It’s been over two weeks since Within launched Supernatural, its radical new VR subscription service on Oculus Quest. It’s a $20-a-month app that wants to swap the treadmill for a video game. After extensive testing, we can now weigh in on the big question: Is Supernatural’s VR fitness worth it?
In the video below, three of the UploadVR team headed into the virtual studio to discuss the pros and cons of Supernatural based on a few weeks of use. We found some common ground on both sides. On the one hand, there’s the app’s strong tracklist of music with great mapping to maximize spending your energy. But the question of its price, especially in the face of competition, is a tough one.
Before we go any further, I have to point out that it is very easy for you to make your mind up about Supernatural yourself. Within offers an entire month free — a generous offer considering the hefty monthly subscription — and if you have any interest in VR fitness at all, you really should take the company up on it.
It’s also important to note that we’re assessing the service just as its starting out and that there is, hopefully, a long runway of tweaks, additions and improvements to be made to the service. Supernatural is available now on the Oculus Quest, but available in the U.S. and Canada only.
With that in mind, let’s dive in.
What is Supernatural?
Supernatural is a Beat Saber clone. Its core mechanics have you swinging two colored bats to corresponding notes that fly towards you in time with a music track. Occasionally, triangular-shaped obstacles force you to squat, too.
But, rather than simply picking from a list of songs to master with repeat playthroughs, Supernatural offers a new workout routine (or playlist) every 24 hours. Workouts between 10 minutes-to-30 minutes are accompanied with introductions from fitness coaches that will then spur you on as you play. A companion app will track your progress, too.
What kind of a workout does it offer?
Supernatural aims to wear you down with a mix of consistent arm swinging and squatting from side-to-side for a workout that uses both upper and lower body. Though it’s technically easy to get away with casual movements, trainers encourage you to swing with power and from the core to maximize your workout.
If you’re doing particularly well, the app’s adaptive difficulty with pick up the pace, or slow it down if you’re struggling. The aim is to create an experience where you’re not focused on scores so much as flow and pace, though you can also choose between high and low intensities and a Pro workout that offers the most intense mapping right the way through.
How intense is it?
Fairly obviously, the answer to this question will depend on a lot on your own physical fitness. For our own testing, three of the UploadVR staff tried Supernatural for a few weeks. Myself, video editor Zeena Al-Obaidi, and senior editor David Jagneaux all took part.
I came to Supernatural already as someone that has exercised every day for the past few months, alternating between 5K runs and an assortment of home-based workouts. What I’ve found is an experience I can approach enthusiastically at the end of one of my other workouts as a means of keeping active for a bit longer, if not something that has often left me entirely exhausted, especially after my legs acclimatized to VR’s most demanding squats. I wouldn’t count a lone Supernatural session as a sufficient day’s workout myself.
Al-Obaidi, however, attempted to swap out a daily routine of 20 minute-30 minute YouTube-guided high-intensity training workouts with the app and quickly found herself eager to switch back as Supernatural wasn’t providing the same level of exhaustion. Meanwhile,Jagneaux approached Supernatural as a fresh start for exercise after injuring his knee during intense personal training last year. He loved his initial workout but has subsequently found it to be less and less demanding as he acclimatized to it.
That said, we all agreed that by VR’s standards, Supernatural offers one of the most intense and dedicated workouts you can find inside a headset. It just doesn’t really compare to what’s available in the outside world.
How much fun is it?
Obviously, there’s not much point investing in a gamified fitness program if the game itself isn’t any fun. Fortunately, by sticking close to the Beat Saber formula, Supernatural has an engaging and addictive set of mechanics right at its core that lots — if not all — VR players will enjoy.
In Supernatural’s best songs, it’s pure magic, a thrilling rollercoaster with a seamless flow that pulls you along for the ride. Adaptive difficulty keeps the pace going and the lively, energetic tracklist never feels out of place or weak. Of course, I say ‘not all’ because, even as VR’s most successful game, Beat Saber isn’t for everyone. If you’re looking for a fitness game perhaps with more escapism, this isn’t the one for you.
But there are more troubling aspects, too. While song mapping is on-point and active, I’ve personally really struggled with matching the right color to the corresponding note in more complex moments. In Beat Saber, this is one of many intricacies that makes it such an engaging game. When I approach Supernatural, I am in the mindset of getting fit, hitting goals and making progress, not trying to mentally navigate a maze. Every time my brain pulls a fast one on me, I feel discouraged. And yes, within time I might improve and fitness instructors try to reassure you it’s not always about the accuracy, but taking a hit to workout morale — one based on mental dexterity rather than my actual health — that early on is hugely concerning.