App Lab Spotlight: Robot Cities, Viking Drums, Living Card Games, and More

Oculus Blog
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August 13, 2021
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Welcome back to App Lab Spotlight! For those who missed the first installment, this is where I try to highlight a few App Lab projects. No specific criteria—just me, my Quest 2, and a willingness to try pretty much anything.

I’ve had a hard time narrowing this list down. Hundreds of games have launched on App Lab since we launched it in February, and it continues to grow week-to-week. Realistic air hockey recreations, a calligraphy sim, a game that promises to help you “channel your inner pigeon,” a medieval home decorator, and the prickly heroics of Cactus Cowboy—all of these unique and creative experiences (and many, many more) have been released since our first App Lab Spotlight.

Below you’ll find five that I really enjoyed. Read on to see if anything piques your interest—but remember, apps from App Lab haven’t gone through our full Oculus review process and may include unknown issues relating to comfort, performance, or other factors.

Ragnarock

The crew is ready to row. All they need is someone to keep the beat. Ragnarock sits at the intersection of Vikings, rhythm games, and folk metal. Sit on the stern of your longship and bang on four massive drums to spur your crew along past icebergs and into Valhalla.

To me, Ragnarock captures the feel of playing drums in Rock Band—but without any of the setup, equipment, or neighbors pounding on the ceiling. And while I don’t listen to Alestorm, Sons of O’Flaherty, and other folk-metal/folk-punk bands day-to-day, the songs in Ragnarock are undeniably fun to drum along to—and help tie the whole Viking theme together as well.

(If you want a similar experience with a broader soundtrack, be sure to check out fellow App Lab game Smash Drums.)

The Secret of Retropolis

“Of all the offices of all the robots in Retropolis, she had to walk into mine. Is it because I’m the only robot stupid enough to work as a private investigator?”

The Secret of Retropolis is a silly send-up of film noir tropes, set in a futuristic robot city that looks like the past. And wow, does the city look gorgeous. Watching The Secret of Retropolis play out around you is a treat, with developer Peanut Button using Quill to its fullest to create a stunning hand-drawn Art-Deco-and-jazz paradise. (Did I mention that The Secret of Retropolis debuted at the Cannes Film Festival last month?)

When you’ve picked your jaw up off the floor, there’s an intuitive point-and-click puzzler to work through as well. You know—use the battery to power the saw, use the saw to cut through some steel bars. Really I just found myself wanting to step into Retropolis though. Soak it in. It feels like a fully realized world, packed with tiny details (like robots who “smoke” screws instead of cigarettes), and I left wanting to see more of it.

In da Hoop!

You know those basketball games they have in arcades? The ones where the balls roll down a ramp and you score as many faux-free throws as you can in the time limit? In da Hoop! is basically a VR version of those machines.

The real draw here is an impressive hand tracking implementation that lets you shoot hoops sans Touch controllers. It’s tough to wrap your head around picking up a ball that’s not actually there, but an extensive tutorial helps get you up to speed by first having you pick up and stack dice, then hold a crystal ball, and finally start lobbing basketballs.

That’s not to say I’m any good at it, because I’m still not. But it’s neat to have this little piece of boardwalk arcade in my office—and the shoulder workout is no joke either.

TraVRsal

When developers first started exploring “roomscale” VR, there were quite a few games that attempted to trick players into thinking a small real-world space was actually an enormous interconnected world—via clever level design, pathing, elevators, and such. See: Unseen Diplomacy.

TraVRsal is a modern resurrection of those ideas, procedurally generating labyrinthine level layouts that fill your Guardian bounds and make you walk (physically walk) deeper and deeper into trap-filled tombs, hostile military bases, and more. There are seven different level themes to explore—two of them created by the community with the in-app level builder—and six more slated to come in the next few months. Better yet, TraVRsal is free, so provided you have the space you should definitely download it and check out what proper roomscale looks like on Quest.

Cards & Tankards

If you’ve ever played a collectible card game, you’ve undoubtedly fantasized about your cards coming to life and battling it out. Cards & Tankards embodies that ideal. You sit in a tavern with your deck of cards, staring down your opponent, and every creature and spell card you play appears in miniature on the table in front of you. Skeletons swing their tiny hatchets, mounted wizards send magic missiles towards the opposing lines, and elephants hit hard with their tusks.

It’s not quite Holochess yet, but it’s entertaining to watch—and backed by solid card game mechanics as well. There’s a bit of a learning curve, and it can be difficult to keep track of what your opponent’s doing at first, but a playable tutorial is enough to learn the basics. (The developer also has more in-depth tutorials on YouTube.) I can’t wait to see how this one evolves, and have already spent a lot of nights cozied up in the tavern refining my tactics.


Check out the first App Lab Spotlight if you’re looking for more recommendations, and we’ll be back with a third list soon. Until then, stay tuned for more Oculus news and releases!