In these COVID times, I look forward to the end of my day when I can turn off my brain out of its loops of logic and creativity and can go all out in my body. I slip my Oculus Quest onto my head and grab the controllers. I’m presented with a gorgeous vista out to a valley in Iceland and feel a wave of relaxation. I look down at my hands and I’ve got Baseball Bat Hands. I start up the daily exercise and I see a coach in front of me. She tells me a little about the inspiration of the routine and we teleport to a frozen-over lake in Iceland with a gorgeous sunset splaying color across the ice. She says she is doing the exercise right along with me. The coach tells me that this is going to focus a lot on the lower body - lots of squatting and lunging.
A portal opens up in front of me that feels like an optical illusion - it looks like a reflection of the world - cutout and flipped on its head. Streams of particles emanate from the portal bridging the gap making me think of the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard.
“Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis starts playing and I have no time to react, but to start hitting orbs coming at me. The color of the orb designates which bat I should hit it with. The direction of the hit is indicated by a glass ampoule attached to the orb. Today since it’s leg day, I’m seeing lots of neon triangles that come up to me. It’s up to me to keep my head below the apex of the triangle. When the triangles form, the tip of the triangle changes from left, center, and right - forcing me to squat and lunge. The coach suggests letting my butt fall back to protect my knees.
The coach reminds me that the more accurate I am with hitting the orbs, the more orbs I will see. The song’s difficulty changes dynamically based on how well I’m doing. She also tells me to breathe. I catch my breath between songs. Each song is a different landscape. She’s asking me to tighten my abs to get more power. Power is tracked by the velocity of the bat when I hit the orbs.
By the end of the playlist, I’m sweating and ready to cooldown. She has me shrug my shoulders and stretch out my arms. She says she’s proud of my work and that she will see me next time. After a few seconds, a screen pops up showing how accurate and powerful I was. Today I got a Supernatural score of “Double Platinum,” which indicates that I was on average between 90-95% with accuracy and power. If I had a heart-rate monitor, I could see how well I did. I also see my cumulative Supernatural score for the week compared to my friends on leaderboards.
This description should give you a sense of what a workout feels like in Supernatural. Multiply these 20 minute workouts per day for the last two weeks and that’s been my routine. It’s short-format, new workout every day that keeps it fresh and me coming back.
The first inevitable question is why not just use Beat Saber since the gameplay mechanics are so similar. I say do both. I’ve actually noticed that I’m much better at Beat Saber. I feel much more confident with stronger shoulders and I have new techniques to respond faster. With Supernatural, they advise you to control your breathing and tighten the abs to respond quickly.
The second inevitable question is whether it is worth $20 per month for this service. I don’t know if I can answer that. I would recommend trying it for one month and seeing if it works for you. I do recommend doing it more than once - I was initially skeptical for the first few days until I was able to pick up on the techniques and settle into a groove. So give it a try and let me know how it goes!
THE DISSENT from Erik Horn, co-founder of Fair Worlds
I was really excited when Supernatural was announced, as I have been of the mindset that VR’s secret “killer app” is being an exercise device. This potential for VR as a workout came to me when I was sprinting at full speed through a half baked tech demo on the Virtuix Omni over five years ago. And it honestly felt a bit more like ice skating mixed with snowboarding, but wonderful and exhausting all the same. I hope the device gets more adoption if and when Location-Based Entertainment (LBE) VR makes a comeback post-Covid (more on that soon).
Fast-forward a few years, I bought wrist weights and became obsessed with “working out” in VR. I earned all of SuperHot’s Steam achievements (a first for me, as I’ve never seen the appeal in achievements). My arms would burn after playing Rec Room Quests that featured the bow and arrow and it’s super physical game mechanic. In a similar vein, I turned on the piñata feature in GornVR and most likely pulled a few muscles using the weights and the virtual mace to knock candy out of cartoon gladiators. (What a weird sentence).
Then... Beat Saber launched in 2018 and we now have the gold standard for VR exercise in my mind, a VR game that has almost infinite replayability, AND an incredible aerobic workout hidden in its DNA.
And that is the word of the day for me: “Hidden.”
Before VR, I hated working out. All caps HATED it. Now I love it. Why? Because it doesn’t feel like working out. My routine now is that I get on an exercise bike, pop on my Quest (with this sanitary silicone insert that I’m able to wash in-between workouts), change some Beat Saber settings (no obstacles) so I don’t topple off the bike blind folded, and I blissfully play for roughly 30-45 minutes or until I notice through the sweat and (exaggeration) high scores that my arms are about to fall off. I’ve never looked forward to working out, but now I do, it’s an amazing way to escape quarantine life and “get my sweat on” (ugh).
So that brings me to Supernatural. I’m not going to say that I don’t like it or that it has issues, but simply: It’s not for me. I’m not motivated by the type of instructors they employ and the Peloton-eseque style of daily classes. But you know what, thousands of other people are, and that’s awesome. I can’t argue with that and I think this is the first VR game my wife will want to play repeatedly. Anything that furthers VR as a killer workout is great in my book.
My last thought on it is that it is absolutely beautiful, it's worth the price of admission (free trial for now for the first month) alone to hop in and marvel at how they achieved the 360 landscapes and how smoothly it runs on the Quest. It’s a real achievement.
So, speaking of achievements, I need to go hop on the bike and into Beat Saber and try to get a few more.