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Got a new VR headset? Here are the apps you should try.

(The Washington Post illustration; Oculus VR; iStock)

Virtual reality may not have been as rapidly adopted as its early investors hoped, but steadily — with the growing affordability, accessibility and usability of headsets — its user base is beginning to swell.

So, whether you got a shiny new Oculus Quest 2 for the holidays or simply decided to splurge on an HTC Vive, what should you fire up first on your spiffy new toy? We’ve got some suggestions, starting with some simple apps to get new users acclimated to seeing, hearing and moving in VR. And we’re touting more than just games. There are also some fun, real-world experiences — like art and puzzle solving — that are enhanced in a virtual environment. Here’s what you should consider downloading.

Best apps for beginners

For those who want to explore

Perhaps the best way to familiarize your senses with virtual reality is by starting with some familiar sights. Immersive geographic apps allow you to see spectacles around the globe, from the pyramids to the house you grew up in. If you’re using an Oculus Quest, “Wander” is what you’ll want. Just enter a search term or specific address (via an in-app keyboard or voice command) and you’ll teleport straight there, using the hand controls to move around in limited fashion. “Google Earth” provides the same function but adds verticality to the mix, allowing you to soar (sort of) through Manhattan’s skyline. You’ll need the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive to enjoy that experience.


For those who want to move

“Beat Saber” is a great entry-level game for VR, gamifying fun and familiar music in a similar fashion as rhythm games like “Guitar Hero” or “Rock Band.” The movements (dodging obstacles and slashing cubes in the proper direction to the beat of music) come naturally and get your full body into the game.


For those who want to sweat

Ready for a workout? The subscription-based “Supernatural” provides a pair of workout options (boxing and “flow,” which is similar to “Beat Saber”), stunning 3-D, real-world environments and fitness trainers with genuinely engaging (and inspiring) personalities. Add in a deep playlist of tunes from recognizable artists (Post Malone, the Jackson 5 and the Weeknd, to name a few) and “Supernatural” sits several tiers above competing fitness apps with canned lines and basic virtual environments. You may never return to your regular cardio class again.

Want to put those boxing lessons to use? “Thrill of the Fight” is a fun, physics-based boxing simulator (the controllers register both the direction and speed of punches) that lets you train and put your skills to use battling AI fighters. The highest difficulty will challenge even seasoned pugilists.


For those craving immersive fantasy

Ever wonder what it would be like to fight Darth Vader? The “Vader Immortal” trilogy casts players as a swashbuckling smuggler alongside a witty and charming droid sidekick (voiced by Maya Rudolph) as they fight to escape the fortress of the galaxy’s most famous bad dad. Star Wars fans will appreciate some of the story’s twists, but even more the ability to wield a lightsaber. The game is a good, guided experience in which the puzzles are easily solved and players aren’t penalized too harshly if they need time to get oriented in a stunning virtual environment. You’ll climb, shoot, manipulate tools and even use the Force in an entertaining trio of short games.

Once you get used to moving and shooting in a virtual world, you may want to move on to “Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge,” which incorporates a few more familiar characters into a slightly more advanced VR thrill ride.


For those who like puzzles …

There’s something soothing about snapping together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and a lot of that transfers over to VR with “Puzzling Places,” a laid-back app that lets you piece together 3-D dioramas of lovely locations (think temples, castles and monasteries). You use the controller’s triggers to grab pieces, then rotate them into place. Get the proper pieces aligned closely enough, and they’ll snap into place with a pleasing little pop.

For those craving a more intricate challenge in terms of logic puzzles (along with a heaping helping of nostalgia) try “Myst.” The beautiful classic has been ported into VR and is playable on the Oculus Rift and Quest, as well as the HTV Vive and Valve Index.


… or escape rooms

Ever wonder how James Bond feels when he’s strapped to a table, laser positioned at his forehead while his nemesis divulges the details of their evil scheme plot during an exposition-rich monologue. Now you can experience that for yourself! “I Expect You to Die” places the player in a series of tight spots and asks them to escape by solving a series of puzzles. The first mission asks you to escape from an airplane hold by searching through objects found inside a villain’s car. The controls are easy to get used to (for the most part, you grab objects and use them like you would in the real world) and the narration will appeal to fans of “Get Smart” or Austin Powers.

“The Room VR: A Dark Matter” is more spooky than silly, as players must solve a mystery (and puzzles) while wandering the halls of a creepy house. If you enjoy those monthly “murder mysteries in a box”-type board games, this is a great app for you.


For those who want to dabble in art

You’ll never guess what you can do with “Let’s Create! Pottery VR.” Wait, no, you probably can. The app offers a laid-back way to make your own virtual pottery, shaping it with your hands. “Color Space” is a similarly simple experience that allows you to color pictures that then come to life. You won’t need to keep peeling the wrappers off crayons either.


For those seeking a recreational sports fix

“Walkabout Mini Golf” brings the fun of miniature golf to your living room. With a number of courses (and more that can be unlocked), you can forgo your local MiniLinks for a magnificent collection of challenging holes set in fantasy locations like a pirate cove or a waterfall-framed cherry tree garden. The game also rewards players for stopping to admire the views and stashing “lost balls” around the course. Spot 'em, snag 'em and add them to your playable collection.


For those who want to have fun with friends IRL

Part of the problem with VR is its limited use in group settings, since only one person can wear the headset at a time. “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes” extends the fun to everyone with a creative gameplay mechanic. One player wears the headset and is tasked with disarming a bomb in VR while the rest of your party tries to read instructions from a defusal manual. Hope your friends are good at communicating.


Best apps for advanced users

For those seeking the best VR game to date

One of our best games of 2020, “Half-Life: Alyx,” is one of the first titles that elevated the VR “experience” to a VR “game.” While the story was just so-so in the eyes of Post critic Christopher Byrd, the game’s detail and level of interactivity and control blew him away. The game is available on the Valve Index, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift.


For the wannabe starfighter pilot

You may have noticed that VR has been keen to transport users to a galaxy far, far away. That’s likely no accident given VR’s biggest challenge right now is user acquisition — and Star Wars has a lot of fans to seduce to the VR side. Of all the Star Wars titles, “Star Wars Squadrons” is by far the most involved. You’ll need to play on either your PC or PlayStation, but it’s highly recommended (by us) to play on PC using a joystick and throttle. The controls are very complicated, requiring players to manipulate their speed as much as their direction, but the payoff is worth it for space flight/Star Wars fans who’ve pined to fly an X-wing or TIE fighter.

The VR actually makes flying easier by allowing players to simply look around for targets (or attackers on their tail) instead of adding even more controls to the mix. To be clear, this game is not for beginners and will demand lots of time investment to play well. Players prone to motion sickness may not enjoy this one either, as rapid head and eye movement is required.


For the first-person shooter fan

The Medal of Honor series is the decorated predecessor to the Call of Duty franchise, and its VR release set during World War II puts players into the thick of that conflict’s firefights with “Medal of Honor: Above and Beyond.” It also features the Oscar-winning short film “Colette,” about a French Resistance survivor. The film is presented in 2-D, but the game immerses players in the 3-D sights, sounds and stories of the Second Great War.

There’s no “Fortnite” for VR (yet), but “Population: One” provides a pretty fun battle royale in which players snag weapons and ammo then fight to be the last player or team standing. You won’t find the same sort of IP crossovers as in Epic’s metaverse playground, but players can still customize their avatars in amusing ways. The movement controls are intuitive, allowing players to build barriers, climb them (or other buildings) and then soar down in a wingsuit by extending their arms in real life. The game also requires players to mimic motions like aiming and reloading weaponry. You even have to peel bananas or pop the tops of soda cans and hold them to your lips to regain energy. This is another game you’ll want to make sure you have ample space around you before you boot it up.


For those who like jump scares

You know those viral video clips of people using VR, spotting something scary and then freaking out and running headlong into a wall? “Resident Evil 4” is the perfect catalyst for those moments, so beware your surroundings before you strap on the headset. Players can experience the full story as Leon Kennedy seeks to save the president’s daughter from hordes of zombies and terrible creatures, watching (and gasping) as claws and jaws stretch out to shred you. For fans of “The Walking Dead,” “The Walking Dead Onslaught” presents a more streamlined, run/shoot/slash series of zombie-infested levels.

If you’d prefer a slightly less action-movie approach to the zombie-slaying experience, check out “The Walking Dead: Saints and Sinners” a more RPG-like game in which you play in the world of AMC’s hit series and manage your health and inventory while solving puzzles, sneaking through streets and slashing/shooting at walkers with a variety of weaponry.


For those who want to re-create recreation online

Want to take on your pals in ping-pong? “Eleven Table Tennis” pits you against both AI foes and your friends in a sim that does a good job emulating the sport’s physics. While it’s fun and requires less space than an actual ping-pong table, you’ll still want to get a handle on how you move with the headset on before you fire up this game. Your foes will make you lunge both forward and to the sides to return shots. Also be sure to check for low-hanging ceilings before going for the overhead smash.


For those looking to re-create the movie theater experience

There’s nothing particularly advanced about “Bigscreen,” which lets you watch movies in a virtual theater with your friends, but we’re putting it here because only VR veterans are likely to use this option instead of simply streaming the latest hits on their TVs. (And even if they want to loop in their friends, a Zoom call can do that trick.)

“Bigscreen,” currently in beta, does offer some unique features though, including some reminiscent of the much-discussed metaverse. Most intriguing is the access to 3-D movies. Scroll through those offered in the lobby (like “Top Gun”) until you find one you like. Then, you’ll be placed into a theater environment with other users. Be warned that other users can both see your avatar and hear you through the microphone in your headset, and vice versa. (You can mute them, and yourself, if desired.) There’s also an optional personal space bubble that will disappear other avatars if they come in for an unwanted cuddle.

If you just want to hang with your friends, you can set up a private room where your desired companions can join you via a unique room code. There’s even a way to host work meetings and share desktop screens through the app, but seriously, who the heck wants to do work in the metaverse?

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