In case you hadn't heard, the Merge Cube is awesome. The soft foam cube allows for some of the best AR fun you could have for just $15, but there are a couple of stumbling blocks. Several of the apps are problematic when you don't have A Merge VR headset. If you are trying to hold the Merge Cube and your phone then moving the Cube with any speed or accuracy is almost impossible, it's big enough to make moving it in one hand a chore and even using the stand is problematic.
Merge was good enough to supply a stand on the edge of the plastic case that the Merge Cube comes with but the issue with any stand is having it in the middle of your arms and having it lower in your eye line making it uncomfortable to use over long periods. We want to be able to use these apps for long enough to actually enjoy them and it seems that using the Merge VR headset is the best way to do that.
What's so special about Merge VR?
Essentially the Merge VR is a Google Cardboard based VR headset. What sets it aside from most others is the material it's made of and it's ability to be used for Augmented Reality as well as normal Virtual Reality. Made from the same soft rubber as the Merge Cube, the Merge VR fits your phone very tightly in the slot and makes it the most secure headset I have seen.
Parents letting children use this headset can feel safe knowing that even if it falls, your phone will most likely survive. The Merge VR also comes with a helpful removable tab that allows you to use your phone camera to play AR games, specifically for the Merge Cube apps.
So what Cube apps work best with the Merge VR?
Here is some of our favorite apps and games that work best with the Merge VR headset. Please note, they can still be played without the headset but they work much better with one.
Tiltball was one of the first games released from Merge and immediately shows the need for two-handed play. The game is simple, like the old 2D version that came with every HTC phone in days of yore, Tiltball is a maze game designed with a steady hand in mind. You must navigate your little ball through a maze over all 6 sides of your Cube, making sure not to let it fall off the edge to fast or through one of the gaps in the wall.
The Merge VR headset is almost essential to play Tiltball at the harder levels. Having two hands to manipulate the Cube means you can use fine motor cntrol to guide the ball in way thats just possible one handed, or even with a stand stuck between your arms. You can also use the Merge VR for a much more natual feeling movement around the cube and even close up if you need to, it really does make a difference.
CyberCube is a "Simon Says" style memory game where you have to match the sides of the Merge Cube with three sides displayed at the top of the screen. The added difficulty comes from the "virus" that is spreading over the screen making you time short and you vision narrow. You need to find all three sides before the virus covers your view but each level the virus gets quicker!
Using the Merge VR headset makes this far easier, and allows you to complete more levels. Having two hands ito spin the cube makes things much easier while having the symbols you need easily visible makes checking you are doing it right a breeze. Most of the games that require the Merge VR are in this similar vein, when trying to puzzles two hands always seems to be better than one!
Cashing in on our need for nostalgia, Snake Attack is a suped up version of the game we loved to hate on the Nokias of old. Using the Merge Cube to create a massive, 6 sided Snake maze, this game is exponentially more difficult than the original, especially when you get to the later parts of the game and the snake is taking up entire sides of the Cube!
It stands to reason that not having to worry about holding the phone and trying to chase the snake would be better for this game. The Merge VR allows you to twist, turn and jump in frustration without fear of your snake eating itself.
57° North is a thing of beauty. It isn't even a game really, more an interactive story designed to be used on the Merge cube. The beautiful narrative and the fantastic artwork make it well worth buying. It is currently one of my favorite apps on the Merge Cube and you can find my full review here.
What makes this so much nicer in the Merge headset is freedom. With the headset on you are free to bring the cube close to you to see the visuals and, by attaching a set of headphones, you can fill your ears with the voice of soundtrack to this beautiful app. did I mention how much I like 57° North? because I really do.
Is the Merge VR worth it?
It really is. The Merge VR and the Merge Cube go so well together that a lot of the game designers clearly had their combination in mind. While some of the apps for the Merge Cube use a screen tap to generate interactions this actually reduces the helpfulness of the headset, having to lift your hand to press the button, thereby taking it away from the cube, does make things a little less helpful.
Have you seen any great games? What do you think of the Merge Cube and the Merge VR? Let us know in the comments!