Is VR Fitness a thing? We all know that exercise is good for us. The benefits of exercise are well known and well documented; Exercise can help you lose weight, build stronger bones, increase your longevity, improve your mood, reduce anxiety, increase your attention span, and help you sleep better at night. Exercise can also help reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- Why Don’t We Just Do What’s Good For Us?
- VR Fitness with the Quest: The Pros
- VR Fitness with the Quest: The Cons
- VR Fitness: Bring on the Games: Beat Saber, BoxVR, Synth Riders, Dance Central, Sports Scramble, Ninja Legends, The Thrill of the Fight, Pistol Whip, Guided Tai Chi.
Fifty percent of Americans resolve to exercise more every new year. You may have been one of them – I’ve definitely been one of them. So if we all know how good exercise is for us, why aren’t we all already exercising for at least 30 minutes a day 5 days per week?
The Oculus Quest is a fun way to get in shape, whether you’re traveling or stuck inside.
Well, I can’t speak for you. I don’t know you. But I know me, and I’ll tell you what has always stood in my way:
Why Don’t We Just Do What’s Good for Us?
For me, the pattern has always been the same: I’d resolve to exercise more. I’d then take steps to make it happen: join a gym, download an app, create a YouTube playlist, or join a class. I’d buy gym clothes, sneakers, yoga mats, etc… I’d go for 2 weeks, a month or even a few months…then, one day I’d be too tired or just not feel like it. So I wouldn’t go. One day would turn into two, and then a week. Finally, I’d face reality: I wasn’t going to start up again.
Truthfully, these new healthy habits were hard to stick to because I was trying to talk myself into doing something I didn’t actually enjoy. I could lie to myself all I wanted, but deep down, I knew the truth. I just didn’t want to work out. It was boring. Because I didn’t enjoy what I was doing, I just didn’t want to do it again. You can only force yourself to do something for so long before your willpower runs out and you find better ways to spend your time.
That’s not to say there weren’t some fun ways to workout, like dance or kickboxing classes, but they presented problems of their own. First, there wasn’t any guarantee that the classes I wanted to take were anywhere close to me, geographically. These classes were expensive, ranging from 10-50 dollars per class, and even if I could find a class I wanted to take in my area, they often didn’t fit around my schedule.
Another obstacle that really got in my way: my own shyness. The gym and group exercise environments can be intimidating, especially when you’re just getting started. I felt exposed and self-conscious. I was intimidated by the people who’s skill levels were so far above my own. They didn’t seem to get winded as quickly and didn’t make my mistakes. Knowing that no one was judging me and that most people were probably just as self-conscious as I am, didn’t change how I felt when I went.
VR Fitness with the Quest: The Pros
I didn’t buy the Oculus Quest as a piece of fitness equipment. I bought it because it was a standalone VR headset…and I thought it was cool as hell. It didn’t take long for me to see that when I bought the Quest, I was also buying myself one of the best pieces of fitness equipment available. Here’s why:
- It removes excuses. Too cold to go outside? You don’t have to. Get home too late to go to the gym? It’s available 24 hours per day. Snow on the ground? Too cold? Too hot? Just don’t feel like going anywhere? Stuck inside because of a government-mandated quarantine? No travel required. You don’t even need to leave your bedroom. Feeling under the weather and not up to your usual workout? Play for a short while in beginner mode just to move around a little — and when you’re done, you can just take the headset off and go right back to bed (as long as this is cool with your doctor). You don’t need to find a babysitter. You don’t need sneakers. You don’t even really need gym clothes. There have been a few times that I’ve worked out in my pajamas because I was too lazy to put my workout clothes on. Those pajamas went right in the laundry basket after, but I’ve done it.
- You don’t need a ton of space. As long as you have enough space to keep your legs shoulder length apart and enough space to swing your arms in a wide arc, that’s enough room to play 95% of the games that include fitness benefits.
- It’s portable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been chugging along with a daily exercise routine, only to have a trip come up and completely de-rail me. Hotel gyms are the worst. Since I’ve had my Quest, I’ve had to go on a few trips that included hotel rooms of varying sizes. Each time, I was able to get in my regular work out, without setting foot in the hotel’s gym. I did buy an Oculus Quest Travel Case for this purpose. This turned out to be a serious advantage. Being able to stick to my routine when I was away made it a lot easier to continue my routines when I got back home.
- It’s versatile. Sometimes, when you’re working out, that’s your whole purpose: exercise for the sake of it. When you’re feeling very motivated, that’s enough. Personally, my motivation to keep fit waxes and wanes. I make myself a little deal every morning: I put that headset on for a preset amount of time: usually, 30 minutes working out and 5 minutes for a cool down. During that time, I can play any game I want to, as long as it involves moving around. Some days, I spend 30 minutes playing one game –but that’s not usually how it goes. Today, for example, I did some rhythm boxing, played 2 games of tennis, danced to 2 songs in a nightclub, and cooled down with a session of Tai Chi. The day before, I spent 20 minutes killing Ninjas and 10 minutes playing Beat Sabers. Compare that to when I used to go to the gym: 35 minutes on the elliptical while watching Netflix on my phone, followed by 10 minutes of stretching. Sometimes I’d venture into the weight lifting section and pretend to know how to use the machines.
- It’s as challenging as you need it to be. Most of the “fitness genre” games on the Quest have skill levels to choose from or have progressive campaigns where you can slowly progress through a storyline or set of challenges. Beat Saber, for example, has 5 solo play levels: Easy, Normal, Hard, Expert, and Expert+. This may not seem, at first, like a huge advantage unless you put this in perspective. I remember walking into a Zumba class for the first (and last) time. I love dancing, but having never done a Zumba class before, trying to follow along was exhausting. By the end, I was a sweaty, dehydrated, embarrassed mess of a girl. Maybe I would have improved as time went on, but because my very first class was so far above my skill level (extreme beginner), the immense challenge of catching up felt insurmountable. The potential feelings of embarrassment outweighed my desire to return. So I didn’t. When you’re playing games in VR, those games can meet you wherever your skill presently is. You might start out as a beginner, but as you get more advanced, you can choose to adjust the difficulty and intensity of your work out. Advancing through the various levels at your own pace might also encourage you to keep going. An actual judgment-free zone.
- It’s fun. The Oculus Quest is, first and foremost, a gaming system. The apps you can use to exercise, with only a few exceptions, were designed not as workout routines, but as games. If games aren’t fun, you won’t play, or at least you won’t play for very long. Games are designed to be enjoyable. Games are designed to be rewarding. Most of all, games are designed to give you non-judgmental feedback to help you improve based on your experience and keep you coming back for more. When you’re “working out” with the Oculus Quest, you’re not exercising for the sake of it anymore. While you might get fit while playing, that’s not the designer’s objective, but a side bonus, to them at least. To you, it’s a huge advantage. If your brain doesn’t consider an action rewarding, it’s not going to want to do that action again. If you’re bored while doing math or feel self-conscious for making mistakes, how often are you going to want to do math? If you’re bored on the elliptical machine, how motivated are you going to be the next day to get on the elliptical? You might do it anyway because you want the eventual results, but it gets harder and harder to force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy that doesn’t have an immediate benefit. If you feel like working out is something you HAVE to do, it’s a chore. If working out is a chore, you’ll have a hard time making it a regular habit. If you log onto your Quest to have fun, you’re going to do it again and again. It’s a lot easier to stick to something when it’s fun.
- It’s Effective. None of the advantages above mean anything if working out on the Oculus Quest doesn’t actually confer any real fitness benefit. But it does. I have been planning on writing a fitness feature for 6DOF Reviews for several months. During that time, I committed to using the Oculus quest as my primary workout equipment. Since I made that commitment, I have also been careful to track my calorie burn and my progress. I wasn’t disappointed. According to my Fitbit, depending on my level of intensity, in 30 minutes, I could expect to burn about 200-300 calories. Running, by the way, burns about 270 calories in a half-hour (per 10-minute mile). All the benefits of running without having to actually run? Sign me up. What were my results you ask? Within 16 weeks of using the Quest as my primary exercising equipment, I lost 30lbs and 6 inches off my waist.
“Wow, all that sounds awesome. But it sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?”
VR Fitness with the Quest: The Cons
You caught me. There are some downsides:
- You’re unlikely to get a strength workout. I have yet to find a game that makes sit-ups fun. You can get some muscle tone, but the muscle tone is the same as you would get pumping your arms during a run, shadow boxing, performing squats, or lunges. Still, so far, I have yet to see any VR workouts involving your abdominal core. Before I log in each day, I do three sets of planks at one minute each. That seems to do the trick for a full-body workout.
- The design flaws of the Quest hardware are more prominent when you’re doing vigorous activity. The Oculus Quest is the first of its generation of standalone virtual reality headsets. The device was groundbreaking…unfortunately, it’s also a heavy load to wear on your face. Almost as soon as the headset went on sale, third-party sellers started selling hardware mods to get around the discomfort caused by the headset. In the first month that I owned the Oculus Quest, I felt like my cheeks were going to bruise from wearing it. I also found that the face pad irritated my skin, and I started to get pimples. The longer you wear the headset, the heavier and more irritating it feels. Don’t click away yet! Both issues are easily solved. The weight of the headset simply needs to be better distributed. I’m not one for modding hardware, but I made an exception. The first issue of weight distribution can be solved with a head strap or cushion – both of which are available for less than 30 dollars. As for the skin irritation of the face pad, VRcover makes a breathable, machine-washable cotton interface cover, that comes in sets of two and are under 20 dollars. Each solution takes about a minute to install on your hardware and won’t void the warranty. This article isn’t sponsored. But if you have discomfort when using your headset, I found these inexpensive workarounds solved those issues.
- This can get expensive, fast. Over several months, I purchased most of the games on the Quest that looked fun and involved physical activity. The games ranged in price from 9.99 to about 30 dollars. All in all, I spent around almost 200 dollars just on fitness games. I didn’t buy them all at once, but over several months – so I didn’t really feel that pain. I don’t feel as though I wasted my money since I use almost all of the games I purchased at least once per week…But the headset itself isn’t exactly cheap. So if you haven’t purchased the Quest yet, do your research. Make sure it’s an investment you’re willing to make. Would I suggest buying the Quest just for fitness? No, probably not. But the Quest isn’t just a piece of exercise equipment. It’s a full entertainment system and, in my opinion, well worth the purchase price. But I still suggest buying it from a retailer with a solid return policy in case you buy it, try it, and don’t like it. As for the games: The Oculus quest store has a few demo versions of games for free. Sports Scramble, Beat Saber, and Creed all have free demos. I suggest you download those and try them out before you purchase the full versions of those games. I’m going to quickly review some of the games below from a fitness perspective. We’ve reviewed most of them, and the reviews can help you decide which ones you want to try out.
Still, you know yourself better than I ever could. The Oculus store has a good return policy: You can return a game within two weeks if you have played it for less than two hours (cumulatively). Once you’ve tried the demos, buy one game. Evaluate it. Decide if that is a game you will use: Is it fun? Is it challenging enough? Does it fit your personality? If not, return it and get your money back. You can always repurchase it later if you change your mind.
- It’s a little isolating. Playing games on the Quest is fun. Most of the fitness games include a “party mode” that lets you take turns with your real-world friends. Many have an online multiplayer/versus mode that allows you to challenge a stranger on the network or a friend from your friends’ list. Having said that, the Quest requires you to put on a headset that essentially blinds you to the real world for however long you choose to stay. Even if you have a friend or family member sitting right next to you, watching your progress on their phones or TV, you’re still alone in the world it creates for you. Non-VR systems have multiple controllers and multiple participants within one system. In contrast, the Quest is tied to only one user account and only allows one player at a time. This isn’t a feature I mind so much, but it is a limitation.
- If you want to see the benefits, you still have to stick with it, just like any other workout routine. I worked out today on my Quest, and I know I’ll use it tomorrow. I worked out when I was on the road. I worked out when I needed stress relief. I am calling it a “workout”– but really, I was playing games. I was trying to beat my top scores or trying to advance to the next level. I’m usually disappointed when my Fitbit timer vibrates and tells me I need to stop working out. Yes, I know it’s time to move on with my morning routine, or I’ll be late for work or my first class! I lost 30 lbs when the Quest was my ONLY form of exercise…But for me to actually see those benefits, I had to stick with it for a few months. I had to keep working out even after I got down to my goal weight to keep from regaining the weight or getting soft. The fact that I look forward to my daily workout routine doesn’t change the truth: If I didn’t exercise a few times each week, I wouldn’t achieve my fitness goals. To see the benefits of any workout routine, you’ll need to build yourself up to at least 30 minutes of exercise per day and as many days a week as you can. Your workout does not need to be all at one time, though! If you can only do 15-30 minutes in the morning and another 15-30 minutes in the evening, it still counts. One more thing to keep in mind: I was reviewing the Quest as a piece of fitness equipment, so I used it exclusively, but that’s not how you have to play it. If it’s nice out and you want to take a walk instead? Take a walk! Want to play on your Quest for 10 minutes, take a walk for 10 minutes, and then do 10 minutes of yoga? Go for it. The best workout routine is the one you can stick to.
- You’ll have to stretch before and after. Just because your workout is virtual doesn’t mean you won’t get real sore muscles… I find that I need to stretch my forearms, my calves, and roll my shoulders, or they will tighten up. Be kind to your body: stretch it before any physical activity.
- If losing weight is your goal, you’ll need to eat fewer calories than your body burns. There’s a saying(and I hate it): “You can’t outrun your fork.” Remember, most fitness tracking devices can be a little deceptive: fitness watches track total calories burnt during a workout but don’t take into account the calories you would have burned during that time if you hadn’t moved at all. Truthfully, I don’t believe that the body is a straightforward machine where if you eat less, you’ll always lose weight. Our bodies are incredibly complex systems, and there are many factors involved in weight loss, some of which have nothing to do with what you eat or how much you workout. These factors can make losing weight complicated, inconsistent, and slow. If you’re affected by one of these factors or think you might be, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor and get a personalized assessment. Once you’re ready to do so, find a healthy eating plan that works for you. I personally chose WW. I liked their plan’s flexibility, reliance on scientific research, and peer support. Also, if you hit your weight loss goal and maintain your weight loss for six weeks, you can keep using their resources (for free!) to maintain your weight-loss.
VR Fitness: Bring On The Games!
Let’s get to the games! Note: this isn’t an exhaustive list. These mini fitness-game reviews are just the games that I personally enjoyed and gave me a consistent workout.
Calorie Burn: 40-60 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love It
Beat Saber is one of the few games on the Quest that has a free demo. When I first got my Quest, I was reluctant to spend too much money and was really happy to take advantage of any free content. Beat Saber has a great tutorial in their demo. The full version features a campaign mode and a solo play mode that allows you to practice individual songs with five difficulty levels for each. It also comes with some multiplayer and party mode features.
Recently, Beat Saber introduced the ability to personalize your experience by letting you choose custom colors and environments. They’ve also started to add a 360 gameplay experience to a bunch of songs, finally taking advantage of the Quest’s untethered nature. Outside community developers have also created downloadable, open-source, mods that allow the savvy player to upload their own music and create their own levels. For various reasons, I haven’t done this — and even so, I find Beat Saber a delight.
Beat Saber is also a great way to uplift your mood and motivate you. Almost all of the music choices are up-beat, and whether we like it or not, music affects our emotions. Upbeat music will usually improve your mood. If you’re not in the mood for a workout, Beat Saber will usually get you in the mood to move. You’ll also be happier afterward, thanks to the endorphins your body produces in response to the physical activity.
Beat Saber has 5 levels for solo gameplay: easy, normal, hard, expert, and expert+. When I first started playing back in May of 2019, it took me about a half-hour to progress from easy to medium. It took me about a week to progress from medium to hard, and it took me two months to progress from hard to expert. Now, I’m finally playing at the expert+ level, and it is incredibly challenging. You’ll know you’re ready to progress to the next level of difficulty when you’ve started getting perfect scores on the songs you play. If the song seems to be too easy or you find your mind wandering while you’re in the middle of gameplay, that is a signal to move on to the next difficulty level.
Why You May Not Love It
If you have a back injury or are prone to seizures, this game just isn’t for you. There is a lot of arm-waving, twisting and ducking and weaving. I mentioned the music is upbeat, and this is very true. But, except for the music packs that cost extra, you’ve probably never heard any of the songs, and the music may not be to your taste. There is a limited library (assuming you didn’t install the mods), so even if you did buy all the music packs — and this can make the game repetitive after a while. Beat Saber is also a bit on the pricy side (at around $30). This doesn’t include most of the DLC music packs from artists whose names you might actually recognize. The music packs range in price from 6-10 dollars each. They include artists like Panic at the Disco!, Monster Cat, Imagine Dragons, Green Day, and (coming next week) Timbaland.
Calorie Burn: 60-80 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love it
Box VR does precisely what it’s designed to do: it provides an effective workout. If you choose to, it will display your calorie burn on the screen as you work out(though the calorie burn is wildly inaccurate). As much as I hate the warehouse environments, I will say that the fact that there aren’t lights flashing everywhere does actually allow me to focus. Box VR does have some good qualities that most of the other fitness games don’t have. You can program your own playlists and pick from a pretty long list of included songs separated by genre. The game developers have only added to the available music list and have not charged once for access to new songs. I’ve never heard of any of these titles before, but some of the tunes are pretty catchy.
As much as I don’t really like the design of this game, I frequently turn to it for my workouts. There’s an excellent reason for this: as much fun as working out in the Quest is, sometimes, in the morning, all I want to do is go back to sleep because I’m on autopilot and don’t want to think. Box VR allows you to set up and save your own playlists. The fewer steps I have to take to work out, the more likely I am to follow through. Also, because the playlists are set up to play one song right after the other, I don’t need to pause my workout to choose a new song- so I’m more likely to work out for the entire playlist. Frankly, I wish more of the music and rhythm games would add this feature.
I usually choose a 10-minute workout from one of my own playlists, or I try one of the day’s featured playlists. By the time I’m finished, I’m warmed up and ready to move on to a more entertaining game. There have been many days where I just wanted a guaranteed burn and did my entire work out in BoxVR, but with all the fun ways to work out in Quest, this one is only a part of my diet.
Why You May Not Love It
So, I’m actually not a huge fan of this game. It’s as expensive as Beat Saber, but nowhere near as creative or well designed. You only have a choice of 3 scenes: a day warehouse, a twilight warehouse, and an environment vaguely reminiscent of generic 80s sci-fi movies or a Windows 95 screensaver. The game advertises itself as having trainer designed programs, but you never interact with the “trainers” at all. All you see are portraits of people in gym clothes next to one of the pre-programmed playlists. Presumably, that trainer “designed” that playlist. I don’t actually see much of a difference between those and the playlists I made up based on my own music taste. Seriously, how hard would it have been for the makers of this game to incorporate some kind of player interaction with the trainers they advertise? Even if it was just a voice-over or even some short videos demonstrating the proper form. I find the lack of variety in this game lazy. The low-res environments are lacking. As is the inability to modify the colors of your targets (you can choose between two color sets). The poor tutorial and the lack of safety information also feel a little lazy.
There is a “survivor” mode that hoped would add some additional challenge or feeling of gameplay. I was wrong. When you choose to play in survivor mode, you get ten “lives”. Whenever you make a mistake, you lose a life. You can regain your lost lives by consistently hitting your targets without missing any. You play until you lose all ten lives. Supposedly, the longer you play, the more challenging it becomes. This does sound fun, but it’s not. There is only one non-lyrical house music type soundtrack in survivor mode, and it loops….over…and over…and over. The gameplay doesn’t get more challenging every time the music restarts, though. Instead, the targets just accelerate until no human could possibly move fast enough to hit them. This also means that no matter how good you are, you will eventually fail, which also means there is no way to win.
Tip: the game NEVER tells you this for some reason, but when you’re punching, 99% of your body weight should go on your front foot. Your back foot should be used to pivot. This information is available on the Game Developers website, buried in a youtube tutorial by one of the trainers.
My other tip: you are bobbing, weaving and squatting a lot with this game, just make sure that when you bend your knees, you’re not letting your knees go out past your toes.
Calorie Burn: 40-60 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love It
This is another music and rhythm game “hit the target” type game. Synth Riders has such an 80’s futuristic vibe to it that almost always puts me in a good mood. The primary reason I decided to make this a regular part of my work out was that each song provides at least some much needed lower bodywork. You do a lot of squatting in this game.
There are a bunch of environments to choose from, including the ability to have a random environment, and you can customize the colors of your targets. Again, I haven’t heard of any of the music’s artists — they all sound like 80’s synth-pop to me. Lucky for me: I love 80’s synth-pop.
Why You May Not Love It
Synth Riders can be a little bit …much. Unlike Beat Saber and Box VR, there is a risk with motion sickness here. In Synth riders, you’re on a moving platform. If you’re like me, the sensation of feeling like your moving in VR, without actually moving IRL, can lead to motion sickness. Synth Riders does, however, have a setting that allows you to change your scenery to a stationary one. This, however, makes the game a little less fun…I can’t quite figure out why. I’ll also point out that, even though I am prone to VR motion sickness, I never have actually gotten motion sickness playing this game…or even felt queasy (to my absolute delight).
Calorie Burn: 40-60 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love It
Dance Central is a dancing game (duh), rather than a “hit the target” game. It also happens to be one of the few games that can give you a whole-body workout. Dance Central was designed by Harmonix (creators of Guitar Hero and Rockband), so there are songs by several artists you’ll recognize…across several different genres.
You can completely customize your avatar from how you look to the clothes you wear. There are also a few game-like elements present in Dance Central that are absent from most of the other fitness type games I discuss here. There are 6 different characters you can choose to interact with and a storyline that progresses the more you play. There is also an adorable way to interact with the characters, and with the game using an in-game smartphone that you can customize with cases you earn in-game.
Why You May Not Love It
There are 6 scenes in Dance Central: the main entrance, the bar, the dance floor, the VIP room, the dressing room, and the practice room. For some reason, they have a balcony you can go on to, but it’s never been used in gameplay. In other words, it’s all modern style dance club — and by modern style, I mean mid 90’s. Frankly, when I go out, I prefer a hole in the wall with dim lighting, sticky floors, and independent musicians with ironic band names. If I ever went to a club like this IRL, it was because I was dragged by well-meaning friends who thought I needed to get out more. So the scenes here were a bit of a turn-off, at least for me. Also, the music, while mostly upbeat, which isn’t sooooooo bad, but can be a little on the grating side.
Unlike many of the games I’ve listed, this one actually does require a little bit of actual space to play, BoxVR and Beat Saber can be played in the Quest’s stationary mode pretty easily, but Dance Central requires some, though not a ton of, lateral movement. If you have the room, it’s great — if not, this isn’t the game for you.
Ok, so I’ve gone through a lot of music and rhythm games– and these types of games aren’t for everyone. If you’re one of the people who doesn’t like them, I’ve got you covered:
Calorie Burn: 40-60 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love It
So full disclosure, the only game that actually gives you an effective workout in Sports Scramble is the tennis game. If you have the room in your house, you can actually participate in a full-on tennis match complete with running and overhand serves. You can set it up to move around within a visual boundary (in the world). You’re also cheered on by a stadium full of adorable cartoons. I occasionally find myself waving to the crowd, pretending I’m Serena Williams.
Sports scramble has a demo mode, a challenge mode, a quickplay mode, and a party mode that allows you to challenge friends and strangers on the internet. You can customize your avatar and earn new gear. You can also turn off the “scramble” features, which constantly randomize elements of gameplay, turning your racket into a baseball bat, tennis balls into beach balls, etc. Now, when I first bought Sports Scramble, I went through its tutorial and “challenges”(which is like their campaign mode). I found that the best and most enjoyable workout for me was a traditional-rule tennis quick match (3 games) with scramble features toggled completely off. That being said, it’s pretty cool to buy one game and get a free bowling alley of your very own. The included baseball game was fun too, though not much of a workout.
Why You May Not Love It
So truthfully, as much as I love the sports part of this game, I HATE the scramble part of the game. Do you honestly think hitting a beach ball with a fish is going to somehow enhance your playing experience? Neither do I. This game is at the higher end of the cost spectrum and may not be worth it to you since only one sport out of three confers any physical benefits. Also, it’s on the campy side to the point of childishness. I don’t mind that so much, but you might.
Calorie burn: 40-60 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love It
Racket: NX is a combination of Racquetball and pinball. You stand in the center of a giant geodesic dome and hit a ball of light with a racket. Racket NX has a long (and very challenging) campaign mode, consisting of several 5-7 minute rounds.
They’re all designed to help you improve your skills and keep gameplay interesting. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can challenge a friend or stranger to a game of racket tug-of-war. Racket: NX is a game that couldn’t exist in reality, has a great soundtrack built-in, and best of all, YOU CAN UPLOAD YOUR OWN MUSIC.
Why You May Not Love It
Unless you’re playing a multiplayer round, you’re completely isolated in the center of a geodesic dome. I found this game a little lonely, and after I progressed to a certain point, the rounds were so challenging that I got really discouraged after losing over and over and over…and because the environment didn’t really change, the gameplay didn’t change all that much either, and I found I couldn’t really play it for very long without getting bored.
Calorie Burn: 40-60 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love It
So, I’m 99% sure that Ninja Legends was not designed to be a fitness game. That doesn’t mean it isn’t one, though. Ninja legends is an adrenaline-filled game where you are constantly attacked by…you guessed it…ninjas. Lots and lots of ninjas who come at you from all sides. You start out with two katanas, but as you progress through the levels, you unlock more weapons. After just one level, you are panting from the exertion. Ninja Legends is a solid work out and a great way to take out your aggression in a novel setting.
Why You May Not Love It
Ninja Legends borders on the campy side. The gameplay doesn’t change, even as the levels get more challenging to beat. You’re placed in a slightly different scene at every level, and you have to kill ninjas that don’t vary much in physique or design. No cut scenes. Just a barebones storyline, written as a level description, to give you minimal context, and a BONG! Sound to let you know you’re about to be attacked. The intensity might annoy you more than it thrills you after a while.
The Thrill of the Fight
Calorie burn: 80-100 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love It
First off, it’s cheap: only 10 dollars. But you get a lot for that 10 bucks. Like Rocky, you start at a crappy boxing gym, sparring and then working your way through progressively more difficult opponents in higher stakes matches. You fight each opponent for 3 rounds. Each boxing round lasts 3 minutes, with a minute in between for resting and recovery. I will tell you: I get VERY into this. I never thought of myself as a particularly aggressive person. I also admit that I never enjoyed 2D computer games where the only objective was to beat your opponent to a pulp by button mashing. However, when you’re doing the same thing with your own fists — suddenly you’re floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee. I found myself dodging, weaving, guarding my body, and doing that weird fight dance that boxers do on TV….and loving every minute of it. When my 3 rounds are over, I know that I burned a ton of calories.
This is probably the only game on the quest I actually need to pause for a short water break between rounds. Also, by boxing with a fictional opponent, I’m sublimating some aggression I didn’t even know I had! Surprisingly, this has helped me control my stress levels during the day. When you hit someone that doesn’t exist, they can’t actually injure you. You can’t get arrested for assault. The Thrill of the Fight provides all the fun of hitting someone, and none of the consequences.
Why You May Not Love It
For one thing, you DO need a large play area for this game. The developers of Thrill of the Fight really took advantage of the 6 degrees of freedom and 6.5×6.5 square foot play area recommendation. I BARELY have this. I live in a relatively small apartment, and there is one space in it that has juuuuuust that amount of space to move around without bumping into furniture. You can’t stay in one place when playing The Thrill of The fight. You move when your opponent moves. You lunge to punch — you back up when they come for you. The Oculus Guardian (the blue cage that appears to warn you when you are about to bump into a real-life boundary), doesn’t seem to be very sensitive when playing this game.
I remember once I was playing a particularly intense round when I felt a sharp tap on my shoulder. I lifted my visor (never a pleasant experience to be jarred back into the real world), to see my husband’s horrified face. I had been so into my match that I was about to slam into my kitchen sink. One more step and I would have had the wind knocked out of me by my own kitchen counter. Would the Quest’s guardian have caught me before I made contact? I honestly don’t know. The guardian didn’t light up to warn me where I was —but I wouldn’t be too surprised if I accidentally ended up punching a wall. I have heard of this happening to others. From that point on, I was more cautious about where I was stepping. I won’t lie: having to force myself to be aware of my external real-world surroundings, did take me out of it a little.
So, if you don’t actually have 6.5×6.5 feet to move around in your play area, I wouldn’t even bother buying The Thrill of the Fight. One more thing: the NPC spectators in the early rounds are downright creepy. They don’t have eyes.
Calorie Burn: 60-80 Cal / 10 mins
I wasn’t planning on including Pistol Whip in this feature. Pistol Whip is a first-person shooter, a genre I don’t prefer. I also couldn’t have guessed that Pistol Whip could even be used as a workout. My editor suggested I review Pistol Whip from a fitness perspective as a part of this feature, as this is a game he uses for a lower body workout. I couldn’t imagine how a first-person shooter could be a consistent workout. After trying it, I hereby and humbly stand corrected on all counts. Pistol Whip is an excellent full-body workout. Even for someone like me, who doesn’t usually enjoy first-person shooters, Pistol Whip is a lot of fun. It’s a game I now intend to make a part of my regular workout routine each week.
Why I Love It:
- Customizable Gear: You get a gun (or 2 guns!), choose a song from a small (but growing) list of EDM songs. Your job is simply to shoot or pistol whip (thus the title) the pixelated bad guys while dodging bullets and obstacles. I mostly chose to use two of the larger guns, and I dyed them pink! Using two guns did reduce my score somewhat but was preferable to having an idle arm at my side. I could have used it to cradle my shooting hand, which is proper form IRL, but with controllers that made little sense. You can choose from a variety of different guns, unlock new weapons, and customize your pistol’s design and color. Customization seems like this small thing, but to me, I find it helps make any game feel more personal.
- Discovering my Inner Lara: The combination of high-intensity music, combined with targeting, shooting, and dodging makes for an insane mood booster. If I had to compare it to anything, I’d say it’s a less frustrating, faster-moving version of Superhot with a soundtrack. Playing through a song in Pistol Whip activated my deeply buried survival instinct as I dodged every bullet! As in The Thrill of the Fight, this workout also helped me work through some deeply suppressed aggression. After playing, I felt better and, ironically, more peaceful, in the real world. When Doc Neale reviewed Pistol Whip for 6DOF Reviews, he said he felt like Keanu Reeves in the Matrix. Personally, with my double guns, I felt more like Lara Croft.
- The Sneaky Burn at any Level: Pistol Whip is a sneaky workout. When I first started playing, I couldn’t help sort of bopping to the music as I assassinated bad guys and dodged bullets. Unconsciously, I ended up shooting and dodging with the beat of the music. Without intending to, I found myself picking song after song until I realized that I’d run through all of them in about 45 minutes. It was only after I took off my headset that I realized that I was utterly drenched in sweat. When I looked down at my Fitbit, I saw I’d burned more calories than I usually do with a more traditional fitness game like BoxVR or Beat Saber in the same time frame. I only bought the game a week ago, so I evaluated this game playing in Easy and Normal mode. I wasn’t ready to attempt playing at Hard. Even with the data right there, in front of me, even with the proof that Pistol Whip was a solid cardio workout – I had a hard time believing it! I didn’t feel like I’d exerted myself more; if anything, I felt like I’d done less. The natural movements I used to dodge and aim motivated me to move my entire body without being specifically dictated to do so and without much conscious thought.
- Freedom of Movement: There isn’t a dictated rhythm in Pistol Whip like there is in Beat Saber, BoxVR, or synth riders. Your movement isn’t choreographed as it is in Dance Central. You shoot where you want when you want, and you don’t lose points for misses, though if you get hit, you can die and have to start over(though you can choose to disable death, here). Each scene is custom-built for the song it accompanies, so each song gives you different playing experiences. Even though there are only ten songs available at the current time, each time you play through any one level would or could present a new challenge every time you play.
Why You May Not Love It:
- Possible Motion Sickness: One thing that made me nervous when I first started playing Pistol Whip was that levels automatically move forward, as though you’re on an invisible conveyor belt. Full Disclosure: I easily get motion sick. I had to take Dramamine to get through games like Journey of the Gods(which was worth it) and had to lay down for the rest of the day when I tried out Epic Roller Coasters (which totally wasn’t worth it). I appreciate it when game developers give those of us with weaker stomachs alternative forms of locomotion. Pistol Whip does not give you the option to remain still in-world. I will say that you should play a level or two for yourself to evaluate whether you will have issues with queasiness. To my delight, I did not personally get motion sick when I played.
- I Keep Getting Killed: Pistol Whip has three levels of difficulty: easy, normal, and hard. I only just started playing, and even normal was an insane workout and much more difficult than I would have anticipated. Several times, I died within the first minute of starting a level and had to start the whole thing over. Normally, I wouldn’t mind, but when you have to start a level over and over and over again during a workout, it interrupts your flow. Ultimately, since my objective was to get in a workout while having fun and not necessarily to be the master of Pistol Whip, I opted to make myself immortal and engaged the no-fail modifier.
- Lack of Context: Honestly, one thing I’d love to see in Pistol Whip after playing it for a short time is some kind of optional campaign or story mode that could help the player slowly work their way up from super beginner to a pistol-wielding dynamo. A story mode would also give me some context for WHY I’m killing these people. In a few of the levels, there are some “bad guys” who aren’t actually trying to kill you. They’re just kind of standing there and dancing. Even though the enemies are just shadowy, abstract, pixelated figures, I actually did sort of twinge at shooting someone who wasn’t trying to kill me. The fast-paced action and intentionally retro graphic design reminded me of my two favorite FPS from way back in the day: Wolfenstein 3D and Area 51. Those games didn’t have much of a story but did force you to progress through levels, and the context was clear just by the setting of the scene: you’re killing Nazis/space invaders and a good guy. The lack of context didn’t lessen the enjoyment gameplay for me. Still, the addition of even a pretextual reason for killing the shadowy figures who weren’t even trying to kill me would have been very welcome.
- Limited Song Choices… all of Which are EDM: In Pistol Whip, you have the option of choosing from ten different songs, each with its own matching scenery. The songs are each only about 5 minutes long, and those minutes fly by. There are only thirteen songs to choose from, and they’re all EDM. The limited music and scenery choices may mean you’ll get bored with this game over time since you’re mostly playing the same levels repeatedly. If you don’t like EDM (I don’t mind EDM in this context, but it’s far from my favorite type of music), you might find yourself avoiding gameplay just because of the music. Three of the songs have been added to Pistol Whip post-launch. I’ve been told that they plan on releasing a new level every month or so, which should keep things exciting and fresh. But if you don’t like EDM, more EDM songs won’t exactly enhance your playing experience. Custom track packs have been made by fans that match the tempo of existing ones, but adding them isn’t a very straightforward process. My sincere hope is that the developers add additional levels with music genres that aren’t EDM.
I would suggest avoiding boredom with Pistol Whip by not making it your only workout on any given day. I’d suggest making Pistol Whip one more part of your routine. Play one or two songs each day or on alternating days to keep your workout interesting, if you’re the type to get bored quickly with repetition. I’d also suggest playing with the modifiers, as you become more adept, to give yourself a challenge and keep gameplay fresh.
Guided Tai Chi
Calorie burn: 20-40 Cal / 10 mins
Why I Love It
So, Guided Tai Chi is not technically a fitness game, but I use this app at the end of every single workout. It makes a great cool down and helps me transition from an adrenaline-filled exercise back into the real world. There are about a hundred routines to choose from, and one routine only takes about 5 minutes. There are a shorter 3-minute “arcade” mode and an “around the world” mode that takes 60 minutes to complete.
You can choose from about 10 different relaxing scenes. You follow the movements of transparent Tai Chi masters. As you play through each routine, a calm disembodied voice guides you and reminds you to relax.
Why You May Not Love It
I did say this wasn’t a fitness game, right? If anything, this is more of a mindfulness/meditation app and an intro to Tai Chi. It focuses on the relaxation aspect and not necessarily the martial arts aspect of Tai Chi. Guided Tai Chi does not increase in difficulty as you play, which I personally found a little disappointing.
VR Fitness: Conclusion
There is a lot to love about using VR to get a cardio workout. It’s great for beginners, reduces your excuses; it’s portable, versatile, fun, and as effective as traditional cardiovascular activities. A Quest is also a great option when you don’t have access to a gym, or the elements prevent you from being outside. Like any other work out, you should still consult a physician to make sure you’re healthy enough for vigorous cardiovascular activity. However, the cost of the Quest, in addition to the games you’ll need to purchase, can get expensive. I personally suggest creating a workout routine that incorporates a few different games to keep the experience of working out entertaining.
TLDR: The Oculus Quest will give you an insanely fun and very effective workout that reduces your excuses and yields similar results to many traditional cardio workouts. You’ll have to use the same caution as you would with any other exercise routine.
Sources for caloric burn information: https://vrhealth.institute/
Featured Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay