If we’re talking about video gaming with style and immersion at the core then C-Smash VRS and a PSVR 2 feel like a match made in digital heaven. Sony's PlayStation VR 2 has just earned a Red Dot Design Award, while C-Smash VRS is the kind of game my 1980s brian demanded the moment the TRON VHS tape was rewinding.
There’s a curious retro attachment to a lot of what makes C-Smash VRS so engaging, and it's why this game made my list of best upcoming PSVR 2 games. C-Smash VRS is a remake of a cult Sega Dreamcast game, now played in VR. It features the kind of simple arcade gameplay championed by Sega's beloved old console, which mixes Arkanoid with squash and a bold, clean visual design that apes how 90s kids thought virtual reality will look.
Of course, you’re going to need Sony’s new headset to play C-Smash VRS, so read my PSVR 2 review to catch up on why this deserves a Red Dot Award. Likewise, you’ll need a console, so read my PS5 review where I explain why this remains leader of the pack in 2023. All set? Read on to find out why C-Smash VRS impresses.
C-Smash VRS review: just smashing
I love the C-Smash VRS aesthetic; it’s graphic, clean and bright. Set against new PSVR 2 games pushing for realism there’s a freshness to this game’s throwback to the bold, hard lines of 90s gaming. That it remains as immersive as any photo-real VR game, such as Horizon Call of the Mountain, is testament to the physicality of the experience.
While C-Smash VRS uses haptic feedback to get you closer to the action, and even makes use of the head-mounted haptics, it’s the simple design touches that really capture the moment and make it feel like you're standing on a glossy sci-fi squash court hurtling towards a black hole. Small design touches, like how you need to reach out for the floating ball and draw it to you to serve make it feel like you're in there.
Where the art direction stumbles a little is in its progress ‘tunnel’. Before each session you need to highlight a circular subway-style map, but nothing is explained. At first I plug away and move on, but it becomes evident after some hours of play that inner rings are easy stages, the outer harder, and you can plot a course that suits you. (I understand menu explanations are being added in a day one patch.)
C-Smash VRS review: arcade perfection
So C-Smash VRS looks gorgeous, but how does it play? Well, it’s lovely. The simplicity of this low-gravity setup and coherent, almost natural controls ensures you’ll be on a court smashing and lobbing the little glowing ball in minutes. The nuance stems from flicks and positioning of the Sense Controller, and it picks up small movements, meaning a snap of the wrist sees the ball bend sweetly.
This is billed as full body motion, meaning you can lean, bend and stretch for shots, and the ball has a subtle tracking towards you, which ensures it never gets stuck and makes setting shots a little easier. The other hand’s controller is used to strafe left and right. This straightforward approach to movement ensures there’s zero motion sickness and all your efforts are placed on hitting the ball. (Read more experience with PSVR 2 motion sickness to see why the dreaded rumbles can still be a thing, but thankfully not in C-Smash VRS.)
Now I’ve compared C-Smash VRS to both squash and retro ball and bat puzzle game Arkanoid, which really does sum up what happens on court. Each court is an elongated box, like squash, and at one end blocks appear and you need to clear the room before the time ticks down, like Arkanoid. Shields, bonus blocks, power-ups and drifting patterns ensure blasting blocks needs some skill, and a little tactical thought.
There can be some inaccuracy, with shots having an edge of randomness to them, or so it feels. For the most part it’s perfect and sharp, but I was aware of moments where I needed to recenter for greater accuracy. It did also occasionally transfer control from my right-hand to my left, which was kind of awkward in a heated versus match (and that's my excuse).
C-Smash VRS review: creative dream team
The main game mode to the centre of the galaxy and a weird blocky boss battle is over in around two hours, but the maze-like way to get there ensures you can replay and see new courts and challenges. In true arcade fashion the real goal is not to beat the game but to beat yourself by perfecting your skill, ratings and scores.
Likewise, multiplayer is an old-fashioned arcade grand slam. A number of modes are on offer and all play on the same basics that ensures C-Smash VRS feels so immediate. You can battle for control of a court by lighting the most blocks, take aim at your opponent's blocks (winner destroys them all) or my favourite, a duelling mode that elongates the court and you fire balls at one another, the most body blows wins.
The simple elegance of C-Smash VRS hides a lot of creative and technical work. Developer Wolf & Wood has assembled an enviable cast of leading artists, musicians and creatives to bring this retro revival to life in PSVR 2. Once again director Jörg Tittel is the guiding hand, their previous VR game, The Last Worker, was the only game selected for the 78th Venice Film Festival, so there's a clear artistic edge to this game. Alongside Rez Infinite’s DJKen Ishii and synth maestro Danalogue, it's easy to find the art on these courts.
C-Smash VRS review: should you buy it?
Should you buy C-Smash VRS? Absolutely. There’s a sense of inventive clarity on display to accompany the advanced tech that has won Sony awards – yes there’s technical wizardry, such as full body immersion and haptic feedback, but this is also a example of how design can be physically manifested using VR; C-Smash VRS is that rare blend of art and arcade, and I love it.