The racing genre is something of a given for virtual reality (VR) experiences. With the player seated and hands firmly locked to a steering wheel, racing videogames avoid many of the issues and limitations that other VR titles currently face. That said, it’s not a match made in heaven; Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) Head of Worldwide Studios Shuhei Yoshida earlier this year admitted that Evolution Studios’ DriveClub had now fared well with experimental VR support. The sense of speed can indeed be disorientating. But not all racing titles are about fast cars and realistic visuals. In fact, the karting genre seems perfect for a VR adaption.
That statement will be put to the test this weekend at Viewpoint Games reveals one of the first kart-based VR videogames, aptly named VR Karts. But when talking about the genre it’s impossible not to mention the undisputed king of karting, Mario Kart. Earlier this year the series’ eighth iteration received critical praise and, although Nintendo itself may not be getting involved with VR any time soon, fans are already adapting past entries for use with the Oculus Rift head-mounted display (HMD). But what if an official version was to really happen?
Ironically, for a technology that Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto labelled as ‘anti-social’, Mario Kart VR could easily be one of the most exciting and accessible multiplayer VR experiences. Imagine having three or four friends assemble either online or locally, slipping on their HMDs and appearing next to each other sitting in karts, appearing as iconic Nintendo characters. Racing with a first-person view, in which players swerve out of the way of banana skins and hit the brakes to slide around corners could be even more thrilling and immersive than ever before. Think Need for Speed: Shift’s pulse-pounding cockpit views, mixed with the near-misses that eye-widening jumps seen in Nintendo’s series.
New mechanics could also be introduced as seen in combat titles such as EVE: Valkyrie. How about picking up a red homing shell and being able to look at the specific opponent you want to attack as you race to look on? Likewise, players could use the HMD’s positional tracking technology to duck and weave out of the way of certain incoming projectiles, or deliver Luigi’s hilarious death stare themselves as they drive past opponents. When racing titles moved to the 3D era, some players would swerve their heads or tilt their controllers as if they were connected with the car themselves. Imagine if that was now actually a part of how to control these experiences.
Mario Kart has never been about speed. Sure, players go fast, but you never quite get the same sense as you might in Burnout or Need for Speed. In theory, then, the title should be a better fit for VR, requiring less acclimatisation and being overall more accessible. That’s not to say that the title wouldn’t need certain optimisations. There are some sequences on some of the more inventive tracks that wouldn’t fit with the sense of freedom VR users need and some of the more curved areas of races might be hard to stomach.
Overall the Mario Kart series could easily be one of VR’s most accessible and instantly fun experiences. Everyone understands the basic concepts, especially with the motion controls in later titles. Hopefully one day Nintendo will make this one a reality.