Who doesn't love pulling off a good prank on your friends, doing a funny bit, or mystifying your audience with a cool sleight of hand trick? Most of my friendships are based on all of the above, and of course, there is my professional life, which involves several years exploring many different VR experiences in search of groundbreaking titles that can transport you to other worlds or teach you new things.
Penn & Teller VR: Frankly Unfair, Unkind, Unnecessary & Underhanded by Gearbox Software is an interactive experience that combines the world of pranks and magic,14 in total, with VR. The VR experience also gives you an all-access backstage pass into the secrets of some of their most infamous and epic stunts they've performed over the years. Plus, you get some new gags, bits, and tricks that were made especially for VR by Penn & Teller.
Many of the bits give you the option of having a friend join you by simply handing them one of the controllers. They can see what's happening through a separate screen. Of course, if you don't have friends, you're still able to experience each bit on your own.
By the way, the title of the game is less of a mouthful to say if you break it down to Penn & Teller VR: FU, U, U, and U. See what they did there? Even the title is a classic Penn & Teller gag.
- Instructions are easy
- Great pranks
- Very interactive
- Learning secrets can be a bummer
- Pranks can get old
- Some bits seem to drag on
Penn & Teller VR: What I liked
Penn & Teller VR is a mixed bag of pranks, gags, and magic tricks, and in each one, you are an active participant; being able to pick things, push buttons, and even help saw Teller in half. Your interaction depends on which bit you are trying. The game is designed so that people watching can play a role in the prank, or you're laughing at the person in VR. So it's not a single user experience.
The whole point of Penn & Teller VR is to give you step-by-step instructions on how to zing your friends in VR and the real world. Each bit shown in two parts. Part one is the how-to, and part two is the set-up to prank your friends, or as they are called in Penn & Teller world "chumps."
Some of the bits are edgy, weird, and fun. For example, one prank, called "Immersion Therapy Demo," is part prank and part exploration of a clinical psychology research program on how VR can induce real fear from someone who has arachnophobia. Part one is the set-up. Penn instructs you to run out and get tiny fake spiders and some tape, and he then shows you how to secretly place the spiders on your friend's hands while they are wearing the VR headset.
Part two is the actual prank. Put your friends (or strangers) in VR, and the first thing they'll notice is that they are standing on a high school stage with cheap cardboard cutouts of bushes, paper mache trees, fake cobwebs, and a hand-painted backdrop, and holding rolled-up newspapers in each hand. Penn is calmly talking about spiders and tells your friends to look up. When they do, they will see spiders slowly descending upon them, and they'll start swatting them with the newspapers. By the way, this would be a good time to give your friends a quick finger tap on their shoulder.
As more spiders come down, their anxiety levels up, which is what you want. This is where the fake spiders come in. You tell your friend that they're stepping too close to something and could trip, and you grab their hands to guide them back to the center of the room. As you're doing that, you stick the fake spiders on their hands or arm so once they're completely freaked out and the VR experience is over, they'll remove their headsets and get the surprise of a lifetime. Their reaction will be priceless, and surely everyone in the room will have a laugh, so have a camera ready.
What is really fun is that some of the bits are pretty good pranks. Because VR headsets cut people off from what's happening in the real world. One prank encourages you to put someone into a VR headset and while they are fully engaged in what's happening in the VR experience, everyone else sneaks out of the room leaving the person in the headset all alone. The entire game is about messing with your friends while they are in VR.
Penn & Teller VR: What I didn't like
There wasn't a lot about Penn & Teller VR that I disliked. However, as funny as the pranks are, they got old pretty fast. Once you've pulled a bit on someone, you can't do it to them again. The same goes for the folks who watched you prank other people because they now know the outcome.
The only way you can pull the pranks off again is if you take your VR headset to a different group of friends and show them, or if you can find a group of people you don't know who'd be willing to give it a try. Of course, these jokes may not work for every crowd.
Then there are the classic tricks. Penn and Teller VR have a couple of classic magic tricks as part of the experience. Classic tricks are cool, but not very exciting to play or experience in VR. For example, they do Houdini's glass case escape trick where water is filling up a glass box, and you're locked inside. You need to unlock the locks. It's slightly entertaining, but compared to the other bits, it's kind of boring. I wish they focused more on VR experiences like "Immersion Therapy Demo" instead of old school tricks like this.
Finally, a big part of Penn & Teller VR is getting your friends to participate by handing over one of the controllers to them, which can cause some tracking issues between the Quest headset and the controller. Even if you happen to keep the controller and the headset connected, to get your friends to join you in VR, you'll need to cast your headset to a TV, phone, or computer. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work, and when that happens, it kills the fun.
Penn & Teller VR: Should you buy it?
Penn & Teller VR: Frankly Unfair, Unkind, Unnecessary & Underhanded is a fun VR experience that feels like a real Penn & Teller show. That's because each bit is based on a real Penn & Teller show. The big takeaway is that you'll learn some cool pranks that you can pull on your friends, which makes it worth the $20 you'll spend on the experience. It's not perfect, and there are some small technical issues that you might encounter, which can be frustrating and can kill the mood.
Some bits are oddly funny. Reading Moby Dick one page at a time in VR sounds really obnoxious, but when you have a friend wearing the Quest, and they're about 15 pages into Moby Dick before they've figured out what's happening, it's worth it. It's even better since you and everyone else not in VR left the room a long time ago leaving your friend all alone.
It's not a must-have VR game, but if you happen to have a spare $20 available, go for it.
3.5 out of 5
Prank your friends
Learn the ways of pranking
Bottom line: Penn & Teller VR: Frankly Unfair, Unkind, Unnecessary & Underhanded VR experience is a mouthful to say, but don't let that stop you from checking out this VR experience. The entire experience is made up of 14 individual bits that you would see at a typical Penn & Teller show, only they've been adopted for VR by the good folks over at Gearbox Software.
Bobby Carlton is a contributing writer for Mobile Nations who lives in Upstate NY and has covered events such as SXSW, CES, Tribeca Film Festival, Learning, TechLearn, Comic Con, and countless other conferences that may have the latest in VR and AR news. He doesn't like raw onions, always up for a chat about Star Wars, and once met Matt Damon in an airport and for some reason called him, Ted Damon. Follow him on Twitter at [@bcarlton727.
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