There’s no better moment than now to find a reason to get up and moving, which is probably why acclaimed AR/VR studio Within launched its at-home VR fitness app Supernatural (2020). The gameified fitness app will get your heart pumping to the beat of a list of songs from popular artists, all while you have a digital personal trainer piped into your ears for encouragement. Is it worth the monthly $19 subscription price though? The short answer: not for me, but it could be for you.
Available On: Oculus Quest
Reviewed On: Quest
Release Date: April 23rd, 2020
Price: $19 per month subscription, free 30-day trial
I didn’t realize at first why Within decided to release Supernatural only on Quest, but after the first few moments of going through setup phase, which recorded my height and taught me the basic moves, it became apparent to me that wire-free was the only way to go with Supernatural’s frenetic workouts.
Much like Beat Saber (2018), you’re tasked with hitting directional-based objects, which in the case of Supernatural are black and white orbs with a translucent cone to indicate which side of the orb you need to smash through, using with your matching black and white bats of course.
To get you moving around, you also have to fit through incoming glowing white triangles, forcing you to lunge left or right, or assume a standard squat position. Little tails coming from some orbs lead you to spin your whole body to a new position, giving you a gradual 360 spin around the room on a central axis. That last part, combined with the lunging and striking at the same time, would be super frustrating with a cable in the way, so the Quest-only approach makes a lot of sense here.
Since my gym has been closed for months now, and I’ve completely neglected my workout routine as a result, Supernatural proved to be a great all-around heart-pumping exercise to get me moving again, offering about the same level of activity that you might get from a step class. Although my Fitbit Charge HR2 couldn’t pair with the smartphone app (many fitness trackers do), recording it separately showed I was consistently hitting the ‘Fat Burning’ stage, and only sometimes dipping into ‘Cardio’ stage for my weight, height and age.
There are a handful of workouts right now (more are added every day), all of which are based on that orb-smashing, triangle-squatting concept. They do however vary in duration, difficulty, and coach. Workouts span anywhere from 12 to 26 minutes, and include several high-profile songs—almost too many to name. Suffice it to say that it’s not your mishmash of hip EDM titles like you’ll find outside of the DLC music packs on Beat Saber, but rather recognizable singles from across many musical genres.
In addition to workouts with set difficulties, there’s also a number of them with an automatic difficulty adjuster based on your ability, which at times kept me at the point of utter confusion with the amount of orbs to smash and triangles to fit inside. I would have liked to manually choose difficulty for these auto-difficulty workouts, but the studio has been adamant about throwing out a new workout every day since launch, making for a pretty wide selection for any level user.
Getting the high score isn’t just about the accuracy points either, not entirely. You’re also graded on power, which is combined in a composite power/accuracy score. Besides keeping track of your growing muscle memory of a track, this also keeps you from taking any shortcuts by wrist-waggling the controller, as you need good, smooth, powerful follow-through to get the highest power points.
To be frank, I was expecting a lot more variety from the onset, maybe even some muscle specialization, stretching routines, and different style games to chew on. That, I feel, may be what makes or breaks Supernatural in the long run if it wants to keep subscribers on board. The game itself is very fun, and it nestles very easily into my Beat Saber skill set—you might call it the number one Beat Saber competitor based on its stark similarities to the genre-defying forebear.
That said, I’ve been happily coasting on the free 30-day trial, and while I’ve been genuinely enjoying it so far, I just don’t know if now is the right time to commit to making Supernatural a core part of my fitness program. For $19 a month, which is a little under the price of a monthly subscription at the YMCA, I would expect a buffet of different fitness activities to keep me coming back for more.
I say this with the knowledge that most of humanity is locked in their houses right now, so I can see people signing up for Supernatural for a few months and forking over that monthly Andrew Jackson as a means of self-motivation to continue working out—and having a lot more fun doing it than spending 30 minutes on the elliptical while they’re at it. This leaves me a bit conflicted personally. You may find the value to price proposition enough to keep you returning every week, but I simply can’t when I already use my standard mix of Beat Saber, Knockout League, and Space Pirate Trainer to keep the blood from pooling in my butt cheeks.
The game’s developer Within is one of the best in the field when it comes to polish, and I expected no less going into Supernatural. Here, you’re treated to amazing 360 landscapes paired with near-photorealistic rendered foregrounds, making for a convincing illusion that you’re working out in a rice paddy at sunset, on the Icelandic tundra, or in the Scottish Highlands.
Everything in Supernatural looks like it sprung out of a science fiction film, as if it were some sort of fitness program you’d use while stuck on a deep space transport mission to Omicron Persei 8. That alone is a charming little slice of weirdness that you can only have in VR.
As far as immersion is concerned, hitting black and white orbs while you’re floating over an ocean is pretty abstract. One of the most immersive bits though is the individual coaches, who help ground the workout with a pre-workout chat, and then continue with disembodied suggestions, motivation, and most everything you’d expect from a personal trainer.
I say most everything because the coach’s dynamic dialogue doesn’t cover all aspects of what you might expect from a live instructor, who can actively correct your form, and make truly individual suggestions to your behavior. I have an old tennis elbow injury from overextending my arm too much in karate, so I know not to extend my arm too much now, or risk the aching pain returning. I wonder whether the virtual coach might actually encourage ‘bad form’, the enemy of all fitness instructors, with their implicit silence.
Since fitness is the name of the game, and you’ll be making fast and powerful arm and leg movements, you really have to crank the Quest down on your head to make sure it’s stable enough on your noggin and not flopping around. If it isn’t tight, you may feel a bit woozy after having the virtual world move independently from your eyes at such regular and frenetic intervals.
Otherwise, besides the not-so-awesome ergonomics of the Quest and discomfort associated with getting sweat on the facial interface, Supernatural is a very comfortable experience overall.
Make sure to dress the part, use a washable VR cover, and move the couch and cat away from you, and you’ll be sweating to the oldies, beginner or advanced VR user alike.