VR Zone Shinjuku: Mario Kart VR & A Lot More Besides
What can you find in Bandai Namco's VR park? Patrick Davey paid the venue a visit and found a whole heap of games to experience
Sixteen (and counting) immersive attractions? Check. Getting up close and personal with beloved characters? Check. An unforgettable experience? Double check. VR Zone Shinjuku, a project birthed by Bandai Namco, opened its doors to the public on July 14 and we had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at what this next-generation theme park has to offer. From throwing shells in Mario Kart VR to riding in the palm of a giant Gundam mech, the park offers a bunch of world-first experiences that are no doubt going to lure in both virtual reality (VR) fanatics and lovers of Japanese pop culture alike.
Walking into the lobby, you’re greeted by an intricate light show that can be interacted with by touching the walls and columns surrounding it. The first floor is littered with time-limited temporary VR experiences – including Google’s Tilt Brush and the PlayStation VR – as well as a resort-themed area home to a gourmet café. It’s interesting to note that the park also offers three non-VR activities – Giant Balloon Burst Room PANIC CUBE, Trap Climbing and Niagara Drop – as well as a virtual beach, complete with water made up of interactive light projections. A gift store can also be found conveniently by the entrance, where you can pick up themed goods like Pac-Man cookies to take home with you.
The second floor is the where the action happens, and where you can find majority of the VR attractions. Each attraction has a pretty large amount of VR headsets and contraptions available, so surprisingly you won’t have to wait too long to get your turn. This writer made a beeline to Mario Kart VR, which made headlines around the time of E3 this year, to see if it really lived up to the hype.
Mario Kart Arcade GP VR
You can play with up to four players at once, and each of you can communicate using the headset and microphone that you’re strapped into upon climbing into the life-sized kart. Along with an HTC Vive headset, you’re equipped with sensors that are placed on your hands – these are used to capture weapons that are floating around the stage as you drive. Lob a shell, banana, or hammer by swinging your arm as you speed through the stage – which is littered with Mario Kart favorites like the Piranha Plant, Thwomp, and rainbow boosters. Out of all the attractions we tried, Mario Kart VR came out on top as the most fun, so in our eyes it lives up to the hype for a one or two time try.
Close to the Mario Kart VR area were a number of other high-profile attractions, including Evangelion VR: The Soul Seat and Argyle Shift, but the next attraction we were looking to try that has had people talking was Dragon Ball VR: Master the Kamehameha.
Dragon Ball VR: Master the Kamehameha
This attraction was one of the most immersive (and to be honest, a little complicated) in the park. With sensors strapped to your arms, abdomen, feet and head, and a panel of cameras in front of you, here you go through training with Goku to master the art of the Kamehameha – which requires you to hold a certain leg and arm stance and to shoot your arms forward at just the right time – before heading into a heated battle against a second player. Along with Mario Kart VR, Dragon Ball VR proved to be a hit, with many a journalist lining up to try it out.
Next up on our ‘to try’ list was Gundam VR: Daiba Assault, which was on the opposite end of the park. We passed by attractions like Dinosaur Survival Run: Jungle of Despair, in which you ride a Segway-like scooter through an island populated with dinosaurs, and Steep Downhill Ski Simulator: Ski Rodeo, where you ride a pair of true-to-life skis down a hill while chased by an avalanche – both of which had their fair share of curious onlookers.
Fans of Gundam are in for a treat: in this experience you’re thrown into the middle of a battle of a Gundam mech going up against the nemesis Zeon, complete with a rumbling floor that simulates the gigantic robots stomping around. At one point the mech places its hand on the ground and you can walk up to it and take a seat, wrapping your arms around its thumb as it continues the battle. A fun extra here is a heat lamp that moves close to you when the mech’s saber is in front of you, really ramping up the immersion of the experience.
After the pretty intense experiences up to this point, we decided to take a little break and try out Bandai Namco’s take on fishing with Fishing VR GIJIESTA. It was located pretty close to another mech simulation, VR-AT Simulator Armored Trooper Votoms, that allows you to go into battle against a friend (or frenemy) from the cockpit of a gun-toting iron trooper.
Fishing VR GIJIESTA
If you’re not a fan of fast-paced VR, here you can relax and unwind at a mountain lake while catching fish. The experience comes with a simulated rod and reel, as well as a net that’s used to grab the fish once you’ve pulled them in. You have a time limit of around 6 minutes, and here you’re challenged to catch as many fish as you can. When you’re done you can check your stats in the virtual world, and there’s also daily park leaderboard that displays the biggest catches of the day.
Although we were busting to try out all the attractions, we were running low on time and had to make one last quick pick, which ended up being Winged Bicycle – it was neck and neck between this and the Hospital Escape Omega horror attraction, which has you controlling a wheelchair as you escape a dilapidated hospital alongside other players.
After climbing onto an exercise bike, here you’re tasked with pedaling to control a flying bicycle as you make your way across a mountainous landscape littered with caves and waterfalls. You control the brakes and direction with the handlebars in front of you in order to navigate, and specially placed fans on all sides of the bike react to the wind to really immerse you in the experience. You can really feel your body reacting to this as if it were really happening – I found myself drenched in sweat and heart pounding after reaching the goal point and taking off the headset, and even feeling a little disoriented.
As our time was coming to a close, we were reminded that another big-ticket attraction, ‘Arise: Ghost in the Shell Stealth Hounds,’ is still yet to come, being released sometime in August. With the strength of such well-known and loved game and anime VR experiences behind them, Bandai Namco have made some smart moves with their first official foray into the realm of VR – with this, hopefully the mainstream appeal of VR will continue to burn bigger and brighter going into the future.