Virtual reality (VR) gamers have been graced with plenty of inventive and impressive titles from solo developers, from E McNeill with his strategy titles (Tactera, Skylight) to OlivierJT’s unusual Synthesis Universe. The latest to catch their eye is B99 by IronStomach, a roguelike that strikes you with its visuals, keeps you coming back because of the difficulty and is certainly not for VR newcomers.
There’s a good reason why B99 is rated as ‘intense’ on the Oculus Store because it perfectly encapsulates that word as this is a videogame which doesn’t reward fools – in fact, it openly mocks hesitant players. The visuals are what draw you in (more on that later) but it must be said for a solo project B99 is very impressive.
B99 is an experience littered with inspiration from classic videogames, films and other pop culture references; with plenty of subtle (and not so subtle) jokes throughout. Games like Robotron and Gradius come to mind, Tron is a definite given and pick any futuristic anime set in some sort of ‘Neo Tokyo’ and you’ll get an idea of what to expect. It’s a videogame which doesn’t take itself seriously, dropping in Dodgeball jokes whilst the Easy setting is called ‘Wimp’ (unlimited lives). The normal ‘Rogue’ difficulty gives you one life, one shot at surviving – which is very unlikely.
That’s where the whimsical nature ends, as the gameplay kicks in; becoming a brutal onslaught of neon enemies which will test those skills to the limit. Much like the rather good In Death, B99 is a title for those devoted VR players which yearn for a challenge. Who mock comfort settings with a hearty laugh and don’t mind their eyeballs being seared with so much colour they’ll have flashbacks to ‘60s psychedelic experiences they never had.
In a nutshell the aim is to try and save the world, from aliens, with the help of a lazy AI. The problem is humans built the AI, it controls everything and then those pesky space invaders attacked and it couldn’t be bothered to defend the human race – because it likes playing videogames. So the challenge is to beat the AI’s game, if successful it’ll get rid of the aliens. Hollywood should stop making sequels and make this quite honestly.
What you’re then faced with is procedurally generated levels, each split into various rooms where you’ll have to either kill everything or destroy a particular target to open up the next door(s). The gameplay itself is fairly basic, just shoot everything that moves. None of the standard enemies, mini-bosses or main bosses are particularly smart as they seek and destroy, so if you’re looking for exciting modern opponents look elsewhere. Just like the videogames it draws inspiration from, B99 offers that retro gaming flavour.
As mentioned previously, B99 isn’t trying to court all players as some sort of ‘intro’ experience. There’s no teleportation mechanics here, just pure smooth locomotion. There is the option for snap turning or smooth, as well as left or right handed Oculus Touch aiming (plus head aiming), but that’s your lot.
If you can handle the controls then you’re in for a visual feast. Titles like Battlezone had that ‘80s feel but with a modern shine. B99 is pure neon piping everywhere and it does take a little getting used to. The ‘Town’ shows off the aesthetics in superb style as there’s more room to breathe and move around. The compact rooms you fight in don’t offer that chance until they’re cleared and by then you want to move on. This assault of colour can make some encounters somewhat difficult to see opponents as you need to stay moving when several are shooting at you.
To ensure there is at least some strategy involved B99 features 20 weapons to mix and match between, from homing missiles to health regaining ordinance. Only three can be held at once, either found in orbs hidden in levels or by purchasing them at special stations which tend to be just before a boss. While they are named and some are self-explanatory, others are far more obscure and could do with an info point of some sort.
B99 has been in Early Access on the Oculus Store since 2017 which made it easy to miss. Now that it has seen a full release fans of VR roguelikes should definitely take a look, as there’s some quality gaming to be had. Make no mistake B99 is no walk in the park, it does get a little repetitive because of the type of videogame it is and there’s some questionable English being used.