I Played: Bazaar

Bazaar started off as a 2015 VR Game Jam entry and has since been released on Steam for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

Bazaar

If you’ll excuse the play on words, the world of Bazaar is quite the bizarre one indeed. You set off through the canals of a maze-like city on your trusty magic carpet to seek out three pieces of the legendary Lamassu. From the very beginning of the game I was drawn in by the sights and sounds of the city. The music fits the scenery perfect, and my only problem is that there isn’t nearly enough of it. The music loops frequently and in my 78 minute playthrough its magic wore off fairly quickly.

As you guide your carpet through the world, you’ll encounter various impediments such as arrow traps and hungry crocodiles and you’ll find items to aid you in your survival. A crossbow can be used to pick off those nasty crocodiles, while a shield can be used to deflect arrows shot at you from traps placed around the canals. These items all have a durability and will break after a number of uses, leaving you vulnerable once again to the elements so the game becomes a cycles of seeking out these items, defending, and the seeking out again. Later into the game you have the opportunity to buy special golden versions of the shield, bow, and umbrella (to protect against water that washes away your map) and these become highly desirable as they somewhat remove the looming sense of dread that comes with knowing your crossbow only has one shot left in it before it crumbles to dust. These golden versions come at a high cost so they’re only obtainable if you’ve been diligent about combing every city street for the hidden coins.

Other quality of life improvement are available at the shop including a quiver to store arrows, a food basket to store food, and a large chest to store all your other goods. The main reason these are beneficial is because they (partly) remove the burden of playing inventory management, which is easily my biggest criticism of the game. You begin with nine inventory spaces and they’re quickly filled up by all manner of different items, and before too long you find yourself with no free space to pick up the key so you can proceed to the next level. In my first time playing through the game I’d wager about a quarter of it was spent staring at my inventory and trying to determine what the least important item among them was. Items like the food basket ensure that food will always have a dedicated inventory slot so you won’t have to worry about having no space to carry food, but you may not get that item until the second or third level and by then the stress of having to micro-manage your inventory while navigating a deadly maze has reached an uncomfortable high. Eventually, with the acquisition of these quality of life items, you no longer have to worry about managing your inventory and can enjoy the game.

Gameplay is intuitive, using glances for the majority of the controls which can be helpful in certain situations and a hindrance in others. Different items have a different length of time that you have to focus your gaze upon them before interacting and this takes some time to get used to, but by the middle of the second level I found myself more comfortable with the gaze controls. Besides the gaze controls, you’ll be using a controller to pan the camera left and right using the left and right bumpers. You can also use the X button to open your inventory and the B button to hold up your map. The camera controls play a critical role in the game, as your carpet is constantly moving forward and you’re only able to steer it left or right, or to make a u-turn.

Not having direct control over the motion of the carpet is an interesting design choice that I wholeheartedly disagree with. From the very beginning of the game you see coins littered around every square on the map. As is the innate response of any gamer, you’ll want to collect these coin. Upon collecting all the coins in a given map square, you’re rewarded with a random item. It becomes clear very early on that these bonus items from collecting coins are very important but it turns out that collecting them all isn’t nearly as easy as it should be. Because you’re constantly moving forward you only have a small window of time for each map square to collect coins and I found myself frequently having to make u-turns or circling the same block several times to collect everything.

Not collecting the coins means you have less leverage when shopping later on in the game, but it also means that you’re missing out on all the bonus items, most of which end up being food, and puts you at a distinct disadvantage. Food is the most important resource in the game and you’ll quickly perish if you find yourself with an empty stomach. Managing your food becomes the object of the game and led me to wander around trying to top off my food even after finding the exit of the level.

Finding your way to the end of the game rewards you with a special currency you can spend on upgrade to make subsequent playthroughs easier, but I think once was enough for me. On the whole Bazaar is a neat game with a beautiful aesthetic that I wish was more fully fleshed out. The limited controls and awkward inventory management make navigating this peculiar world a test in patience rather than the exciting carpet ride I was hoping for. Perhaps, if this game integrates Oculus Touch controls when they see a consumer release, some of my problems may be alleviated. All my issues aside, you can pick up Bazaar on Steam or the Oculus Home store for only $5, and for about 90 minutes of a crazy trip I’d say it’s definitely worth it. It’s far from perfect but Bazaar is an experience unlike anything else I’ve seen in VR and it gives me hope that more VR games and experiences explore impossible worlds instead of hyper-realistic ones.

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