When Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing (from here on in known as LWAVR for the sake of my sanity) was announced at Finger Guns HQ for a review, there was a positively explosive reaction of excitement and gleeful messages. My fellow Finger Gunners were ecstatic at the prospect of the title (likely at the thought of my 27-year-old self showing up playing a VR game about broomstick racing witches). Myself, being the newly appointed resident VR reviewer, stared at the messages in bemused, unknowing amusement. I simply had no idea what was going on nor what this title was. Alas. There I was, ready and waiting to experience what this broom racing game had in store for me.
So, it’s important to first of all disclaim a couple of things. First. I’d never heard of nor have I seen any of the anime the titular title is based upon. Second. I’ve never been much of a viewer of anime at all, let alone one based upon teenage witches casting magic and talking in exceptionally high pitched tones. In fact, my only foray into anime prior to this was Berserk. Which, for those who know Berserk, isn’t even in the same stratosphere as LWA. It’s fair to say this is a game I would likely never have even noticed previously. That all changed, and it’s rather self-revelatory to say but… in a strange, baffling way, I’m glad I gave it a shot and tried it out.
LWAVR is an interesting, relatively short title which certainly has an earnest and pure appeal to it. The idea of broom racing and VR would appear to meld together perfectly and is sure to give Harry Potter fans intense goosebumps at the potential of a Quiddich game in VR. Despite its innocence and endearing efforts to give fans of the anime a great experience however, LWAVR is sadly overly simplistic, lacking the pizazz of other popular racing titles and the concept of soaring into the air on a broomstick just isn’t as pulsating or exciting as it should be in VR. There’s potential here, but it needs a lot of fleshing out and quality additions to make it an essential or even mainstream purchase for most.
Let’s start from the top though. Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing throws you into the setting of the anime as a guest, allowing you to create your very own avatar… who you’ll promptly never see again as everything is from your perspective. You select your body type and hair from 3 options each, before selecting your favourite shade of whatever colour you prefer (personally, bright green seemed the most appealing, naturally). It’s a nice touch for people who want to place themselves into the setting with their own character, but it’s completely superficial and under-developed. You literally never see your avatar again or do anything meaningful with customisation.
There’s a story mode and narrative attached to the racing and it’s commendable it even exists at all or even has a particular plot thread tying everything together. The basic idea is there’s an increasing magnitude of magic building around the witches’ academy. As a guest you’ve been brought in to help the anime series’ main characters use up said overflow of magic by using “bond magic” to race together. It later turns into an attempt at a dramatic crescendo, but it largely falls flat and there’s little here to really invest you into the story, world or even characters.
Speaking of which, the main cast of LWA the show are present and given some limited screen time. Attko, Sucy, Amanda, Lotty, Diana, Constance and the one who is portrayed as always eating a snack (Jasmina? Jasminka?!) make up the cast and your partners in races. The anime’s voice actors are also brought in to reprise their roles which is a quality touch for fans of the show hoping to have an authentic recreation of their personalities. Indeed, their characters are very anime as I expected, with some dialogue delivered in high-pitched tones and rather more corny lines. Weirdly, I actually found this slightly endearing and not nearly as off-putting as I expected, but I was prone to skipping some of the more inane dialogue and a couple of lines are exceptionally cliché and standard.
Which is something that was slightly disappointing. As a newcomer who knows nothing about the story, the characters are all presented as one-note or single trait entities. The slightly nerdy one, the cool one, the one that always snacks, the enthusiastic-but-error-prone one etc. It would have been appreciated to actually get a chance to know the characters personalities from the show, but then I might be asking a bit much of a VR title.
Each race partners you up with one of the main cast, so you’ll at least get to live out the fantasy of racing with your favourite character if that’s your thing. Before and after each race you’ll also get a brief bit of dialogue and trite context as to why you’re randomly racing on broomsticks around a big tree. It was a bit surreal and at times it makes little sense as justification for racing, but again, it was hard to actually be bothered by it as it clearly had some effort put in for fans.
This also neatly ties into the LWAVR’s bond mechanic. In line with the story, you’re using bond magic to reduce the magical dispersion in the area. This also means you have a bond level with each of the main 7 characters. Each race you complete with them, the more the number increases. There’s no benefit, bonus or buff from doing so and it has no impact on the game or story, but at least it fits with the narrative. It also serves to give the game its grindiest and long-winded trophies (seriously, get to 99 bond with a character?!).
Each of the 12 initial races is allocated to one of the 7 leading witches. So you’ll get a couple of ranks or so with each as you make your way through them. ¾ of this campaign (if you call it that?) are traditional races, which gradually ramp up with the most incredibly minor and basic difficulty spike which takes little to no effort to overcome. The other ¼ of races are ghost hunts. Spawned by all of the magic…er… ness going around, a bright pink/purple orb thing flies around spitting out the Mario bananas and flamin’ hot Watsits looking things and it’s your job to shoot green blobs at them.
Races and ghost hunts are impressively short in length – most I completed first time in 1-2 minutes. You’re only asked to finish a grand, massive total of 2 laps per race, a feat of enduring and pure, unadulterated force of will. It really is the pinnacle of concentration and taxing focus. I jest. But, it really is disappointing that tracks are so exceptionally short and so little is asked of you to overcome any sense of challenge.
Each of the 12 initial races has 3 bonus side objectives to complete but they’re trivial to complete. The first is to complete the race within X time. On normal races the other two will be for finishing first and collecting a certain percentage of the rings you fly through. The majority of these I was able to complete with little effort nor intent on the first try, with a handful needing an extra attempt or two. It’s meant to add some longevity to what is otherwise a pretty anaemic offering, but it’s just not challenging enough to actually add any significant play time towards.
Races themselves are simplistic and straightforward, requiring very little, if any, effort of a competent player. Early levels are basically straight lines, A to B, with nothing to even look out for. Later levels add a couple of obstacles in the shape of decelerating purple weird spider-web coated bubbles as well as a bright green orb which speeds you up. You can pick up boxes which have an almighty number of 2 usable items. You guessed it – one to slow down your opponents, one to speed you up. No skilfully aiming them, you just press X and it – magically I suppose – manifests. Most of the time I just hit the box and smashed X immediately without thinking, as it didn’t matter either way.
To its credit, Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing does try to make some later race layouts more winding, where you can go soaring towards the sky or plummet at the ground before hard-swerving left or right. It also introduces a couple of environmental hazards – giant mushrooms are a bitch it turns out. It’s all easy to adjust to and more just made my experience playing uncomfortable. If the track turns completely left, you have to look left but hold your controller in front facing where it was before the turn. It gave me a crooked neck or two that’s for sure. It seems an odd decision to not just keep the camera centralised to you in some way. LWAVR does advise in one of the loading screens to play the game in a pivoting chair, but there was no such possibility for me, so neck strain it was.
So all in all, the racing itself is simplistic, short, far too easy and has little room for skill development or any kind of excitement. In fact, once I got used to how to play, I barely even had to move my head, as so much of the work is done by the controller. It’s a shame, because it absorbs any of the potential exhilaration of being able to go fire off into the distance on your own personal wooden rocket. It never feels exciting or particularly enjoyable, which made me feel like this was a real missed opportunity of potential for a VR title attempting this gameplay.
After you complete the initial 12 races, you’re then qualified for the prestigious Stella Cup, the height of all competition. Turns out, it’s one race. You pick one of the 7 witches and finish another 1-2 minute race before getting a small smattering of dialogue and a brief, stilted cutscene. You then have to repeat this race another 6 times, once with each of the other witches in order to unlock the ending.
It’s probably not worth the repetition, but the last sequence of dialogue is at least somewhat emotive and tries to emulate something of a satisfying conclusion to the tedium of getting there. It’s effectively padding for an already impressively short title, but it is something at least. Even with all 12 races, 7 repeated for the Stella Cup and another 8 for hard mode (more on that later) plus a couple extra to mop up bonus tasks, my total playtime clocked in at a measly 3 hours.
Between your broom-searing escapades you visit your dorm room, where you can purchase upgrades in the shape of better brooms, items to improve stats like speed and other tokens to increase your capabilities to destroy the previously mentioned bananas and Watsits. The upgrade system is functional if completely overpowered. Returning to the first 8 races becomes a total façade when you have the fastest broom and upgrades. You can view your bond level with the witches and replay any of the previous races should you wish to. There’s an online mode but despite it only just releasing there was absolutely no-one to play with so I can’t even tell you if it actually works or not.
On the difficulty side, as mentioned already, normal is comically easy and requires little considerable input. Consequently, after finishing the story I thought I’d give hard difficulty a go to see if there is some deep, satisfying challenge lurking in this game somewhere. There wasn’t. Apparently hard difficulty doesn’t involve making the AI more aggressive, or making the tracks more obstacle-filled, or limiting your power ups. Nope. Definitely not.
Instead, hard mode means you can be slowed down by your opponents when you’re in boost from a power up. That’s it. It was comical when the text pop-up flashed across my screen to urgently inform me of this, as if I was supposed to now be horrifically intimidated. It made me laugh at least. The game was no more challenging and I blasted through the 8 or 9 races I needed to come first for for a trophy. I appreciate the fact it’s an option, but it feels like a completely superfluous one.
I’ve certainly been critical of LWAVR, in many cases rightly so. But I have to say that despite all of its shortcomings and my misgivings… I actually had a bit of fun. I have no idea how and I can’t point to any particularly redeeming quality – the story was bland, the racing easy and unfulfilling, the content offering miniscule. But, for the life of me I simply can’t hate or even dislike this game as it has such an earnest and endearing aura about it. It’s obvious the developers were trying to deliver an authentic and unapologetic experience for fans of the series, it’s just a shame it’s so threadbare and light on actual gameplay.
Graphically, the character models for each of the witches are decent and the anime look works much better in VR than more realistic type game aesthetics. The backgrounds and maps for the races are suitably colourful and vibrant. As with a majority of VR games however, there’s a noticeable, rampant lack of texturing or any defining detail on any of the geometry outside of the character models. The track you follow is sometimes too transparent to see properly, some objects will pop in and out of existence and the animation for starting races is… jarring at best. Again though, I’d be remiss to criticise this too harshly. LWAVR was clearly made on a budget and does the best with what it has. As mentioned before, there’s some nice colour work and the anime style is absolutely easier on the eye, just don’t expect anything more than that.
Technically, Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing works surprisingly well as a VR title. Once I realised that it doesn’t use the Move controllers (duh moment #1) and that it only works with Dualshock 4 (duh moment #2), not the Dualsense controller (it uses the lightbar to track movement), it was smooth and simple to interact with. The tracking was on the whole much more consistent and competent than some other VR titles, which was very much appreciated. There’s an odd mechanic where you tilt your head down/forward at the start of a race to get moving, but it seemed a little finicky and awkward in truth. Otherwise, I was impressed with how few issues I had with the tracking, which was a nice change.
Strangely, I came out of Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing actually sort of rooting for it and wishing it had been a more fulfilling experience so I could justify why I suddenly cared more for it than I probably should do. I can see the care and attention the developers wanted to infuse into this title and I desperately want to say that was at least somewhat achieved. If you’re a fan of the anime and you have a VR headset, there’s a fun couple of hours to be had for you. If you don’t care for the anime, you certainly won’t find a good or satisfying racing game, unfortunately.
Despite it all however, I can see myself playing a bit more of LWAVR as I pursue that unnecessarily grindy platinum. Objectively I don’t think I can class this as a good game. But subjectively, it just has that bit of charm that for whatever mind boggling reason makes you want to be kind to it. A small bit of appreciation also comes from the fact the title is crowdfunded and was clearly designed for a very niche, supportive audience. For those people who backed it, love the anime, and have a VR headset, this is a game purely made for you and there’s a worthwhile space in the industry for that.
Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing is an earnest, endearing and charming attempt to bring an anime series to life for fans of witches and magic. There’s something intrinsically positive about the aura of the game. This can’t save it from being a short, unchallenging, unsatisfying racing game with a limited story and inconsistent graphical presentation though.
Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing is a game I shouldn’t have liked nor should recommend, but it has a certain honest appeal that’s hard to knock it for. For wannabe broom racing witches, this game was made for you, and probably only you.
Little Witch Academia: VR Broom Racing is available now on PSVR (reviewed on PS4) and PC VR platforms.
Developer: Univrs / EXPVR Inc
Publisher: Univrs / EXPVR Inc
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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