Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the future. Holograms have been taking off at major music festivals and concerts ever since a resurrected Tupac made an appearance at Coachella a few years back, and now kids can join in the fun with the Merge Cube from Merge VR. While VR goggles have been around for a while now, this new holographic cube blows the virtual reality trend into a whole other dimension with games and immersive worlds.
The cube itself is a foamy object with symbols on each side that work similar to QR codes. The cube transforms into interactive holograms and games once connected to a smartphone and a headset, allowing users ages 10 and up to explore dozens of virtual galaxies.
To begin, users can download one of the Merge apps onto a smartphone, then slip the phone into the front of the headset (sold separately). The user straps the headset over his or her eyes like goggles, which holds the phone’s screen in front of his or her face. The app connects to the cube and the images are projected onto the cube through the lenses of the headset. Pro tip: You can also play with the cube without the headset, but it’s definitely cooler if you’ve got both on hand!
When users are wearing the goggles, they can still see their real life surroundings around the cube, giving them a first-person exclusive augmented reality (AR) experience. The cube itself transforms into different objects, all made more realistic because they are set against a backdrop of the real world, whether that be a bedroom or living room or backyard.
The free app TH!NGS for Merge Cube has a collection of mini games and holograms to choose from. The instructions are simple – rotate the cube to view different sides and click the button at the top of the headset to make selections. I was tickled by the very first hologram I tried out: turning my cube into a block of cheese that I could stretch and bounce inside my virtual world. Umm, cheese holograms? Sold.
Using the different selections within the app, I was also able to hatch an egg in the palm of my hand to reveal a cute little critter, turn the cube into a telescope that I could turn in different directions to explore a pirate island, and play a palm-sized slot machine that exploded with coins every time I hit the jackpot.
In the Star Fighter game, kids can play as space ship commanders navigating their way through valleys and mountains (by physically looking around), and shooting at alien ships (by pressing the button on top of the headset).
In a game called Piranha I became a fish, and I had to physically move either my head or the cube to navigate that fish. The point of the game was to earn points by making the fish eat all the sushi pieces in the ocean. But the ocean was really my office, and the little pieces of cartoon sushi were just floating in the air among a backdrop of computers, and work stuff, and about 5,000 toys (this is Toy Insider HQ, after all).
The only downside was that my phone battery vanished quicker than a toupee in a hurricane, and I even had to pause playtime to charge it up a few times. But TBH my phone isn’t very trustworthy to begin with so that could be a “me” problem.
There are tons of different games and apps available for download – some are free, others can be purchased – so users can tailor their AR/VR experiences with endless ways to play and explore based on their interests. Some games are even educational, like looking at holograms that take users on a tour inside the human body to learn about different bones and organs. The cube is recommended for ages 10 and up, and adults will get a kick out of it just as much as kids and teens will with an escape into the virtual miniverse. Just don’t VR and drive, folks.