Ah, finally. An opportunity for me to share anecdotes from my rowing days (or Crew days for all you Yanks). Such stories have been banned in my house, as my wife has grown tired of my ‘Shoulda, coulda, woulda’ tales, but I’m sure screaming them into the internet void will be much more welcome.
After all, the internet is known for its warmth and general acceptance of others, right? Setting sarcasm aside, I was a pretty handy rower back in the day, even though I could barely swim a length of a swimming pool. What I learned from that experience is that the constant fear of drowning motivates you to get good fast. However, when I discovered that I could take to the open water without so much as leaving my home, I knew I had found my calling. What I found was Kayak Mirage.
The game featured in this Kayak Mirage review is more of a hyper-realistic VR experience than a traditional game, which allows you to fulfill any water-sport wanderlust you might be harboring and drink in incredible vistas and scenery with only your virtual paddle to push you downstream.
Boasting realistic kayak mechanics and water physics, the game asks you to explore these global locales at your own pace, or if you feel up to it, you can jump into races and really test your shoulder joints. Jeez, I really do sound like an old has-been. I could have had it all, but then I took a paddle to the knee.
However, you may be wondering whether this game makes good on its promises, offers enough content to keep you busy long-term, and makes a splash amongst the other PSVR2 launch titles. Well, grab a paddle and follow me! This is Ready VR One’s Kayak Mirage review, conducted on PSVR2.
Oars On Tour
Let’s start things off with the presentation, which is by far and away the strongest element of Kayak Mirage. The game feels a little bit like the natural evolution of those on-rails VR experiences that existed decades ago. The ones where you would be sat in a chair that would jerk around violently, throwing your back out of line while you watched a screen that showed a first-person ride on a rollercoaster. Kayak Mirage takes this concept of trying to offer a first-person, hyper-realistic activity, but it also gives the player the ability to be hands-on and take control of their experience.
Players will be able to take their sturdy little vessel wherever they please, and will be able to explore the beaches and Jungles of Costa Rica, witness the Northern Lights in Antarctica, battle the storm along the coast of Norway, and even catch some rays in the canyons of Australia. Each location is a visual spectacle, distinctly beautiful, and each area feels alive with flora and fauna all around, and while I eventually muted the in-game music in favor of realism, peace, and quiet, the game also provides a serene and relaxing set of backing tracks for those that prefer such a thing.
The only problem here was that the maps on offer were great, but criminally small. With islands, mountains, and set-dressing littered along the horizon, the immediate impression is that you can row for miles and explore this vast landscape before you. Sadly though, the boundaries will keep you penned in, and I would say that 30 minutes in each location will allow you to see the vast majority of the main points of interest.
More maps have been promised in the future, but at the time of writing, what is currently on the table won’t keep you engaged for all that long.
Merrily, Merrily, Merrily
Now let’s talk about gameplay, and I use the word gameplay pretty loosely here. Kayak Mirage begins by offering a quick and easy tutorial where you must learn the basics while floating around in a swimming pool, my natural enemy. This allows you to become intimately familiar with the kayaking mechanics, and as someone that is intimately familiar with real-life rowing and kayaking, I have to say, these mechanics are very impressive.
The game nails the basic figure-eight motion needed to propel a kayak forward, and the player has complete freedom to control speed and direction through subtle movements like leaning out of the boat, or digging in oars to act as a rudder in the water. The only small gripe was that most kayak paddles would tend to require some wrist action to square the blades before the stroke. However, this is a small gripe that most casual players won’t even notice.
The mechanics are superb and serve as a super foundation for this game to build on, but sadly the game never really does much more than plop you in a location and urge you to explore. There is pretty much no core gameplay loop outside of earning sea miles for covering distance on the water, and earning medals in races.
This will allow you to earn new skins for paddles, your boat, and hats for your ghost during races. This was better than nothing, but I take Umbridge with this format, because this is the kind of thing we get from free-to-play shovelware mobile games, and it’s very much at odds with the overall quality of the core mechanics and visuals.
However, when you set this disappointment to one side and embrace the meditative side of the experience, you can certainly see the appeal. Allowing yourself to calmly drift with the current as birds soar overhead and leaves fall from trees overhead is about as relaxing as it gets, and the freedom to take charge of your own kayaking excursion is empowering in a way. I do wish there was more structure so that the impetus wasn’t on me to keep myself entertained here, but all in all, free-roaming and exploring are fun and rewarding, at least for a short while.
I’m also obligated to mention tour mode, which I suppose is good for those that want to sit back and meditate without the need to propel themselves forward. However, I’m not about to praise the developers for offering up a glorified gameplay demo. If you want to show grandma what VR is, this function will work a treat, but it does nothing to win me over.
Picking Up The Pace
Remember when I said I wanted structure and goals? Well, when I said that, what I had in mind was maybe some hidden quests, or a little campaign mode that gave me the motivation to rack up those sea miles. The last thing I would have pitched for this sleepy little kayaking title would have been a racing mode.
Inexplicably, Kayak Mirage decides to override the tranquil and sleepy vibe it establishes in free-roam mode by allowing players to race against the clock to earn medals and be the burliest boat owner with the broadest shoulders. I want to go on record and say, this was a complete swing and a miss.
The main issue I have with this mode is that it’s ridiculously hard. I consider myself a pretty fit guy, and with my standard setup, I was barely able to get a bronze medal on the easiest race in the game. There is a certain barrier there that requires you to refine your technique to succeed, and I acknowledge that, but even when you do, the game asks a lot of the player.
In the end, I had to raise the floor on my setup, allowing me to dig by paddles in really deep without much effort, and then proceeded to shadow box as if Apollo Creed was in front of me to sail to the finish in record time.
The fact that I needed to do that just to achieve moderate success confirmed to me that the game wasn’t really optimized for racing, and as a result, it just wasn’t fun at all. I’ll continue to struggle on in order to get the necessary trophies linked to the racing mode, but if you aren’t motivated by achievements like myself, then I would urge you to swerve the racing features altogether,
Stuck On The Rocks
Before I wrap up, I want to touch on some other smaller issues and omissions that deserve mention. Primarily that this game doesn’t have any multiplayer support, aside from Leaderboards for the racing mode, which, as I mentioned, is about as fun as hugging a cactus, or driving during rush hour.
Can you imagine how fantastic the experience this game offers would be if you could bring a friend along for the ride? You could give them on tour, show them where the turtles hang out, race to see who can bash the snake first in Australia, or simply float around and take in the scenery together. It’s a missed opportunity, and I can only hope that an update allows for this in the future.
Secondly, the game doesn’t offer varied start points for most of the maps. Meaning that if you want to go to a particular area, or are trying to complete all the achievements for this game, you will need to start in the same place every time. It can be a little tedious to see the same things upon starting each map, and a few options for each would have been very appreciated.
Then lastly, I have to say that while the storm map was a cool addition, it was one that was a little hard to stomach. Not only because it takes a literal age to get anywhere due to the choppy water, but also because the bobbing up and down will really mess with you. I’m someone that has been largely immune to VR motion sickness, but this aspect of the game nearly sent me through a loop. You have been warned.
This is a really tough section, because, truthfully, there aren’t a lot of VR titles out there that can match Kayak Mirage for true-to-life realism. Plus, as you would imagine, there isn’t exactly an abundance of Kayaking games to throw on a list. That being said, I would never leave you drifting out to sea without a paddle. So here are some alternatives to consider:
- Meditation VR
- Microsoft Flight Simulator
- Euro Truck Simulator 2
- Gran Turismo 7
- Recreation Room
- Deep States
- Kayak League
In the end, Kayak Mirage left me feeling torn. On the one hand, this game offers one of the most accessible, intuitive, and awe-inspiring VR experiences on the market, catering to those that love to drink in fantastic visuals, and have an affinity with water sports. However, on the other hand, if I view this through the lens of a game critic, and have to rate this game as exactly that, a game.
Then you have to concede that it is a very hollow and disappointing offering from Better Than Life. It ultimately comes down to the individual that decides to pick up this game, because you could say that this game has zero-replay-value and infinite-replay-value, and neither statement would be wrong.
If you love the tranquility and the satisfying kayaking mechanics, then I would totally understand you keeping this installed on their system for a quick half-hour session every now and again. Plus, if you want a workout, the racing sections will really see you work up quite a sweat. However, due to the small maps on offer, the lack of a core-gameplay loop, and the somewhat niche subject matter, it’s very hard to call this a genuine VR triumph.
It’s one that you should try if you ever get a chance, but after an hour, I would wager 90% of players will find land again, plant their paddle in the sand, and move on with their lives.
- The game looks stunning, with atmospheric and true-to-life locales that beg to be explored.
- The kayaking mechanics are simple to understand and very realistic.
- The Day/Night Cycle and weather conditions do make a tangible difference to each map.
- Great accessibility options
- A distinct lack of a core gameplay loop. Feels like a lazy mobile game format.
- Racing feels like it goes directly against the tranquil and relaxing feel that the game nails.
- There are only four maps, and they are pretty small.
Kayak Mirage Review: FAQ Section
Question: How Many Maps are In Kayak Mirage?
Answer: There are four locations in the game based in Costa Rica, Norway, Antarctica, and Australia. These can be played at day or night time, and in Norway, you can also play during a storm. So in total, there are technically nine maps.
Question: Can You Use a Real Paddle?
Answer: If you want to up the immersion, there is the option to tape your controllers to either side of a broom handle, or perhaps acquire something a little more high-tech, and the controllers will function as normal, allowing you to truly feel like you are padding along. However, I found that pretending was plenty immersive.
Question: Can You Play Water Polo?
Answer: Aside from whacking the beach ball into the inflatable net when in the swimming pool, there isn’t a dedicated water polo mode. However, it is something that the developers have mentioned as a possibility in the future. Fingers crossed.
It didn’t take long for Callum to see everything he needed to see. He managed to rack up 1,200 Sea Miles throughout his time on the water. He visited all the locations at every time of day, and in all weather conditions. Plus, he even managed to pick up a couple of medals in a few races with great difficulty.