Esper Review: Mind Over Matter

As PSVR continues to grow, my fondness of VR puzzle games grows alongside it. Esper now enters the ring and brings its own charm.

Physics-based puzzle games are nothing new. We’ve all become accustomed to ramps, water, moving platforms, etc. over the years. Esper takes your standard layout of physics tricks and crafts them into a thoroughly enjoyable VR experience that will keep you engaged, despite its very short length. As a test subject, you’ll prove your ability to use and harness your telekinesis through a series of puzzles. These will range from basic tube systems to intricate, water-based tests that will push your problem solving abilities. In the same vein as Statik, Esper certainly does well to keep your interest piqued throughout its levels.

A feast for the brain

Esper takes place in one room, that shifts and changes the puzzles presented to you. I appreciated this aspect of the game, because it really gives off the idea you’re just a test subject. You sit and do the same things, in the same chair and room, all day every day. The basic principle of every test is to place an object in its proper location, however you have to do it. The puzzles start quite simple but quickly escalate into more complicated tests of skill and patience. Along the way, you’ll learn that your powers are blocked by certain materials and that objects move differently when exposed to elements like air and water. While early puzzles took me only a few minutes to solve, the later puzzles can take up to 15-20mins depending on how quickly you assess the situation.

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Esper does a great job of creating varied and challenging puzzles without changing the environment or goal. By sticking to a core set of rules, each puzzle asks you to do the same thing, but forces you to approach it in a much different manner. If you feel like you’ve really botched the puzzle, there’s a handy red button on the desk that will reset it. Like any good puzzle game, I eventually got to the point where I was getting stumped and frustrated. The game is well crafted enough to make you think you see a solution that in turn only results in more problems. With such a simple set of rules and basic set of abilities, Esper still manages to engage the player well beyond the wonderfully sarcastic narrator. Also, what’s up with sarcastic, kind of asshole-ish narrators in puzzle games? Is it supposed to break down my will? I don’t know. It’s fine. I’m fine.

Sometimes shaky and short

Like most other PSVR titles, opting to track through the headset, and even sometimes the DS4, can cause issues. The tracking isn’t perfect, and while the dead areas and tracking issues were sparse, they were quite noticeable when they arrived. Even though I felt the problems were more prone to show up when tracking via the headset, I still feel that’s the superior way to play. Using headset tracking with Playstation Move controllers proves to be the ideal way to play Esper.

Esper is short. Very short, in fact. In total, the game took me around an hour to complete. From what I’ve gathered online, the general consensus seems to be something between 50 minutes to an hour and half. Not bad for a PSVR puzzle game, but it certainly leaves you wanting. Short games are generally frustrating. Short and good games are even more frustrating, and Esper is good.

Worth the potential headache

Whether the tracking craps out on you or the puzzles frazzle your brain, the headache Esper might cause you is well worth it. It’s a short but sweet dive into physics puzzling that has the added layer of being in VR. Without basically any movement in the game, motion sickness isn’t a worry. Esper is right up there with Statik as a worthy PSVR puzzle title. As it stands right now, they are the two-headed monster of PSVR puzzle games in my eyes.

Hopefully Esper 2 will make its way from Oculus to PSVR at some point so I can perfect my telekinesis powers even further. In the meantime, I think PSVR owners should definitely give this game a shot if they are itching for an engaging, lighthearted, and challenging puzzle game. Esper nails it without going overboard. Plenty to love, so little to complain about. Unless you can’t figure out the puzzle. Then there’s a tonne to complain about. But that’s your fault. Not the game’s.

Esper is available on PC (Oculus) and PS4 (PSVR). We reviewed the PS4 version.