Rhythm Of The Universe’s first episode has moments of wonder, but it’s far too short and simple to make much impact. Read on for our Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia review.
For both better and worse, Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia feels like a launch-window VR game. On the one hand, it’s so clearly in love with its medium, scratching at its potential, dotted with moments of awe-inspiring splendor and fascinated with the gorgeous world it’s built. It’s also incredibly earnest, sporting a pro-environment message and, admirably, developer ROTU is even donating a portion of the game’s proceeds to wildlife conservation.
On the other hand, it’s entirely simple and over far, far too quickly.
Note: This review is based on the PC version of the game for now. We’ll update when we have impressions of other versions of the game.
Framing this release as the first in an episodic series does little to cushion the fact that Ionia can be seen through in just 45 minutes, and roughly a third of that is spent watching the game rather than playing it. If you pitch it as a game, the primitive adventure mechanics and easy puzzles don’t even scratch the surface of their true potential and, taken as something more experiential, there are precious few moments that will stay with you once the credits roll.
To its credit, Ionia is at least a wholly original and an incredibly lavish production that whisks you away to a lush alien landscape. You play as a strange little leafy monkey boy thing (which really is the best way I can describe you) and follow your similarly leafy sister, Allegra, beyond the bounds of your city and into a dense rainforest to save a mythical creature from destruction. As you can probably guess, the story is a vehicle to showcase the harmful impact of mankind on the planet’s most vulnerable spaces. Think FernGully just without a bat voiced by Robin Williams.
And Ionia does communicate that message well thanks to its imaginative design, solid performances and general aura. As the name implies, the game has a musical edge to it, with vegetation sounding off like drums when touched and some puzzles solved by hitting notes on a xylophone. That’s combined with some really fantastic creature and environment design, which not only lets you believe you’ve lost yourself in the vastness of nature but that you’ve met some truly unique animals too. There’s rich texture to Ionia’s sprawling trees and crumbling ruins, and I found myself wanting to breathe in its world of wonders as I explored.
But, as impressive a production it may be, ROTU fails to close the deal when it comes to interacting with this world. The game’s split into four chapters, two of which are essentially movies that don’t really have you doing anything other than watching other characters talk, and the other two run the gamut of simple VR platforming and puzzling. Those xylophone challenges include ‘hints’ that essentially tell you the solution before you’ve had to think about it, and one egg hunt for missing stone tablets feels like it’s there simply to pad the experience out. Even within these limited environments I managed to clip through the floor at one point, too.
There just isn’t even close to enough substance to Ionia in this regard. You could entirely miss that musical undercurrent if you don’t explore its environments and there’s nothing here that feels either unique or engaging to play. You hardly ever get to dirty your hands in its mud; the last chapter in particular only has you mimicking some simple gestures to complete your quest, rather than bringing you into close contact with the wildlife it wants to evangelize.
At one point Allegra tells you a creature will give you safe passage if you maintain eye contact, bow and wait for its approval. It at least sounds like a different mechanic that’s in-step with the world, and you can suddenly envision an arresting experience in which you have intimate connections with majestic animals up close. But then the story shuffles you along before you’re given the chance to actually do it.
Making compelling VR is incredibly tough and I can sympathize with how much effort ROTU has clearly poured into even the small amount of content on offer here, especially given its good intentions, but when you wrap all of that up and send it out as a package to content-hungry VR owners, Ionia doesn’t do nearly enough to turn heads. I did think that perhaps knowing when the next installment might arrive and if there might be some sort of season pass option could at least give some incentive to follow along now, but the developer isn’t ready to talk about those aspects yet.
Rhythm Of The Universe: Ionia Review – Final Impressions
As gorgeous and well-intentioned as it may be, it’s tough to recommend Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia in its current form. There are moments of splendor in this opening act, but they’re far too fleeting and around a third of the incredibly short 45-minute runtime is spent watching its world instead of interacting with it. ROTU will have its work cut out for it in future episodes if this series is to bounce back from this underwhelming first installment but, for what it’s worth, we’re rooting for it.
For more on how we arrived at this rating, read our review guidelines. What did you make of our Rhythm of the Universe: Ionia review? Let us know in the comments below!