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VR Review: ‘Monkey King’

Digital Domain released the first three episodes of its first animated VR series “Monkey King” on Sony’s PlayStation VR Wednesday. Unfortunately, the series misses the mark while trying to tackle a famous legend.

We’ve seen a number of ambitious virtual reality animation projects, but most of them have been one-offs. Visual effects specialist Digital Domain now wants to change that with “Monkey King,” a new animated series based on the ancient Chinese legend by the same name.

That legend is all about a monkey with special abilities, including the power to transform into other animals. In Digital Domain’s version, the monkey is the main character, and we follow him as he trains with Taoist monks, acquires super-powers, and finds himself tested by trickery and deceit.

This may sound like a great set-up for virtual reality, a medium which lends itself to all things magic. Unfortunately, it never really feels like the show wants to make use of the magic of VR.

The sets aren’t very elaborate and don’t invite viewers to look around and explore. Most of the action happens right in front of you, further doing away with the need for a 360-degree stage. Even the few times that a character does hide behind a rock outside of one’s field of view, he doesn’t do anything there, and dutifully walks into the frame before the action continues.

What’s worse, to keep up with a quickly progressing narration, the show uses a lot of hectic jump cuts, which can make for a queasy feeling in VR.

In many ways, “Monkey King” feels not so much like an animated VR series, but a 360 video rendering of a regular show, which could be forgiven if the story made up for it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. The show never really finds the right tone, and somewhat breathlessly progresses through a series of events. Especially by episode 3, this simply feel glued together, as if someone had decided to cut down a longer version last-minute.

The first three episodes of the series premiered on PlayStation VR Wednesday, where they can be purchased together for $9.99. “Monkey King” will come to Oculus Rift and Gear VR as well as HTC Vive and Google Daydream and Cardboard later this year. And there are already plans to continue the story in future episodes — but one has to wonder whether viewers will really show this first installment a whole lot of love.

VR Review: 'Monkey King'

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