I’m standing in the mouth of a giant tuna fish. Looking forward through a curtain of teeth, I can see I’m underwater and heading toward the deep unknown. The fish itself has been gabbing the entire time, narrating our voyage with the charm of a Saturday morning cartoon character. We’re on a mission to retrieve a bronze key located somewhere in a giant, flooded cabin. Still, the problem isn’t the key’s hiding place—I’ve already spotted it sitting on a nearby shelf—the problem is that I’m a tiny puppet with tiny puppet hands, and I need to open a very normal-sized door.
This all happens in the opening moments of A Fisherman’s Tale, a VR puzzle game that plays with perception and space like only VR can. Winner of the VR Game of the Year award at the VR Game Awards in London, A Fisherman’s Tale is the latest effort from Innerspace VR, the team behind the award-winning musical VR series Firebird. Originally released on the Rift Platform last January, and now available on the Oculus Quest VR headset, A Fisherman’s Tale transforms me into an animated puppet named Bob, a humble lightkeeper. When a storm rolls in and threatens nearby ships, it’s up to me to get the lighthouse working; a lighthouse sitting unlit and vacant outside my cabin door.
Before climbing into the monstrous tuna and starting my journey up the lighthouse, I need to get through the game’s Prologue stage. I open my eyes to discover I’m standing in front of a sink and mirror with a toothbrush sitting to my right. I look around, but all I can see is what’s directly in front of me; everything else is covered in shadow. I stare at my reflection. Yep, I’m a wooden doll on strings. A voice—the game’s narrator—invites me to brush my teeth. I grab the toothbrush and pretend I’m giving my virtual teeth a thorough scrubbing. “If you don’t think wooden teeth need brushing,” the narrator muses, “you’ve never had a splinter and a cavity at the same time.”
The room lights up a bit more, revealing more of my surroundings. I’m asked to feed a little red stove sitting to my left. I spot some firewood conveniently piled to the left of the sink. I physically bend down to grab one of the logs with my right hand, then swing open the stove with my left. I chuck in the wood with a swing of my arm. “Nice and warm; safe from the storm,” says the narrator. Throwing virtual logs into a make-believe stove may sound ho-hum, but even the simplest interactions feel completely new when playing around in VR. The stove lit, the narrator chimes in and tells me it’s time to polish my favorite seashell, located behind me. I turn around, and the back corner of the room lights up, revealing a bookshelf and there, sitting among other nautical trappings, is the seashell.
After tidying up, I walk over to a nearby window and open it by grabbing at the anchor-shaped latch. I’m not going to say I can actually smell the ocean air, but sticking my head out of a virtual window and peering at the vast ocean surrounding me is profoundly cool. After staring at the waves for a moment, the narrator points me toward an unfinished model lighthouse sitting in the middle of the room. Upon closer inspection, it appears the model is an exact replica of my little island cabin.
But a few things are missing, the narrator says: first, a replica of the sink I used earlier to brush my teeth; and second, a model of myself. I find both sitting nearby on the table. I grab the sink and place it where it belongs, right under the mirror I used earlier. I see a replica of myself, or Bob, the puppet, sitting to my right in two different pieces. I physically pop them back together with my hands and drop the tiny marionette into the little cabin to complete the model. As the opening moments of A Fisherman’s Tale wrap up, I’m treated to a replay of the morning’s events, only a much smaller version of them. I stare down into the model to see myself examining my reflection, brushing my teeth, feeding the stove, then scooting about the place performing Bob’s morning routine—including putting the finishing touches on the model cabin.
In a sense, playing A Fisherman’s Tale feels like watching a stage production and playing the lead role at the same time, with the game’s narrator acting as the director. This feeling intensifies shortly after the game’s opening when you crack open the roof of the little model only to look up and discover an enormous hand removing the literal roof over your own head. It turns out you’re one of an infinite number of Bob puppets all inhabiting umpteen copies of the cabin environment. It feels like you’re playing with multiple versions of yourself, all working in tandem to crack the game’s multi-dimensional puzzles and get the lighthouse running.
A Fisherman’s Tale is out now on Oculus Quest and the Rift Platform. And check out the Oculus Blog for an interview with InnerspaceVR Co-Founder and Creative Director of A Fisherman’s Tale Balthazar Auxietre.