Hands-on with Mario Kart Arcade GP VR: Leave Your Red Shells at Home

A great start for Mario Kart in VR, but far from a pole position finish.

It’s a common belief that modern virtual reality (VR) needs the power of IP to succeed. In the world of approachable videogame entertainment, few franchises come as highly regarded as Mario Kart. For more than 25 years mushrooms, plumbers and princesses have been charging across varied landscapes and attacking one another with shells and banana skins trying to reach that pole position, and now you can join the action in VR.

Mario Kart Arcade GP VR is the first step into VR for the Mario Kart franchise, though not in the out-of-home entertainment sector. There have been three previous Mario Kart Arcade GP releases, all of which have been developed by Namco Bandai Games under license from Nintendo. Mario Kart Arcade GP VR doesn’t break this rule, but of course the experience you’ll get when entering the lifesize kart replica is wholly different.

The most obvious change is one of perspective, of course. Mario Kart Arcade GP VR puts the player into the kart in first-person, with a full range of head-movement perspective offered by the HTC Vive that is coupled with every kart. The player chooses their character – Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach or Yoshi – and once in the HMD can see the position of their virtual hands thanks to Vive Tracker pucks which are attached via a velcro strap to each of their real hands. This is a surprising but important aspect of Mario Kart Arcade GP VR.

As will be familiar to any fans of the Mario Kart franchise, the player is tasked with getting around the track as fast as possible while racing through landscapes themed around the Super Mario titles. Mario Kart Arcade GP VR does only offer one course, but it includes a range of locales such as Bower’s Castle, Kamek’s Laboratory and Donut Plains, separated by boost ramps that fade into cloudy whiteness. A variety of dangers exist in the course – potholes, Thwomps, Piranha Plants and Bullet Bills, to name a few – and of course Mario Kart Arcade GP VR features some weaponry to assist your efforts to gain first place.

Mario Kart Arcade GP VR screenshot

Sadly only three weapons have made the cut: the banana skin, green shell and a hammer. These weapons are no longer confined to question mark blocks however; as mentioned earlier the player wears Vive Tracker pucks on each hand which allow them to reach out and grab the chosen item from balloons drifting across the track. The banana skin and green shell can then be used similarly to every other edition of Mario Kart (however the effort to accurately throw the item in the desired direction seems to be replaced with a rather inaccurate approximation) while the hammer allows you to bash opponents close to you with physical swings of your hand. This of course is the most entertaining item available.

Elsewhere Mario Kart Arcade GP VR differs from the chosen formula of Mario Kart a little too much to be taken seriously by avid fans of the series. While lacking the commentary of Mario Kart Arcade GP 2 and Mario Kart Arcade GP DX, there are no powerslides or boost tricks in Mario Kart Arcade GP VR and in fact no real reason for a brake pedal. The rubber banding of opponents is extreme in all instances (a design for tension rather than fairness, no doubt) and the impact of weapons realistically has no effect on the outcome of a race until the final straight.

Mario Kart Arcade GP VR screenshot

For more casual players however, Mario Kart Arcade GP VR is certainly going to offer a welcome step into the world of VR. The visual quality is almost parallel to that of Mario Kart Arcade GP DX – a decidedly bright and colorful world perfectly recreating the Super Mario aesthetic seen in more than 100 videogames, cartoons, books, clothing and other paraphernalia across the years – and the VR optimisation is without flaw. It’s a simple and intuitive experience designed to welcome anyone, and in that Mario Kart Arcade GP VR is certainly a proficient piece of content design.

Essentially, Mario Kart Arcade GP VR could never be everything to everyone, and so the development team has opted for a light-hearted and enjoyable – if forgettable – adaptation of a beloved franchise into VR. Fans of Mario Kart will certainly enjoy a flirt with the experience but are unlikely to become too involved, and so too are those who may have purchased one-or-two of the home videogames but never found themselves wishing for a recreation of their favourite Mario Kart 64 track. Given the high asking price for a single three-and-a-half minute experience (£7.99 GBP at the time of going to press) that might well be a good thing.

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