Last July 14th Bandai Namco has inaugurated VR Zone Shinjuku, a brand new one games room entirely dedicated to VR, located in the Kabukicho district of the Shinjuku district of Tokyo, one of the busiest and most lively areas of the entire city, famous for its nightlife and numerous clubs for adults. Last week, during my last trip to Japan, I had the opportunity to visit the futuristic structure.
The purpose? Tell you how the land of the rising sun is already building the arcades of tomorrow.
VR Zone Shinjuku: halfway between an arcade and an amusement park
VR Zone Shinjuku was born from Bandai Namco's previous experience with VR Zone: Project I Can, a smaller VR space opened last year in the Diver City shopping center, on the artificial island of Odaiba, also in Tokyo. If Project I Can occupied one floor of the building it was located in and only featured 6 attractions, for VR Zone Shinjuku Bandai Namco has decided to go big. This new location occupies an entire building specially decorated, with the various attractions arranged on two floors for a total of 3.500 m² of exhibition space. VR Zone Shinjuku features 12 VR attractions, all made through the HTC Vive viewer, as well as 3 so-called field activities, more similar to those of a traditional amusement park. The entrance ticket to the VR Zone is only 800 Yen (approx 6 €), but this only includes access to the facility. Once inside, a new ticket must be purchased for each attraction, at the price of 1200 Yen (9 €) the one. It is possible, and advisable, to buy the 1 Day / 4 Ticket set which includes in addition to the entrance tickets for 4 attractions, at the price of 4400 Yen (just under € 35), with a small saving. Bandai Namco controls the flow of visitors and issues a limited number of tickets every day to avoid overcrowding. For this reason the official website by VR Zone Shinjuku recommends buying tickets online, booking the entrance slot. Unfortunately all the payment cards in my possession, both Visa and Mastercard, both credit and prepaid ones, were rejected by the online booking system. You probably need a card issued by a Japanese institution in order to proceed.
Admission was not a problem, however, because on days when tickets don't sell out you can buy them directly at the checkout; however, it was necessary to wait for a less popular slot in the late afternoon. Once inside, the structure can be freely explored and there are no time limits, other than closing times, for the stay of the players. The internal organization it is much more reminiscent of that of an amusement park than that of an arcade. Each attraction has its own specific area, with its own dedicated staff and its own queue to enter. As I told last year about the Comiket, the Japanese love to queue, and the VR Zone Shinjuku is no exception. At the entrance you are greeted by a sign indicating the waiting times for each game: ranging from 15 minutes to over 90 of the most popular, information that is often essential for deciding which attraction to choose for each ticket
Horror and jump scare in virtual reality
My visit started with the RED Ticket, which I decided to employ with Hospital Escape Terror. This horror themed attraction is set inside a haunted hospital, which the player must travel around in a wheelchair, avoiding monsters and traps and suffering a fair amount of scares. The playstation simulates a wheelchair. On the left armrest there is a joystick that allows you to move the chair forward or backward, while with the right hand we will hold a Vive motion controller, which in the game will be used to control a flashlight. The torch will be used not only to illuminate the environments, but also to choose the direction to take in the crossroads and to scare off some monsters that will try to kill the player. The experience is designed to be played in pairs. Each cabinet features two playstations, and during the game players will move around the same haunted hospital, crossing over and over. Through a microphone it will be possible to communicate with the other player, to coordinate some actions but also more simply to hear his screams and moans of terror. The experience is not recommended for the faint of heart as it presents numerous scares amplified by VR and limited freedom of movement. Hospital Escape Terror does an incredible job of making the player feel in a vulnerable position, and the result is guaranteed by the constant screams of genuine fear that come from the area of this attraction.
Dragon Ball has never been so real
My initial plan was to use the BLUE Ticket for The Throne of Souls, the VR attraction based on the Evangelion anime. The perspective of over 90 minutes of queue it was, however, enough to make me give up and fall back on Dragon Ball VR: Master the Kamehameha. This attraction, where Goku, Vegeta, Krillin and Piccolo will teach the player a launch a real Energy Wave, is one of those with the more complicated set up. The staff will in fact dress the player with 5 Vive Tracker: one in each foot, one in each hand and one in the belt. In the game we will have to follow the instructions of one of the Z warriors and replicate his posture to learn to emit the aura and to charge the Kamehameha. By bending the legs and lowering the arms the player will begin to see his aura around him in full Dragon Ball style, with a blow of air coming from a fan at the bottom to make everything more realistic. Bringing your hands to your belt and joining your wrists will begin to charge the legendary move; it will be enough look down and stare at your avatar's hands to see the sphere of energy get bigger and bigger. At this point it will be possible to launch the Kamehameha by quickly bringing your hands in front of you, making rocks and mountains explode and leaving incandescent grooves in the ground. After a few practice sessions the players will finally be pitted against each other: this is the final phase of the game, in which they will have to launch their respective Energy Waves at each other: it will be the most powerful and fastest wave to win, while the other player will be wiped out. Among the games tested at the VR Zone Shinjuku Master The Kamehameha is certainly the one with the most basic and least rich gamepplay, but it is undoubtedly an amazing experience for all Dragon Ball fans. In its simplicity it manages to make the emotion of the famous manga / anime live in first person and anyone who grew up with Goku and his associates cannot help but get excited and shout out loud “Ka-Me-Ha-Me-Ha !! ! " in charging and launching the iconic blue energy ball.
Typically Japanese: boobs and robots
For the GREEN Ticket the choice was quite simple. I was not interested in skiing or fishing games, and with a bitter taste in my mouth for the excessive queue for Evangelion VR I was looking for something similar, in which to pilot robots. Argyle Shift he came to my aid. In this experience the player is called to board a combat robot and face a short level from Star Fox style shooter. In this case the Vive visor will simulate the pilot's helmet, and through it we will get to know an AI particularly sexy and low-cut that will show us the controls of our robot. With the joysticks placed on the armrests of the station we will control the movement of the mech (in a limited way, however, we will not be able to leave the pre-established track), while the viewfinder will be controlled by the motion sensor in the helmet: to frame the target it will be sufficient to turn the head and look towards it. The demo was very enjoyable even if rather short when compared with the other experiences. However, it is interesting to use a playstation that not only simulates the pilot's seat of the mech, but which, in the full style of the most complex Japanese arcades, moves with a hydraulic system. The effect here serves a double purpose: on the one hand increase immersion, on the other hand, reduce the motion sickness given by the use of the VR viewer.
Mamma Mia! It's-a-Mario Kart!
I purposely left the YELLOW Ticket for last. The hope was that the kilometric queue for Mario Kart Arcade GP VR was disposed of. It was only partially so, and after about 1 hour in a row I was able to experience what is perhaps the most popular attraction in all of the VR Zone Shinjuku. Mario Kart Arcade GP VR is based on Mario Kart Arcade GP DX, a title released in Japanese arcades in 2013. The VR version uses the same kart-shaped playstations as the arcade edition, but integrates them with the Vive headset and a Vive Tracker for each player's hand. The game is then controlled with the steering wheel and pedals, and the entire station has force feedback to simulate collisions and moves with a hydraulic system.
Unlike the arcade version, however, the view is in first person, allowing the player to turn and look behind him while driving. Similarly, the use of objects has changed. There are only 3 objects in Mario Kart VR: green shell, banana and hammer. These will go grab them by reaching out one of your hands and then use them by making the throwing gesture. Objects can be thrown in any direction around the player, making side attacks possible never before seen in any Mario Kart. The game features a single long track, made by merging fragments of other tracks together. As with the 2013 arcade version, the inspiration for the tracks is Mario barth 7, albeit with graphics much closer to Mario barth 8: Transformations of vehicles into gliders and paragliders are present, but not the antigravity seen in the Wii U / Switch episode. It lacks some typical Mario Kart features, such as jumping stunts and the ability to turbo drift when cornering, but the spirit of the series, frantic and smashing, is fully preserved. Running is a real delirium, accentuated by the possibilities offered by the 360 ° launch of objects, while the VR combined with the mechanical movements of the gaming station offers an immersive experience like never before.
You haven't really tried VR if you haven't been to the VR Zone Shinjuku
And so my tour of Shinjuku's VR Zone ended. It was about a very interesting experience and what I recommend to all those who undertake a trip to Japan. At the moment it is the largest and richest VR Zone in the world. It is true that the games are very short (each experience lasts from 5 to 10 minutes), which is expensive compared to the relative playing time and that the most popular attractions have considerable queues, the value of the VR Zone for a video game enthusiast is immense. It is the very approach of the experiences presented by Bandai Namco that is interesting: simulative from the hardware point of view, but strictly arcade from the playful one. A combination rarely attempted in the past that this time, thanks to the combination of VR, motion sensors and special control stations created ad hoc for each game, offers an unprecedented immersive experience. impossible to replicate in the living room of your home, even a high-end headset like HTC Vive. Let's just hope Bandai Namco will open a VR Zone closer to us in the future, maybe on our own continent!