficult selection over multiple tiers. It soon becomes apparent that most levels never supply enough vital components, requiring constant reuse of materials.
That’s where the real fun begins. Because no matter how well you think you’ve planned a route, swapping these blocks in and out, at speed a lot of the time, something will go awry. Generally, it is due to gravity, with the kid falling through a gap you’ve missed or wandering off the edge because you forgot to place a block in the way. But there are other ways to die, restarting the whole level again in the process. Those blocks with skulls on, instant death. Or how about the blocks with a turret on them, yes they’ll happily shoot your little buddy if you’re not careful.
Most of the 80 puzzles are well thought out, with plenty of variety and difficulty the single-player campaign should last a good 6+ hours. And with its colourful, cardboard-style aesthetics, PathCraft is pleasant on the eyes for that duration. But whatever you do, don’t go for the hand-tracking option, it doesn’t suit this type of gameplay.
Hand tracking no no
Meta Quest 2’s hand tracking can be a bit temperamental at the best of times, suiting a slower, more methodical style of VR game. PathCraft requires speed and precision, placing blocks in just the right position so the kid does perish. The hand tracking can’t keep up. On the early levels, it works okay, but there’s no hope of progressing all the way to the end. Stick with the Touch Controllers all the way. Unless you’re one of those players who must start on the hardest difficulty, with one hand behind their back whilst trying to balance on one foot; like a crazy person!
Basic options exist so you can play seated or standing, however, you can’t rotate the scene/puzzle with the sticks. You can grab the puzzle to manoeuvre it on a flat, vertical plane, yet twisting the damn thing is out of the question. You must physically look around it. Not as accessible if you’re playing seated.
Once you’re done with the campaign an entire editor suit awaits. This gives you absolutely everything you need to build, and share your own creations. All the same building blocks are there, adding plenty of extra depth and value for money to PathCraft. Because of that share option, if you don’t feel like building your own, play everyone else’s. The community has already created tons and tons of levels – some better than others.
Fun for all
Going into PathCraft I didn’t have any pre-conceptions regarding what the videogame might be like, coming away very pleasantly surprised. The gameplay grabbed my interest straight away, becoming thoroughly engrossed in trying to collect those batteries. Sure, there were frustrations along the way – all puzzle games have them – yet not so much that the overall experience wasn’t enjoyable. I was happy just to play the main levels rather than sink hours into the editor, although I can see how many players will do just that. If you’re looking for a great puzzle game that’s not expensive, give PathCraft a try.