My parents aren’t big on this little thing called video games. They’ve never quite understood my fascination with it, which is part of the reason I’ve always been more of a solo player.
That changed last Christmas. Intrigued by new technology, they asked for me to bring home my VR kit. My sister slipped on the headset and was immediately sucked into Beat Saber. That spurred my mum to have a go. Then my dad (never the gamer) wanted to check out some videos on the headset, avoiding motion sickness. Even my grandma was amazed when I put on a nature video for her.
It reminded me of the Wii, when the use of a remote was deemed accessible enough for people of all ages to give it a go. VR is yet to have its watershed moment in the mainstream – even if Beat Saber is already a killer app – but it feels like we’re on the cusp of it. What it needs is a silly, intuitive, fun game to hook people in. It needs What The Bat.
If the name seems familiar, it’s because it’s from the same team behind What The Golf – the Apple Arcade comedy game that’s not always about putting a ball into a hole. Similarly, What The Bat is a delightful comedy game about hitting things with a bat, but not always a ball.
It does at least begin like baseball. The controllers are both bats. You swing to hit a ball into a trophy. Level complete. Simple.
The quirkiness soon ramps up, though. Just like in What The Golf, here the game comprises a series of short puzzle challenges that are sometimes over in seconds but presented in bright colours with an exuberant little burst of confetti when you win. There’s even a wordless story linking them all together, that of a young girl growing up in the town of Batville accompanied by a pet elephant who’s also something of a mentor. Each level is selected by prodding through miniature dioramas, which feels wonderfully tactile.
What soon becomes apparent, however, is that you’re not actually holding baseball bats. Your arms are baseball bats. And that’s where the challenges get weird, creative, and hilarious.
What would it be like to live with baseball bats for arms? How would everyday activities work? One early challenge sees you hit a tube of toothpaste with one bat so it squirts on to the other, before raising the splatter to your face to mimic cleaning your teeth. Another has you attempting to put a slice of bread in a toaster, only for it to be stolen by a pigeon.
Elsewhere you’ll be defacing art and smashing up sculptures in a museum, playing pinball, and knocking down fences. I’ll spoil no more as What the Bat is full of surprises; in fact it thrives on confounding your expectations – just like its predecessor. What’s more, many levels have you manoeuvring mechanisms, robots, or paper aeroplanes with a joystick you have to prod with blunt wood. In many ways it’s close to the likes of Octodad and Surgeon Simulator in its purposefully awkward controls that result in maximum hilarity.
Yet even within the creativity of its levels, it’s almost always immediately apparent what needs to be achieved. That’s in part down to clarity of visual design, but also the smarts of the developers to take everyday situations and gamify them, something we can all relate to.
And that’s why I can’t wait to take the game home to my family this Christmas. What The Bat is the sort of lighthearted, straightforward, comedic game that anyone can enjoy – the sort of game to make VR accessible. It’s a game, ultimately, about the simple joy of hitting stuff.
So far I’ve only played on my own, but at the end of each level your bat is used as a selfie-stick to take a photo and I always find myself grinning even though it’s not reflected on the screen. Soon I hope to see my family grinning like buffoons too.