Published on May 21st, 2020 | by Emergent Enterprise1
Supernatural VR Fitness App Review: Beware the Flying Ice Cream Cones!
You would think this would be an ideal time for a new and innovative VR workout app to be launched as people are essentially stuck inside their homes and workout facilities are closed due to the coronavirus. And, while people are staying at home, they might even be consuming more calories per day so fitness is needed more than ever! I’m just mentioning that because a friend of mine admitted it.
Enter the Supernatural VR workout app for the Oculus Quest. The brilliant innovators at Within, a leading VR company, released their highly anticipated Supernatural offering in April 2020. The makers of the app said their motivation for its creation was to create a workout experience that couldn’t be found in the VR universe. The goal was to present a more challenging and full bodied workout than what was available and to provide an immersive and unique experience that was also not unlike a workout class at a club. At first blush, it can be said that the goal was accomplished.
But, after three weeks of trying Supernatural and about ten workouts during the generous monthlong trial I have to admit I cancelled my subscription before the $19/month was to kick in. Full disclosure, I may not be the target audience for Supernatural which is probably the avid workout club member. I am the average Joe, Baby Boomer, “recreational” exerciser that has a daily goal to close the rings on my Apple Watch for exercise and movement. My workouts are a combination of VR workouts in Beat Saber and BoxVR and running. When I first learned about Supernatural the UX and workout mechanics seemed exciting as there are times that Beat Saber and BoxVR are unfulfilling as the workouts are so focused on the upper body. Now that I have tried it, I will admit Supernatural does challenge the whole body with a more balanced workout but is that unique? Let’s take a look at the differentiators.
Be ready to be assaulted by black and white ice cream cones and triangles of different sizes. If you have played Beat Saber, and who hasn’t, you will recognize the gameplay. As the workout progresses, you use two bats in your hands to swat away the cones and you squat and dip through triangles. The graphics and latency are excellent and I never found issues with interactions like I have in BoxVR. That being said, even outstanding mechanics doesn’t take away the sameness of each workout which happens in other VR programs as well. Another differentiator from Supernatural is a machine learning type of AI that regulates the difficulty of the workout based on your performance. In other words, it adjusts during the workout as it monitors how well you are doing. I needed this feature as I was frequently in over my head being barraged by the ice cream cones and flailing around like I was being attacked by bees. I never did see much of a difference, tho, unless I literally stopped swinging and let many objects pass by. Then, the difficulty level noticeably dropped and I could actively participate. I would better respond to having a variety of predetermined workout levels. The number of workouts are growing daily so the variety will certainly help a wider audience.
As a longtime user experience proponent, I look at everything from a UX perspective. Three features that Within highly touted from the onset were the virtual fitness instructors, the beautiful surroundings and the music. Just imagine having a top workout coach work with you while you were standing at the foot of a glacier or the edge of a volcano with the latest pop or hip-hop hits playing in your ears. Sounds cool, right? After one or two workouts, all of these differentiators quickly lose their appeal.
The workout coach only makes a visual appearance at the beginning and the end of a session. Otherwise, he/she is a detached voice that doesn’t really correspond to your performance. In fact, it can be sadly comical. One time as I was flailing around (see above) and the coach yelled out, “You’re doing great!” or something similar and I responded with a remark I can’t reprint here.
The beautiful global landscapes are interesting but you only get a few seconds at the onset and end of a session to soak in the beauty and grandeur. They are there during the session but you are so focused on the workout objectives, you don’t pay attention to the locale. And, depending on the background, they don’t always provide a great contrast to the swooping game objects. There’s an issue with the triangles as well when multiple ones come shooting towards you it’s difficult to discern which ones are for squatting or lunging left or right.
Finally, Supernatural does use current, popular music, just like you would hear at a fitness club session, but since it was Month One of the app I was hearing many of the same artists in different sessions. Where’s the big music library I wondered? And, a lot of the tunes felt the same. I’m sure this will improve over time. Honestly, in other fitness-style apps, the music is less of a priority than reaching my fitness goals. It literally becomes “background music.”
I am sure Within did extensive UX trials with a variety of users so it would be interesting to hear what kind of feedback they received. I know from many a UX design effort that ideas that sound amazing on paper don’t always resonate with users. Now that the app has been out for about a month, I am confident they are experiencing many unexpected user outcomes.
As I mentioned, I have cancelled my subscription to Supernatural so obviously I cannot recommend it. Up to this point, I only briefly mentioned the price of $19/month or $149 for a one-year payment. When I can find similar experiences in BoxVR and Beat Saber, I can’t justify that price. And, if Beat Saber continues to release new songs like “FitBeat” like it did recently, the workout experience will become more balanced. As of this writing, Beat Saber is planning on releasing 46 new beatmaps in a few days to users – for free. Choosing between free or $19 per month is not a tough decision for me. Another downside of the pandemic is that people have less income so they are typically not looking to add some type of monthly payment.
I admit I am most likely outside of the Supernatural target market and, chances are, you would love this app. The 30-day free trial gives you enough time to decide if it is right for you. As for me, I need to get back to slicing some boxes and punching some flying orbs so I can close my rings for the day. Be safe and be hopeful