Now that the Samsung Gear VR is a full-fledged consumer product, you might be wondering whether there's enough quality content to make it worth your while. Fortunately there's a damn good early selection that's growing at a steady pace. Let's break down the best Gear VR games (and other content) you can download today.
We're lumping the best Gear VR games, apps and experiences (which are similar to games, but less about jumping from objective to objective) into two categories: starting with the must-haves, followed by others that we think are well worth playing, but maybe not quite top-of-your-list material right now.
... really everything in the store is worth playing – if nothing else, just to see if your opinions line up with ours. But since quite a few Gear VR apps and games are now paid purchases (and only some offer free demos), hopefully we can help you figure out where to put your money first.
Herobound (Spirit Champion and First Steps)
There are two Herobound games in the Oculus Store – and we recommend making them two of your first downloads. Much like Super Mario Bros. or Sonic the Hedgehog were bundled with the old NES or Sega Genesis consoles back in the day, the Herobound games are not only among the best in VR right now, they're both free for Gear VR owners.
Last year's Herobound: First Steps, despite being a full game, has more of a demo feel to it – dropping you straight into gameplay without any story setup, dialogue or RPG-style progression. Gunfire Games' follow-up, Herobound: Spirit Champion, adds all of the above to core gameplay that's nearly identical.
That gameplay in this action/puzzler involves old-school Zelda style room-to-room exploration, whacking baddies with your sword, firing arrows and moving blocks to unlock secrets. The intermittent puzzles require just enough thought to be challenging (but not enough to make you want to throw your Gear VR across the room), there's an NES-era level of exploration required (it doesn't always hold your hand and move you on a straight line) and we have loads of fun taking down packs of skeletons and werewolves in VR.
While you're exploring Herobound, remember to stop and smell the roses (pause the game if you have to). While you can play the games sitting in one direction for most of the time, looking behind, above and below you adds to the sense of presence in these beautiful cartoon worlds.
Adventure Time: Magic Man's Head Games
Another third-person game, Adventure Time (based on the Cartoon Network show of the same name) is the closest Gear VR owners can currently get to Lucky's Tale, a highly-anticipated launch title for the Oculus Rift. Like Lucky's Tale, this Adventure Time game is a cute and fun Mario 64-style 3D platformer – albeit a simpler and shorter one. Jump on bad guys, whack them with your sword and pound hidden bonuses (in this case, evil sandwiches) from above.
The game's length brands it as more demo than full game (you can finish it in less than an hour), but it's still well worth downloading and playing (and re-playing). If nothing else, it gives you a glimpse of how well family-friendly 3D platformers can work in virtual reality. It's a great way to get your fix until the deeper Lucky's Tale arrives with the consumer Rift.
From the developer of Monument Valley, Land's End is an atmospheric puzzler that has you soaring through mountains and caves, unlocking mysterious entrances and pathways one by one.
Land's End is a slower-paced title that's more relaxing than action-packed. It hits many of the same notes (and has a similar level of polish) as Monument Valley, despite the lack of any M.C. Escher themes.
Viral is a first-person, on-rails, physics-based shooter – where you play the role of an antivirus program venturing through the tunnels of some sort of artificial intelligence computer.
On a gameplay level, your job is to fire balls at little red and green robots that you pass along your way. Half the fun is in the ragdoll-style physics when you knock them down (and if you don't hit them just right, the robots may get back up). The catchy techno soundtrack is a nice touch as well, adding a head-bobbing backbeat to your swift robot-killing.
Switching sides from anti-virus software to virus-using hacker, Darknet is a smart strategy game that has you taking over networks of computers, one node at a time.
Vulnerable networks are represented as series of spheres, which you enter and try to take over one by one. Each virus you inject spreads across the sphere, racing to get to the core before the defending antivirus programs spoil your plans.
Whether the hacking theme resonates with you or not, Darknet is worth a look. That's just a thematic backdrop for an intelligently-designed and addictive strategy puzzler.
Prepare to crap your pants: Dreadhalls proves that the horror genre in VR is truly horrifying.
The game starts off innocently enough, dropping you into a dungeon which you traverse in a first-person point of view. This alone creates what may be the best sense of presence (feeling of being somewhere else) available now on the Gear VR. Be sure to play in a spinning chair to get the full immersion; the fact that the Gear VR is wireless makes this game better here than it is on the wired Oculus Rift.
Once you start running into enemies, though, there's a good chance you'll jump-scare and scream out loud. I rarely, if ever, get scared in classic media (movies, TV, traditional video games), but when a virtual bull-like demon-beastie suddenly emerges from the shadows and charges at me – and it feels like it's really happening – well, that's another matter. Dreadhalls is some scary shit.
Eve: Gunjack is the mobile counterpart to the upcoming Rift title Eve: Valkyrie. We've played both, and the art style and graphical detail in Gunjack are surprisingly not too far behind ("surprisingly" because the Rift is powered by a high-end gaming PC, while the Gear VR uses a Samsung phone).
Gunjack pulls off this trick by making you the stationary pilot of a turret, rather than a star-fighter zipping through dogfights. Though it's much more arcade than simulation, Gunjack is easily one of the most impressive arcade shooters in VR right now, with a AAA level of polish.
VR Karts: Sprint
Imagine a pared-down and slower-moving version of Mario Kart, only instead of controlling Mario and his buggy on a 2D screen, you are Mario inside a virtual race track – complete with rear view mirrors in your cart that show the sides of your helmet, perfectly mirroring your own head movement. That's VR Karts in a nutshell.
That comparison isn't completely fair to Nintendo, as VR Karts' track design and hidden goodies don't come close to hitting Mario Kart-like levels, but it's still a must-have racing game for Gear VR owners.
Similar to Viral, Gear VR title Smash Hit is another on-rails first-person, physics-based shooter, only here you're breaking panes of glass with huge balls.
There's something immensely satisfying about shattering glass in VR, and the same principles that make Viral more fun than you'd expect are all in full force here as well.
The Night Cafe: An Immersive Tribute to Van Gogh
The Night Cafe is more experience than game, as you don't do anything but slowly stroll around a small cafe. When that cafe makes you feel like you've been transported into a Van Gogh painting, though, it makes for quite the magical ride (tip: be sure to duck down and look out the window in the piano parlor).
The Night Cafe (which you'll find in the new "Concepts" section of the Oculus Store) is one of the best first virtual reality experiences available on the Gear VR, a great showcase app to help introduce a friend or family member to VR.
Oculus Arcade (beta)
If you're of a certain age, you know that playing digital copies of old 80s-era arcade games on your phone, console or PC doesn't quite capture what these games were like at the time – mostly because you can't replicate the arcade environment.
Oculus Arcade uses VR to take you back. You get the stick controls, huge pastel-colored buttons and dingy atmosphere (which, in this case, is randomly hanging in space with part of its floor ripped up). Plop in your coins and enjoy pixelated classics like Pac Man, Joust, Rampage and Altered Beast.
The Bandai Namcos, Midways and Segas of the world don't like to give away their classics for free, though, so you will have to pay to unlock unlimited play on any of the available games. But you do get 20 minutes worth of free play for each title whenever you want, plenty of time to stir up nostalgia (or show the kids what fun looked like in the old days).
Oculus Social (alpha)
If you don't like hanging out with strangers, don't play this. You'll be dropped into a virtual movie theater with other Gear VR-wearing folks from across the world, watching Twitch and Vimeo streams.
You and your fellow watchers will only be represented by masks (things like cartoon devils, clowns and cowboys), but the masks move corresponding to each person's head movement and you can hear everything they say as if they're sitting next to you. The effect is almost like being in the same room, to a degree that non-VR forms of online gaming and social media can't replicate.
Consider Oculus Social (alpha) a tiny preview of what's to come: social VR is only going to get more lifelike as time goes on – to the point where virtual reality may eventually become a legitimate alternative to air travel.
Esper 2 is the follow-up to one of last year's Innovator Edition launch titles. The sequel is bigger and better, and plays even more like VR's answer to Portal.
You find yourself in a mysterious institute for subjects gifted with telekinesis. Use your powers to levitate objects through tubes and around obstacles – at its heart, it's a well-designed 3D puzzler inside a virtual environment. Like Portal, though, there's plenty of witty dialogue and sinister subtext to make it much more than a simple puzzle game you'd play on your smartphone.
Unlike the first Esper, you aren't limited to using the Gear VR's touchpad (the finger to temple gesture gets tiring for long periods), as Esper 2 fortunately adds the option of a gamepad.
This is an experience that we almost wrote off during our first few minutes with it, but Daydream Blue delighted us more and more the longer we spent with it.
It's a great example of how the simplest of tasks, when developed with care and attention to detail, can be fascinating inside virtual reality. Things like fishing, popping clouds as you float on a wooden raft, flinging golf balls and throwing wood into a ring of fire ... this doesn't sound like the makings of a great game.
But there's a deliberate foundation of exploration, progression and discovery here that shows great restraint on the part of developer RalphVR. Daydream Blue peels back more layers the longer you spend with it.
It's the Netflix you already know, only you're chilling in a posh living room watching the service's streaming titles on a big-screen TV. If you already own a nice TV set that's made of electronics rather than pixels, then you may not have much use for this.
But if you're in a small apartment or perhaps if a family member or roommate is hogging your set, then the Gear VR version of Netflix can fill that void, making you feel like you're chill-axing in your own luxurious penthouse.
Along the same lines as Netflix, Oculus Video puts you in a variety of virtual movie theaters (including one on the moon) to watch online video clips, movie trailers or your own media files. Any clips you've shot with your phone will be waiting for you and you can also transfer other (non-DRM) video files into the DCIM/Movies/Oculus/Movies directory on your Galaxy handset to watch in your own private theater.
There's no social element to Oculus Video yet, but if you're stuck at home on a night you wish you were out at the movies, VR can give you a good (if lonely) substitute.
Anshar Wars 2
Unlike Eve: Valkyrie, Anshar Wars 2 takes you out of the cockpit and puts you behind a starfighter, in third-person point of view. It's arcade simplicity: use your head to control the ship's movement and either the Gear's touchpad or a controller to blast enemies.
Many of the Gear VR's games need to be played in a spinning chair for full effect, and Anshar Wars 2 is most definitely part of that group.
Another turret-based shooter, Bandit Six puts you on the guns of an old-timey WWII bomber as you hold off waves of attacking fighters. It's a bit like a less graphically-intensive version of Eve: Gunjack set in a different genre.
Ocean Rift is an underwater exploration experience where you swim around various oceanic environments that most of us will never see in person.
It's an immersive experience, and the most basic environments can be quite soothing – as you swim past sea turtles and schools of tiny fish in shallow, well-lit water. But some environments are downright creepy (and not a good choice for someone who's claustrophobic) as you float around a dimly-lit oceanic void where you can't see very far above or below you. Oh, and your companions are giant (fairly realistic-looking) creatures like manatees, sharks or plesiosaurs.
Whether this was the intention or not, Ocean Rift toes a line between fascinating and terrifying. Come to think of it, that's a pretty good description of the ocean itself.
Evil Robot Traffic Jam
Our favorite VR tower defense game so far, Evil Robot Traffic Jam has a quirky premise (as its title suggests). Prevent traffic jams by destroying robo-cars, collecting loot, placing turrets and upgrading them as you go along.
We only wish the Gear VR had the Oculus Rift's positional tracking, where moving your head and upper body forward gives you a closer look at parts of the environment. We played a Rift demo a couple of years ago that showed off how well positional tracking's leaning in can work in tower defense games.
One of the more roller coaster-like games for the Gear VR, in InCell you ride strands of organelles and other microscopic objects inside a human body, collecting protein packets and avoiding spreading viruses.
The game can be a little on the repetitive side, but it also has us shouting "Whooooaaaaa!" more than most Gear VR titles, as we navigate subjects of a high school biology class as if they were Space Mountain.
Take the old brick-breaker genre, move it into your local gym's racquetball court, throw in a Tron-like sci-fi theme, and you have Proton Pulse.
This year-old Innovator Edition launch title is still fun for a quick arcade fix.
It's Bullet Time, only instead of playing as Max Payne or John Marston firing the gun, here you're the bullet. Use head movement to navigate obstacles as you fly from room to room, searching for your ultimate target.
Our only complaint about this imaginative and visually striking title is that there's no gamepad support. Imagine holding your finger up near your right temple for the entire time you're playing a game – doesn't sound very comfortable for your right arm, does it? It isn't.
Samsung's Milk VR is the best 360-degree video curation app available for the Gear VR, with loads of content across a wide variety of genres.
But it has one annoying flaw: you need to download the videos while in VR. Even with a fast Internet connection, this can get tedious quickly, as you sit in Samsung's virtual menu screen waiting for your queue of videos to finish downloading (and don't bother streaming them; they'll be in too low a resolution to completely enjoy).
If Samsung provided a front-end app that let you navigate through videos on your phone, so you could grab them ahead of time, this would have been a must-have app. Unless Samsung adds that, Milk VR will continue to be a promising video hub that can too often feel like an exercise in tedium.
Protocol Zero turns you into an assassin with a silencer-equipped pistol and Batman-like sonar gizmo that lets you peek through walls and see what's coming in the dark.
It's pretty fun, but leans on the point-to-point navigation trick that's common in early first-person Gear VR titles. Rather than moving freely, you tap on a waypoint up ahead and the game automatically walks you there. This mechanic can pace gameplay, reduce nausea and adhere to the Gear's limited horsepower – it's great for atmospheric titles like Land's End. But for an action game like this, we would have preferred free-roaming controls.
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
Half fun, half agonizing (or argument-inducing), this is a local co-op game that only requires one Gear VR headset. The person in VR sees a bomb with some wires and buttons on it. The person outside of VR reads through a cryptic instruction manual (read on a mobile device or printed from the developer's website), to provide instructions for the Gear VR-wearing bomb defuser.
It requires quick thinking and clear communication – this could be a great exercise for a psychology class. Just know that your discussions with your partner may get pretty intense pretty quickly.
If you want the sensation of flying, Omega Agent can provide it, as you cruise around rooftops and through checkpoint-laden courses using a jetpack.
But, despite using a cockpit (a trick some VR developers employ to cut down on motion sickness in fast-moving games), we found Omega Agent to be one of the more nausea-inducing titles for the Gear VR. Proceed with caution (or perhaps a barf bag).
Check back for updates on new games. For more on the first consumer VR headset that matters, you can check out Gizmag's Gear VR (consumer edition) review.