Virtual reality offers tremendous opportunities for experiences, apps, movies, and games of all kinds, catering to all tastes and interests. The content seems to come to life in a VR headset, even if it’s simply a passive experience with no interaction beyond head tracking, looking around, and relaxing. One of the most popular categories of apps, experiences, and games across all VR headsets is roller coasters. Some of these are limited, passive experiences, often on basic mobile headsets. Others are far more immersive, especially those for higher-tier headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Regardless of the price point, platform, or level of detail in the content, this category of VR content continues to dominate. So, let’s take a closer look at VR roller coaster apps and games.
What Are Virtual Reality Roller Coasters?
Virtual reality roller coasters are games or applications that simulate the experience of riding on a roller coaster. Some allow you to design the roller coaster yourself on a PC before riding on it in VR (usually the higher-end titles that work with PC-tethered headsets). The content is usually either digitally rendered in a special way to make it VR-compatible, or is shot on a real roller coaster with a special VR camera. Effectively, this puts the headset user ON the roller coaster, seeing from the point of view of a rider. The coaster goes through its ride on the track, and the user can look all around – left, right, up, down, backwards, forwards – and the scene tracks with their head movement. For example, if they look out to the right, they’ll see out the car of the roller coaster and see whatever is to the right – perhaps the rest of the amusement park, other parts of the roller coaster, or whatever is there. This head-tracking around a 3D scene is really what helps trick your brain into believing the VR experience is real.
Better Headsets Mean Better Experiences
VR roller coaster apps and games designed for tethered headsets like the PSVR, HTC Vive, or Oculus Rift obviously can have a greater sense of realism and immersion than those on mobile phones. By comparison, the processing power offered by the dedicated graphics card, much more extensive RAM, and higher-fidelity video output all lead to better experiences for the user. Higher-resolution, photorealistic digital rendering, or full HD resolution real-world recordings are possible, and run seamlessly. Despite this, even basic mobile headsets like the Google Cardboard or similar, combined with a smartphone and a free or pay VR roller coaster app can be quite convincing. Sure, you don’t quite have the same physical sensations, like the butterflies-in-the-stomach as you slowly climb the hill before a big drop. But with visual and aural feedback convincing you it’s real, people can get very, very into the experience. It’s not uncommon to get so swept up in it that you start gripping on your seat, moving side to side – even falling out of your seat!
Why Are They So Popular?
A lot of people experience VR for the first time on relatively low-tech, entry-level headsets, such as those designed to work with their smartphones. Likewise, because these basic headsets have limited tracking (head tracking only, in almost all cases), they’re best used standing in place or sitting down. And sitting down is a perfect opportunity for a roller coaster experience, since you’d be sitting in a real roller coaster anyway. There’s no need for interaction from the user, by way of controls or anything like that, so they work really well as entry-level VR experiences. You just sit back, relax, look around in 3D space, and enjoy the ride. They also serve as a good means to showcase VR and what it has to offer – after all, if your mind can be tricked into thinking you’re on a roller coaster, a fast-paced, adrenaline-filled experience – while you are sitting still, then users are naturally left to wonder what else can it do?
Top VR Roller Coaster Apps and Games
With more and more apps, experiences, games, and other content being published for VR headsets all the time, there’s no shortage of variety in what’s out there on the market. From free experiences or apps that are ad-supported, and offer only 1 “ride” or track, to much more immersive games, there’s something for every level of VR headset and price point. Below, we have a brief list of some of the top apps, experiences, and games for VR that focus on roller coaster rides. They’re listed in alphabetical order for convenience, and no quality ranking is implied by their position on the list.
Atlantis: Infinite Coaster, Oculus Rift
This is technically a demo and not really a full-scale game, which is one of the reasons it is free. Still, it’s gained tremendous popularity because it’s such a fun, and in some ways relaxing, experience. It features an infinite and endless, procedurally-generated roller coaster ride through a digital, virtual city, that sits atop an endless sea. Because it’s procedurally-generated, every single ride is entirely different, which is pretty awesome!
Oculus Store, FREE
Cedar Point VR, Google Cardboard/Basic Mobile/Samsung Gear VR
Unlike some other games on this list, that feature no-name or virtual roller coasters, this one is the real deal. Any amusement park enthusiast will be familiar with Cedar Point, located in Sandusky, Ohio. It is home to some of the top roller coasters in the US. And now, thanks to this app, VR users can take a ride on the famous, real-world Valravn roller coaster. It’s been re-created in a 3D space, and is authentic in dimension, turns, and ride to the original, real-world experience. With a height of 233 feet, and a length of 3,415 feet, the ride lasts for around 2 and a half minutes. There are three inversions, and a 214-foot drop, too, meaning riders reach a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour. Enjoy!
Google Play Store, FREE
Chunks, HTC Vive
Currently, in Steam Early Access, Chunks is a Minecraft-style sandbox game, based around building with blocks. The game allows you to create your own complex roller coasters through the familiar block-building system, and then lets you ride them in VR using your HTC Vive headset. It’s definitely more of a mixed game and experience, rather than the merely passive “ride” apps, and is perfect if you enjoy building and creating as much as you do riding or experiencing the finished product. It is Early Access though, so remember, bugs, unfinished features, and issues are to be expected.
Steam Early Access, $19.99 USD
Fibrum’s Roller Coaster VR Attraction, Google Cardboard/Basic Mobile/Samsung Gear VR
Perhaps one of the best entry-level VR roller coaster experiences, Fibrum’s is a computer-generated ride. Riders travel on a coaster through a lost jungle temple and its surrounding environs. It works on both iOS and Android smartphones, and all their associated basic mobile and premium mobile headsets. Though the scenery is computer-generated, and a bit on the animated side (rather than photo-realistic), it’s quite a fun experience, and a great way to get into the VR space.
App Store/Google Play, FREE for a few rides (then a small fee to continue using)
No Limits 2, Oculus Rift/HTC Vive
Similar to Chunks reviewed above, but far less Minecraft-like and cartoony. It’s photo-realistic, like a simulator game, and is built around underlying code that makes up a tool that real-world roller coaster developers often use to prototype and tweak new designs. You can design your own custom, photo-realistic roller coasters and then take them for a ride. Or, choose one of the existing, real-world coaster designs that are provided, and strap in for a VR ride to remember.
Steam, $39.99 USD
Roller Force, Oculus Rift/HTC Vive
Roller Force asks what’s better than just a roller coaster ride? A ride that’s fully interactive, where you’re shooting enemies while you ride! It’s basically two games in one, in that sense. As you ride through a VR roller coaster track (there are 10 to choose from), you can pick one of the two different game modes, and go to town. It works equally well with the Oculus Touch for the Rift or the HTC Vive controllers, and puts a new spin on the VR roller coaster genre. It’s also incredibly affordable.
Steam, $4.99 USD
Star Coaster VR, Samsung Gear VR
Taking an opposite approach to photo-realistic, simulator-style roller coasters, Star Coaster is a bit more artistic and abstract. A dream-like coaster ride that’s set in a world of purples and whites, Star Coaster also features a night sky full of stars…and whales. By no means is it a typical VR roller coaster experience, but something definitely different and cool. It’s also low-cost – well worth the dollar price tag.
Oculus Store for Gear VR, $0.99 USD