Cardboard is the simplest and most affordable way to try virtual reality today. There’s already so much content for Android devices (it works on iPhone too), and it’s getting better all the time.
But where do you start? Here’s our pick of 20 of the best Cardboard apps and games for Android.
Before you get into the more specialist stuff, there are three essential apps that every Cardboard user must download first.
If you download nothing else, you need the official Cardboard app from Google. It helps you set up your cardboard viewer and functions as a portal for compatible apps and videos. The My Library feature also handily groups together all the Cardboard-compatible apps installed on your phone, for easy access.
Download — Cardboard (Free)
You’ve already got the YouTube app on your phone, and it’s one of the most important Cardboard apps. Just search for “360 video” and you’ll uncover an enormous (and ever expanding) range of content optimized for VR viewing.
In addition, there’s a View in Cardboard option for standard videos, too. This won’t turn them into 360 degree videos, but instead activates a kind of virtual theater mode that fills your view with one giant cinema screen.
Download — YouTube (Free)
3. VaR’s VR Video Player
Most VR content is currently in apps or streamed. As time goes on, there’ll also be a growing amount of videos to download and watch offline. You need a compatible player to view them, which is where VaR’s VR Video Player comes in. It isn’t feature-packed, but it doesn’t need to be: just load up your clip and you’re away.
Download — VaR’s VR Video Player (Free)
Best Cardboard Games
A lot of Cardboard games are short and simple, and many are inspired by other titles, new or classic. While the tech is still in its infancy, several are worth a look. We’ve tried to steer clear of games that need an additional Bluetooth controller in favor of those that will work with any Cardboard viewer.
4. Chair In A Room
So, you’re trapped in a room where the lights keep going out, bloody fingerprints keep appearing on the walls, and there’s no means of escape. Yikes!
By picking up odd clues, you can slowly unravel the mysteries in the two stories on offer in Chair in the Room. But mostly the game is all about the atmosphere, and some particularly delicious jump scares. One to play in the dark… if you dare.
Download — Chair In A Room (Free)
5. Minos Starfighter VR
Minos Starfighter lets you channel your inner Luke Skywalker as you hurtle through the galaxy shooting down enemy fighters. The graphics and sound are among the best of the current crop of Cardboard games. With a full 360 degree environment, a swivel chair is a must to help you as you hold off wave upon wave of bad guys. Just don’t get cocky, kid.
Download — Minos Starfighter VR ($0.99)
6. Proton Pulse
It’s been a while since we’ve been excited about a brick breaking game, but this fluorescent, 3D version has the same addictive qualities as Atari’s original from 40 years ago. The concept is the same as always: bat the ball to break the bricks. The twist is that it’s your head movements that control the bat, making it an energetic and often frantic experience.
Download — Proton Pulse ($1.99)
A VR version of an already popular game, Caaaaardboard! sees you freefalling from a series of skyscrapers, scoring points as you twist and turn along the way. It’s a fun arcade game, and a great use of VR, albeit one to steer clear of if you suffer from motion sickness.
Download — Caaaaardboard! ($1.99)
8. InMind VR 2
Inspired somewhat by Pixar’s Inside Out, InMind VR 2 is set inside the brain of a teenage boy. You must manipulate his emotions and behaviors by capturing neurons simply by moving your head to look at them.
The game is found in the Educational category, although the frequent science bits will probably pass most players by. Even so, the presentation is wonderful, and the gameplay is accessible with plenty of replay value.
Download — InMind VR 2 (Free)
9. Whispering Eons #0 VR
If you’re a fan of Deus Ex or other cyberpunk games, then you may enjoy Whispering Eons. It’s a little more ambitious than most Cardboard games, with a deeper story and puzzles, and up to an hour of gameplay. But beware, the standard controls become a little dizzying after a while since you must tilt your head left or right to walk or interact with things. Eons is best played with a controller, if you’ve got one.
Download — Whispering Eons (Free)
VR is perfect for horror games. Sisters is an old school ghost story full of creaking doors, singing children, and strange apparitions. There’s no real interaction involved, you just look around and wait for the tale to unfold, leaving you vulnerable to the inevitable terror that follows. It’s short, sweet, and bags of fun. It also comes with a bonus Blair Witch-based VR scare-athon.
Download — Sisters (Free)
11. Gravity Pull
With a series of ingenious puzzles staged in a sterile, futuristic building, and only a gravity-defying box for companionship, it’s safe to say that Gravity Pull owes plenty to Portal.
And that’s recommendation enough. But the game also has an unusual control system which makes it unique. To move forward you must literally walk, or run, on the spot. Make sure you clear away your furniture before you get started!
Download — Gravity Pull (Free)
Best Cardboard Apps
From commercial films and videos, to travel guides and productivity aids, there are loads of awesome VR apps to download.
Within is trying to establish itself as one of the leading platforms for VR content. The app features a decent range of high quality commercial films, which you either stream or download.
They’re big files, so you need a fast internet connection either way. Among the range of content on offer is a selection of music videos from the likes of Muse and One Republic, news content, and special scenes from TV shows including Saturday Night Live and Mr Robot.
Download — Within (Free)
13. Jaunt VR
Similar to Within, Jaunt offers over 150 pieces of premium content to Cardboard users (and the app works if you don’t have Cardboard, too). They include a short, five-part series from Bourne Identity director Doug Liman, concert footage from Paul McCartney, and documentaries from ABC News.
Download — Jaunt VR (Free)
14. GoPro VR
One of the best things about VR is how it enables you to experience things you’d never get to do, like swimming with sharks off the Galapagos Islands, or paragliding across the Chilean desert. These are among the spectacular videos you can enjoy through the GoPro VR app. There are hundreds on offer, split across 14 categories from Flying and Underwater, to Street and Fashion.
Download — GoPro VR (Free)
15. Bohemian Rhapsody Experience
Bohemian Rhapsody is often credited with being the first song to be accompanied by a music video. Maybe it’s now giving us a glimpse into what the next generation of videos will bring.
Bohemian Rhapsody Experience takes the legendary Queen hit and repackages it as part of a unique animated film described as a “journey through Freddie Mercury’s subconscious mind”. It’s best played through headphones, as the spatialized sound changes depending on where you’re looking at any given moment. For fans and non-fans alike.
Download — Bohemian Rhapsody Experience (Free)
16. Public Speaking VR
Public Speaking VR is one of the more intriguing ideas about the practical uses of VR. The app places you in various situations, including on stage in front of a crowd, at the head of a boardroom table surrounded by virtual work colleagues, or in an interview.
It uses the immersiveness of Cardboard to enable you to practice your speech or presentation free from nerves. Whether it actually works as an aid, I couldn’t say. But given that people famously fear public speaking more than death, it has to be worth a try.
Download — Public Speaking (Free)
17. Inside Abbey Road
This guide to the legendary recording studios opens with a nine-part tour hosted by Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George.
After that you can stroll around and explore on your own, where you’ll eventually find yourself standing in the middle of a performance by the London Symphony Orchestra. The app serves as a companion to the desktop version, which even lets try your hand at mixing a track of your own.
Download — Inside Abbey Road (Free)
18. Apollo 15 Moon Landing VR
Don’t worry if Elon Musk’s planned trips to Mars are beyond your budget. You can still get a taste of space exploration with this app, based on the 1971 Apollo 15 Moon Landing. You get to land, then walk, on the moon, before driving around in the Lunar Rover. It’s only a tech demo, really, but it’s a delight that will fill you with a sense of wonder.
Download — Apollo 15 Moon Landing VR (Free)
19. Cardboard Camera
VR isn’t just about consumption, you can create your own cardboard images too. Cardboard Camera enables you to shoot 360 degree stills that you can share, and you can add some ambience to your creation by recording sound at the same time. A surefire way to breathe life into your vacation photos.
Download — Cardboard Camera (Free)
20. Coastiality VR
No Cardboard roundup is complete without a rollercoaster app. Where most are based on computer generated images, Coastiality uses real live recordings shot in amusement parks from around the world. The rollercoasters range from the cutting edge to the rickety old designs, while the screams of your fellow passengers help to add to the authenticity.
Download — Coastiality (Free)
These apps and games should help you on your way to discovering the power of Google Cardboard.
But what are your favorites? Which apps or games have you been wowed by? Share your recommendations with us in the comments.
Image Credit: Alexandru Nika via Shutterstock.com