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Kayak VR: Mirage - title

In a Nutshell


  • Virtual vacation!
  • Really crisp visuals
  • Kayak handles realistically
  • Maneuvering without losing speed is challenging
  • Cardio workout
  • Slight nausea from stormy weather almost felt like being sea-sick


  • Oars get stuck or twisted
  • Only 4 maps
  • Escorting the inflatable pool animals is tedious
  • King's Canyon Olympic event
  • Slight nausea from stormy weather almost felt like being sea-sick

Overall Impression : B-
Glorified tech demo; but a good glorified tech demo

Kayak VR: Mirage - cover

Better Than Life

PC (via Steam),
PlayStation 5 (PSVR2) < (via PSN digital download),
(< indicates platform I played for review)


Original release date:
12 July 2022 (PC), 22 February 2023 (PS5)

VR virtual vacation, racing

single player

Play time:
6+ hours

ESRB Rating:N/A
MegaBearsFan Parental Rating: suitable for all audiences.

Official site:

The PSVR2 set for the PlayStation 5 is a pretty neat piece of hardware. I bought one at release, and have been enjoying it a lot. I might even write a review for it after I've finished playing all of the launch titles that I've bought. The PSVR2 has a critical problem though: there aren't very many games for it. There weren't any high-profile AAA games that had VR compatibility except for Gran Turismo 7 and Resident Evil: Village, which were both already a year or 2 old when the PSVR2 released. Horizon: Call of the Mountain was a release title too, but it's more of a stand-alone expansion pack for Forbidden West than a full game.

Since it isn't backwards-compatible with PS4 VR games (even though the PS5 was heavily advertised as being fully backwards-compatible with PS4 games), the PSVR2 doesn't have the benefit of the established PSVR library. Hit titles like Star Wars: Squadrons, Resident Evil VII, or Déraciné sadly aren't playable on the PSVR2 (unless they get PS5 upgrades from the developers, which doesn't seem likely).

There is a silver lining though. This lack of titles may have been bad for the PSVR2 (and its initial sales figures), but it may have been a good thing for some of the smaller titles available on the platform. Those small titles had an opportunity to shine without there being any massive blockbusters to steal the spotlight or players' cash. One such small standout it a little virtual vacation game called Kayak VR: Mirage. After Gran Turismo 7 and Call of the Mountain, Kayak might be the premiere launch title for PSVR2 (even though it is also available on PC VR platforms, and has been for about a year).

The lack of any blockbuster PSVR2 launch titles allowed smaller games to shine in the spotlight.

Virtual vacation, without the sunburn!

Out of the gate, I was very impressed with how this game looks. I'm used to VR titles looking a little grainy and blurry (especially the original PSVR titles I played), but Kayak VR looks sharp as a crystal on the PSVR2! I'm sure it help that the game is only rendering relatively small environments without any people, and it doesn't have to do any complicated A.I. calculations or anything like that. Nevertheless, these exotic locales look absolutely gorgeous. This game is a textbook example of a "virtual vacation", as just sitting, taking a deep breath, and admiring the view is often just as good as the actual game. I can almost smell the salt in the air!

But there is an actual game here, and it's kind of a racing game, I guess? When you're done admiring the views, you can chose to play several races on each of the game's 4 maps. You won't be racing against actual people in real-time, however, as these races are all time-trials against ghosts of other players.

Races are time-trials against ghosts of other players.

Each race requires the player to navigate through a series of gates in a specific order. But these aren't your typical, hovering magic gates that you see in most video games. The gates are physical poles hanging from physical wires strung up throughout the map. If you hit one of the poles with your body, the kayak, or the oar, you'll be docked several seconds from your time as a penalty. These gates are pretty narrow, so completing these races requires some fairly precise handling and control of the kayak. It gets surprisingly difficult.

These poles can also be challenging, as they're barely wide enough for the oars to fit through, which means a good player will likely have to plan your strokes so that the oars are as vertical as possible as you pass through the poles. Even then, because the poles are real, physical objects in the game world (as opposed to magic gates that disappear when you pass through them), they will also sway in the wind. So even if you think you're going to clear the pole, it may sway right into your head or the oar as you go through, or it can clip the oar or kayak after the player has passed the threshold, and both of those still count as a "pole hit" penalty. The poles swaying in the wind is actually one of the biggest challenges of the Norwegian races that take place during a thunderstorm.

Hitting a pole will result in a time penalty.

Getting the bronze medals isn't too bad, but the silvers are quite difficult. They require that the player be very good at maximizing your speed with the oars, and also very good at steering and controlling your kayak without losing any speed. They are skills that I have not come close to mastering.

The gold medals seem outright impossible without cheating. Trying to play the game in good faith by sitting down, with my legs out in front of me and the headset calibrated such that my butt is in the kayak's seat, seems to make it impossible to go fast enough to get a gold. The only way I can even come close is to play the game standing up, and take a few steps forward so that my body is actually closer to the front tip of the kayak -- close enough that the game prompts me to re-calibrate the headset. This seems to speed up the kayak considerably, and also allows the kayak to be more easily controlled simply by leaning side to side while still rowing at full speed. I've tried replicating this by leaning forward from a seated position, but it just doesn't work. Is this the way that the designers intend the players to play?

Most of the races are pretty fun if I'm just going for a bronze or silver, and they are reasonably challenging. The final event, however, is an absolutely unfair bitch to play. The King's Canyon Olympic race almost single-handedly ruins the game for me. It's unfairly hard, and basically expects the player to be an olympic swimmer in order to even have a chance at completing the event -- let alone finishing it in the ridiculously strict time limit. I even cheated (using the method described above), and I still couldn't finish it in time. The problem is that the event only has a gold medal; there's no silver or bronze. It requires the player to repeatedly turn around to row upstream and do loops around rocks.

To add insult to injury, the game never teaches how to row upstream. It forces the player to learn this in a narrow, rocky canyon that's barely wide enough for the oars in several places. Just controlling the kayak upstream is hard enough on its own. Similarly, just navigating the cramped, rocky twists and turns of King's Canyon would be hard enough with still water. Either of those, by themselves, would be a challenging race, but the game makes the player do both, in an impossibly tight time limit.

The King's Canyon Olympic event is an impossibly hard race that requires rowing upstream.

Working up a sweat

These races can also be surprisingly physically demanding. Even without the weight of an actual oar in my hands, or the resistance of actual water for me to push against, completing these races is a physically exhausting cardio workout. I work up quite a sweat, and had to start keeping a towel next to my PSVR2 headset so that I can wipe off the headband and lenses after a session. Playing 30 minutes or an hour of this every night could possibly make for an effective weight loss plan, if coupled with a healthy diet.

The tutorial (which takes place in a swimming pool) will teach the basic concepts behind kayaking, and give the player an opportunity to practice the various techniques. However, it's a bit lacking in feedback. I really do wish that the game would provide a physical demonstrations of rowing and turning techniques so that I can see how the game expects me to sit and move my arms. This game very accurately replicates the physics of a real kayak, and so using a motion very similar to real kayak paddling (with a single pole oar) provides the best results. Simply flailing your arms won't be very effective. But it never actually shows the player what this technique should look like. It only tells you that you'll go faster if you dig the oar deeper into the water.

There is a tutorial, but it doesn't show a demonstration of the ideal motions.

So I would go into races, and wonder "how the hell are these other players going so fast?!" Then I would try doing what I was doing, but faster, and I would end up just flailing my arm like a crazy person, and make myself even more tired and sweaty than I needed to be.

Another source of tedium was the silly quest to escort various inflatable animal pool toys across the map. Each of the 4 maps has one of these toys hidden somewhere, and the player is expected to guide them through the level as a little bonus objective. But you can't just tie a rope to them, or pick them up and carry them, or hook them onto the kayak. As far as I can tell, the only way to move these damn pool toys is to smack them with your oar. So the process of guiding them through the level is to smack it with the paddle, then row a few times, then smack it again, and repeat for like a mile. It becomes a horribly tedious process.

The inflatable pool toys are constantly floating off away from the kayak, forcing me to turn around to get them. Or they get stuck on obstacles in the environment. Or the physics engine freaks out every now and then, and the toy bounces off in some arbitrary direction, and I have to go chasing after it. It just sucks.

Thankfully, each of the 4 maps only has one of these pool toys, so you only have to do this a few times. It's still a big time sink though, as each one can take 10 minutes or longer to drag across the map, and it only gets worse as the maps get bigger and more complicated. If you thought regular escort quests in video games were bad, just wait till you try these out.

Each of the 4 maps has one of these inflatable animals for the player to escort across the level.


I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that I didn't get sick while playing the game, despite the relatively fast motion of the kayak. I had been hesitant about buying a VR set for years, because I had tried an Occulus set at a friend's house and could only play Skyrim for about 15 or 20 minutes before feeling like I needed to puke. I did better on Star Wars: Squadrons on another friend's PSVR, but still felt a little nauseous after a dogfight or 2. But so far, I've hardly been getting sick or nauseous from the PSVR2, even after more than an hour of play.

I'm not sure if this is the result of the higher-resolution display, or some other trick of the PSVR2 hardware, or if it's just me acclimating to VR, but I can play for hours without much ill effect.

The only time that I've gotten any kind of motion sickness or nausea from the PSVR2 has been with up or down motions. Occasionally, a hilly section of track in Gran Turismo 7 will get me, and going over a big wave in Kayak VR can get me too.

The Norwegian thunderstorm made me a little VR sick after a race or 2.

There is actually one race event in Kayak VR that takes place during a thunder storm. This is the one place in the game that actually does make me start to feel a bit VR sick after a race or 2. But honestly, I kind of think it might add to the experience a little bit. The VR sickness basically feels like being seasick from the rough waters, which kind of makes the whole experience feel a bit more immersive.

Pole position

I was also pretty impressed by the stability of Kayak VR. I did have recurring problems with my oar hitting the gate poles (and giving me a time penalty) even thought I thought I should have cleared the pole. But that could be my error.

There are also occasional issues with controlling the oar. Sometimes, the oar seems to get confused about where it it, and it will flip over or spin around or get stuck on the tip of the kayak. It can also be a pain to have to push off against the ground or other obstacles with the oar if you get stuck. The oars can also get stuck or twisted around in these situations, which makes them difficult to control and move. Also, the simple fact of not feeling the weight of the oar or feeling the oar pushing off against the solid surfaces just feels weird. Sometimes, the visuals are so crisp and realistic that it is easy to forget that there isn't an actual solid surface or water that I can reach out and touch, and whenever I have to do so, it's a clear reminder that I'm in a game.

I fell through the geometry in the Norwegian storm.

I also ran into one major bug in the Norwegian storm free roam. I was rowing out to the open sea at the edge of the map to do some sight-seeing. As I approached the edge of the map, the kayak suddenly fell under the water line. At that point, gravity took over, and I fell down through the water. Falling through the floor isn't an uncommon occurrence in video games, but in a VR game that takes place on water, this was a particularly disorienting and almost frightening experience. I almost held my breath out of instinct, and also started feeling a little wave of nausea as I fell un-controlled below the game's geometry. But hey, I got a great view of a momma and baby whale on my way down!

I'm not sure if the game realized that I was in an illegal vertical position, or if I was close enough to the edge of the playable area that my momentum carried me out of bounds. Either way, the game immediately realized I was out of bounds, and within 10 seconds, it teleported me back up the surface. I can reproduce this error by by rowing out to the same area opposite the lighthouse in the stormy free roam, but this is the only place in the game where I have seen anything like this happen.

I can almost feel the ocean breeze and smell the salty air

Overall, I really enjoyed the experience. It's nice and relaxing when I want to just chill for a bit. And it's a viable cardio workout for those nights when I can't make it to the gym. The visuals are absolutely amazing, and the inclusion of some interactive wildlife adds an extra bit of immersion and awe to the experience. I'm unlikely to ever take a trip to Antarctica and see a wild orca do a flip over the setting sun, but thanks to Kayak VR, I feel like I have.

There are some awe-inspiring sights.

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