I don’t want to oversell it, but James Davenport said, “This is the best thing I’ve done in VR” after putting on the HTC Vive and playing Metroid Prime through the Dolphin emulator for five minutes. This was after a lot of “whoas,” “cools,” and “ohhhs” were heard when Metroid was played for the first time in true 360-degree first-person. Maybe it was the longing for the past. But the point is still true: Metroid Prime is amazing when it runs at high resolution on a PC. Even more amazing is that it really does work.
Dolphin, an open source emulator for the GameCube and Wii that has been in development for almost a decade, has had basic VR support since the days of the Oculus Rift DK2. Even though the main branch doesn’t support VR, developer Carl Kenner made a branch called Dolphin VR that now works with both the Rift and the Vive. As he says on the Dolphin VR website, there are still a lot of bugs.
Kenner did some custom work to make a number of games work with VR. These games have a variety of controller profiles and other settings that save a lot of time that would have been spent tinkering. But what was even more important was that he made VR work in games that weren’t made for it. In the games we tried, you can look in any direction, and the game’s heads-up display (HUD) moves with your head instead of staying in one place. It’s not a polished VR experience because the VR implementation can make the graphics look weird, but it’s still fun.
I used this short tutorial from Kenner on reddit to get Dolphin VR to work. You can download the latest version of Dolphin VR (which is newer than the one in that Reddit post) from his Mega upload here. It’s more of a gamble to fine-tune for specific games. There aren’t many good tutorials out there, so be ready to get frustrated trying to find the right controller and VR settings for your games. When tinkering, you need both patience and enthusiasm.
James: Wes didn’t exaggerate how amazed I was as a child when I played Metroid Prime in VR. I couldn’t think straight. Metroid Prime is my favourite game of all time. Going back to it every year makes me love its quiet alien landscapes even more, but “seeing” them in VR made me love them in a way I didn’t know I could. After getting used to the controls and the fact that my movements didn’t match Samus’s, it wasn’t hard to get back into the swing of things and I almost didn’t feel sick. Lock-on combat targeting throws you around space pirates like a slingshot, but I didn’t feel sick because I was focusing on and perfectly orbiting my enemies. It’s like how a dancer focuses on one point while spinning so they don’t get dizzy. And that morphball, man, I’d play a VR game that was all about it. Moving in and out of tunnels is a little disorienting, but kicking ball Samus from above gives an otherwise silly mechanic a nice sense of scale and weight.
I am now 100% sure that Nintendo needs to get into VR, and this is how. They are known for selling their games over and over again, but what better way to remember and celebrate an achievement like Metroid Prime than by letting you walk around and look at it up close? At the time, it was praised for nice touches like showing Samus’ HUD in-game. Now, it almost feels like a UI made for VR. When I think about going back to Wind Waker in the same way, I want to drool.
Obviously, it wasn’t the best thing ever. Even though I could move my head around naturally, Samus’s arm was still stiff because it was tied to the Gamecube’s original control scheme, which is odd for most first-person games these days. Due to the limited power of the GameCube hardware and the way the game streamed in geometry to make up for it, I could see the level load and unload just outside my peripheral vision, but Dolphin has a checkbox to fix that.
Tom M says: It was a weird and broken experience, and using a controller to move around in VR will always be uncomfortable, but it was still one of the coolest things VR has done for me. A lot of that is probably due to nostalgia, but it was also surprising to see old mechanics like Metroid Prime’s auto-lock aiming work so well in VR. It made me think about what else could be learned from older games for this new technology.
I also liked how big the game was. It’s probably the biggest and most detailed campaign-based VR game I’ve seen. It was comforting to know that my time in that world wouldn’t be over in 4–8 hours, even though textures kept popping in and out when I turned my head. I know it’s hard, expensive, and time-consuming to make games that big, especially for a hardware platform that doesn’t have a big audience, but seeing Metroid Prime like this made me want to play it.
Also, switching from a first-person view to the morphball was so cool that it made me want a whole game like that.
Wes: I didn’t think that F-Zero would convince me to buy Dolphin VR instead of Metroid Prime. But it was for sure. It’s one of the best racing games ever made. After the first few courses, it’s insanely fast and very hard. I thought I would want to throw up right away. Most of the time, it just works in VR.
The menus are a mess, but once you start a race, you can look around the track and down at your little ship. It’s almost like racing Micro Machines. Or, you can switch to first-person view (unfortunately, there’s no cockpit) and fly through the course at speeds that didn’t make me feel sick at all. It works well in the general way that third-person VR can work well. It’s not like you’re sure it’s all real, but it’s taking up all of your thoughts, attention, and field of vision. And holy crap, that speed.
Redout is the best VR racing game overall, but there is something magical about seeing F-Zero in VR.
Tom M says: I was surprised, like Wes, that my stomach didn’t want to jump right out of my mouth when I played F-Zero in VR, but it was fine. I can handle VR well in general, but I didn’t think it would stand up to F-speed Zero’s for long. I could keep racing that fast in VR, I found out.
The main problem was that the ball kept bouncing off the walls. The camera isn’t set up to deal with that in any way, and it really messes up your view. Because of the shaking, it was easy to lose track of myself or the course, which is a clear sign that the game was never meant to be played this way. But it was well worth it to be able to look at Big Blue and Mute City as I sped through the course. Surprisingly, VR made F-Zero feel slower to me, but I still don’t think I could handle the later cups with crazy 90-degree turns right after each other.
James: So, I have something to say. I have never played a game with Pikmin. But when I tried it for the first time in VR, it felt like it was made for the platform. Standing tall over Olimar and telling him to pull up and give orders to tiny plant people felt right and like a good way to keep an eye on the whole field while doing more than one thing at once. But the camera was locked to my head, so I couldn’t walk around the level naturally and had to keep my body pretty still so I wouldn’t get sick. With a few changes, it could be as easy to play as the best Oculus and Steam VR strategy games. Until then, it’s worth trying out if only to see how the Vive wands are made to look like Gamecube controllers in the game, which is without a doubt the best Nintendo console.
Wes: I’m pretty good at VR these days, but when I tried Pikmin 2 in VR, something about the view made me feel sick right away. I think it might have been the FOV, because even when I didn’t move my head, something didn’t feel right. Metroid and F-Zero work as they are in VR, but I think Pikmin 2 in VR is more of a proof-of-concept. Yes, I think this could work. Being able to walk around the field and look down at an army of tiny Pikmin? Definitely. Nintendo, make a Pikmin God Game already.
But yeah, Pikmin 2 threw off my balance so much that when I tried to take a step, I almost fell over because I couldn’t keep my balance. Finding the right settings to change might have fixed the problem, but it was hard.
Metroid Prime 3
Wes: We had a lot of trouble with this one, but I’m still hoping we’ll figure it out someday. JoshDub on YouTube has shown that Dolphin VR works with more games than anyone else online, and in his video of the Top 5 Nintendo VR games, he says that Metroid Prime 3 is the best. I’d believe it: because Prime 3 was made for the Wii, its IR aiming controls are a natural fit for free look and the Vive controllers. Even though we copied his settings, our look controls were still tied to the touchpad on the Vive, and the slowdown made James feel like he was going to throw up. We won’t give up on getting freelook to work on this one because it has too much potential to do so.
James: I’m not feeling all that great, Wes. The only time Metroid made me feel like this was when I tried to play Other M for the first time.
Wes: Well, at least VR sickness doesn’t last long. Some wounds never heal.
Wes has been writing about games and hardware for more than 10 years, first for tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested and then, since 2014, for PC Gamer. Wes likes to play a little bit of everything, but emulation and Japanese games are his favourites.
When he’s not obsessively optimising and re-optimizing a mess of conveyor belts in Satisfactory, which is really becoming a problem, he’s probably playing a 20-year-old Final Fantasy or some obscure ASCII roguelike. Focusing on writing and editing features, he looks for personal stories and detailed histories from the niche communities of PC gaming. 50 percent pizza in terms of size (deep dish, to be specific).
Resident Evil VII: Biohazard works great in VR because it has a first-person view that the other games in the series don’t have. The fixed camera in Resident Evil for the GameCube probably wouldn’t be as much of a deal breaker as it might seem.
A first-person view is best for a VR game, but being able to look around the different environments from a fixed camera would make it feel like you’re looking down at a playset or from a security camera. Adding something like an optional security camera filter would be a unique and creative touch.
Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes
Metal Gear Solid has been known to switch between first-person and third-person views during gameplay, but it wouldn’t be too surprising if most of the action took place from a first-person point of view.
As a stealth game, virtual reality would do a lot to improve how it feels to hide from enemies and wait for the right moment to strike. It might even make the game a little scary. If you could physically peek around the corner to see an enemy in the distance, your play area would feel like the tight corridors you’re sneaking through.