When I was a kid, Transformers, Voltron, and G.I. Joe represented my holy trinity of toyetic cartoon shows. Not a week went by that I didn’t saddle up to the television set surrounded by plastic versions of Optimus Prime, Ship Wreck and Duke, and the Red Lion as their animated counterparts fought against the forces of evil battled and delivered helpful public service announcements concerning the dangers of smoking, downed power lines, and running away from home. Voltron was especially cool because of the titular robot hero constructed from five lion vehicles that fought monsters the size of skyscrapers. In 2016, proving that everything old was new again, Netflix picked up a Dreamworks produced revival of the old cartoon series (itself a reversion of a Japanese series called Beast King GoLion) called Voltron Legendary Defender. If you haven’t seen the show yet, currently in its third season, do yourself a favor and give it a glance. The animation is great, the writing is awesome, and the animation is spectacular.
As a tie-in to the Legendary Defender series, Dreamworks and Digital Domain put together a VR experience featuring an original, stand alone adventure. This isn’t the first product based on the franchise. It stands alongside 2009’s “eh, it’s OK” Voltron for the iPhone and Voltron: Defender of the Universe for PSN and Xbox Live. Even though Voltron VR is merely an "experience," I found it to be considerably more enjoyable than previous games largely because of how it uses VR. At long last, a generation of boys and girls that imagined controlling the mighty Lions as they flew them around the living room and played with them in sandboxes can finally experience what it's like to be a part of Voltron.
In my experience, VR experiences tend to over promise and under deliver. The idea might sound cool in a digital storefront but the real thing is often half baked. Voltron VR Chronicles, however, ranks as one of the best I've played so far. Even though it's roughly the length of a 22-minute cartoon episode, Digital Domain provides fun enough content to fill the time. They've also done a fantastic job recreating the look and feel of the series in every possible way and it's really nice to see some love and care put into the experience.
The “episode” is set an indeterminable moment in the series. The villainous Zarkon receives a report of a mysterious power source located on a distant planet and sends one of his lackeys to intercept the Paladins, who have also been attracted to the mysterious signal. The VR experience consists watching a series of interactions between the characters and control over Lance as he pilots the Blue Lion and solves puzzles. The balance between cutscenes and gameplay is excellent and I greatly admired how the cinematics use the entire 360 degree range of motion, as opposed to forcing everyone and everything to take up positions directly in front of you. Turning your head up and around in all directions offers a consistent sense of scale, be it standing next to the Blue Lion or piloting through tight planetary canyons.
As Lance, you’ll pilot the Blue Lion as it weaves through asteroid fields and planetary canyons while blasting away Zarkon ships while Hunk and Pidge provide backup. You’ll use the PlayStation Move wands to lightly steer the vehicle (the majority of the action sequences are essentially on-rail experiences) and interact with weapon and control systems through puzzles that don’t require a whole lot of brainpower but could be better explained. When not shooting down ships and avoiding obstacles, Lance has to fiddle with panel circuits, manipulate resonance frequencies, redistribute power, and unlock the Blue Lion’s higher level weapon functions. These moments are a little contrived and you’ll never perform an action more than once, but I didn’t care because I was caught up in the spirit of the adventure. The one puzzle that stuck in my craw involved fighting off a computer virus as the lovely Princess Allura. Faced with a series of blocks, I wasn’t sure exactly what I needed to do, so I just flailed my hands around until I accidentally stumbled into the solution.
What really captured my attention was Voltron VR Chronicle's production values. Digital Domain has lovingly recreated the show by way of extremely well animated character models textured with cel-shaded likenesses of the cast. Speaking of the cast, the voice actors from the Netflix series perform their character's dialog which adds a scrumptious layer of authenticity. Digital Domain easily could have put together a slapdash product and rely on the name to drive the experience along but they didn’t. The time and effort they put into the experience really pays off.
Voltron VR Chronicles is a small and sweet love letter to a great cartoon series. It also makes great wish fulfillment—on par with Star Wars Battlefront’s VR Mission—for those whose lives were enriched by the series. If there’s a specific thing to call out, I was sad that there were no interactive bits with Voltron itself. Then again, as the robot’s right leg, what is there to do except kick furiously? With a nice balance between in-engine cinematics and simple, yet solid gameplay, this is one of those VR experiences I'll hang onto as an example for others to see the immersive capabilitie of virtual reality.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.