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March 10, 2017

The best mobile VR apps

VR on phones is as easy as pressing a button, but which experiences are worth your time?

By Joe Clark

Virtual Reality stands on the precipice of mainstream acceptance, new technological advances in recent years have brought VR into millions of homes across the globe. Huge companies such as Samsung, Sony, Facebook, and Google have all invested in the technology or produced their own headsets.

Analyst firm CCS Insight estimates that smartphone enabled headsets are expected to be the largest market and should see a meteoric rise in sales with 14 million units beings sold in 2017 and over 70 million by 2021. Dedicated VR platforms on the other hand, are expected to reach 22 million in 2021, which is an 800% increase over the next four years.

The problem with VR is that it’s hard to understand the medium without experiencing it and it’s harder still to help people to experience it. The inability to show VR on a traditional screen makes products hard to demonstrate and at such a high price, it’s unreasonable to think that people will purchase without trying it.

However, smartphone enabled VR, whilst limited, provides a perfect jumping on point. Simple headsets, such as Google Cardboard or Vizor, can be purchased for around £25 and unofficial cardboard viewers can be purchased for as low as 99p.

If you’re feeling curious about what VR can do then check out this list of the best VR apps for your smartphone.

 

1. InCell

VR app

InCell as a concept is not dissimilar from cult classic Inner Space (or Osmosis Jones as millennials call it) the player finds themselves shrunk down and placed in a retro futuristic pod inside a human body where they are forced to fight through all manner of nasty germs and infections.

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As you’ll find with the VR apps on this list, the functionality is pretty limited. With no proper input device besides the phones gyroscopic detection it’s impossible to relay complex commands. However, the beauty of handheld VR is its simplicity and that very much works to InCell’s benefit.

After a few minutes of leaning this way and that, trying to dodge a particularly mean looking influenza cell, you’ll get a much clearer understanding of what VR is all about, and maybe a bit of biological knowledge to boot.

The visuals are what you’d expect from a smartphone i.e. not breathtaking, but it has a strong aesthetic. However, the audio, if played with headphones, gives the whole experience a real sense of scale as you whizz through places you probably never wanted to see the inside of.

InCell is available on iOS and Android for free download.

 

2. Chair In A Room

VR App

Chair in a Room was recently upgraded and released for the HTC Vive, but the original mobile version still packs one spooky punch. The game starts with the player confined to the titular room alongside the titular chair, as you progress through a linear interactive story.

Armed with just a faulty flashlight that intermittently cuts out (this is a first person horror game after all, so why wouldn’t it?) the player has to look around the room at specific objects in order to progress a competently written horror story. No spoilers here though.

Where this game truly excels is in creating a richly tense atmosphere. The developer, Ryan Bousfield, made a deliberate move to shy away from typical horror ‘jump scares’ which have recently plagued the industry in the form of wannabe Youtube stars screaming at their computers, and instead focuses on much more psychological horror. By playing on your fear of what might happen rather than things actually happening, players will find themselves in a constant state of unease.

Whilst it’ll still make you jump, and scream, and generally look like a wally in front of anyone watching you as well, the long drawn out pauses between scares only heighten the tension as you constantly wonder when the lights will go out, or what ghastly visage will appear before you.

This is definitely one to play alone, both to heighten your enjoyment and save embarrassing yourself.

Chair in a Room is available on Android for free download.

3. Star Wars VR Jakku Spy

VR App

Star Wars VR Jakku Spy is available as part of the Star Wars app that launched a few years ago, and is actually pretty good. The app itself is more of a star wars news hubs with some emojis and funny camera filters but amongst all that is Jakku Spy.

Jakku Spy places you in the deserts of Jakku in a story that leads into the beginning of 2015’s The Force Awakens.

The app plays out over the course of a few missions on the junk/desert planet, one of the focal points of the movie, in order to discern whats going on on the planet. The app offers fans the ability to step inside of Star Wars in a way that has never previously been possible.

Look to one side and you’ll see the remnants of the battle that played out between the Galactic Empire and the Rebel alliance then turn around to see a speeder bike roaring past.

Whilst Jakku spy is essentially a 360 photo viewer, the ability to see it all play out around you is remarkable. Star Wars has always been fascinating to look at, from the special effects created by Industrial Light and Magic to the goofy costumes made from 70’s windsheeters and an overabundance of zippers. Jakku Spy lets you appreciate all of the minutia that has made Star Wars into the cultural touchstone that is today.

The Star wars app is available on iOS and Android for free download

 

4. EndSpace VR

VR app

Similar to Star Wars, EndSpace VR gives you that feeling of cruising through space and blasting enemy ships against a backdrop of cosmic beauty that you always wanted. The new Gear VR version has been updated for touch controls allowing players more control and movement, but the building blocks of the mobile version are what made this app so great.

For a mobile game, it’s got some pretty impressive graphics on show and a frame rate that won’t disappoint. The fluid action of the game will take you through several battles as you live out your childhood fantasies of flying a spaceship.

The game works exceptionally well with headphones, to the point where you’re so immersed you won’t even realise your roommate is sat on the other couch snapchatting you moving your head going “woaaaah”. True story.

Just about the only thing going against this VR app is its lack of movement, the ship is really only capable of moving side-to-side and in the space station environments you’ll be completely static save from where you point the camera. Whilst this doesn’t detract from the experience, it feels a bit dissonant when compared to flying through the cosmos.

EndSpace VR is available on iOS and Android for £0.99

 

5. Adventure Time: I See Ooo VR

VR App

It’s Adventure Time, come on grab your friends, we’re going to very, distant lands, with Jake the Dog and Finn the Human, the fun will never end, it’s Adventure Time.

Adventure Time has captured the imaginations of adults and children alike with its lighthearted, charming, and sometimes emotionally profound take on the post-apocalyptic world. Now whilst the game manages to capture the aesthetic and themes of the World of Ooo perfectly it is essentially just a collection of mini-games, three to be exact.

The first is a Pilotwings clone in which players must navigate Finn’s plane through a series of rings amongst a backdrop of the ever fascinating colourful nuclear wasteland. The second is a shooter in which you have to pelt Ice Kings equally inept sidekick Gunther with snowballs. And the third is mini-game made up of various puzzles.

Whilst, the gameplay is nothing to write home about the attention to detail on show within the optional hub zones is a joy to experience. These hub zones give player the chance to just kick it with a few bizarre and endearing characters in three of the rooms inside Finn and Jake’s legendary Treehouse. Now admittedly each character only has a few lines of dialogue, and non-fans of the series will no doubt be confused, but it’s a wonderful touch nonetheless.

You can even purchase a special Jake the Dog themed VR viewer, so how about that.

Adventure Time: I see Ooo VR is available on VR for £5.99

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