App Lab Roundup: Chess, Ninjas and Skaters

Each fortnight we will be taking a look at some of the upcoming videogames, demos and unique experiences available through Oculus App Lab for the Meta Quest headsets. Many of these games come in varying states of completion, so each title is subject to change.

In this edition, we look at chess, ninjas and skating.

Chess VR

Have you ever wanted to play chess in a vast medieval castle? Against a knight in full armour? Me neither, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen. Though if you answered yes to those above questions, you’re going to want to download Chess VR immediately, because it has castles, knights and, obviously, Chess.

There isn’t a great deal to say beyond the above because it’s chess, what more needs saying. However, scratch beneath the surface and there’s a surprising depth to be found. Away from the standard chess against a CPU opponent, you can choose to play online or complete puzzle boards. The latter sets up a board mid-game and requires you to win, usually from a disadvantageous position. As a complete chess noob, I merely walked myself into checkmate all the time and watched as the CPU battered me, but your results may vary.

Each match is played in a grand and wonderfully rendered environment that feels both immersive and grandiose. There’s enough depth here at this early stage of development and it is a must for anyone seeking a great chess game with a sense of escapism.

Void Ninja

Void Ninja shares a lot with old school ‘on-rails’ shooters, minus the guns. Played in first-person view, you’re a cyber ninja who auto-moves through The Matrix-inspired environments, drenched in digital glitches. It’s an impressive visual playground that leans heavily into sci-fi trappings. With no story available, it’s hard to parse what we’re actually exploring, but it leaves a lot to your imagination.

Using a static standing position, Void Ninja relies on hand movements to interact with the environments and effectively move within the space. Sweeping a hand side-to-side turns corners, holding the grips enables a wall run. This being a game about ninja escapades, there’s plenty of fighting. Reaching up to your shoulder pulls out a katana to eliminate bots throughout the levels. On the surface, everything feels great, but there are a few hiccups.

Personally, I was a bit torn on Void Ninja overall. It looks lovely, it sounds great and the mix of combat and parkour works really well. However, some movement options are severely lacking; turning a corner by waving your hand is spotty and there were too many times I fell off the platforms. Leaning left and right forces the ninja to sidestep and ducking takes care of obstacles, but neither of these a viable for seated players.

There’s a lot of potential here, particularly with such striking visuals and a level editor available to all players who fancy creating new areas.

District M

District M is a colourful punch in the eye attached to a pair of rollerblades. Here, you control a skater making their way through District M; swinging your arms side-to-side moves the skater, while buttons control jumping and other actions. The demo on offer is limited but gives a great view of what’s to come.

At its core, District M is a rhythm game, rewarding a score for picking up collectables that sway back and forth with the melody in the soundtrack, and jumps must be performed on the beat. The tutorial guides you through the absolute basics, but a ‘sneak peek’ at a future level shows off much more depth, with drifting, boosting and longer jumps through speed-boost hoops.

The developer has added a nice touch with a first-person view available, otherwise, the game controls from a following camera, which is perfect for those who still get a bit of motion sickness. What’s perhaps most striking is the audio-visual package on the whole; huge bold objects in all kinds of colours, music that is endearingly toe-tapping. District M has a wonderful carnival atmosphere that clicks right away.

Since I first tried the game a week ago, the developer has updated the game to include the ‘sneak peek’ so it seems clear development is going well. District M is shaping up to be an infectiously fun ride.