The new Bandai Namco virtual reality facility VR Zone Shinjuku set within the heart of Tokyo opens to the public tomorrow. However, I managed to get an early look and it is clear that the future of this technology lies in the arcades and not in the home.Bandai Namco has been working on its virtual reality initiative for quite some time now. Back when the first and much smaller VR Zone event space opened in Diver City in April of last year, it was clear that this was an obvious investment of time, effort and money into this new technology on the part of Bandai Namco. Most of the titles that were playable were simple theme park-type rides with a VR twist, but it was already clear that Bandai Namco had bigger plans for this technology. The addition of the VOTOMS Battling simulator and the Gundam VR exhibit, not to mention a very strong VR showing at last year’s JAEPO, made me think that it would only be a matter of time until Bandai Namco did something bigger in this space.VR Zone Shinjuku is that bigger thing I assumed would happen. It’s a mix of both a traditional Japanese arcade and an upmarket technological theme park.While the previous titles from the VR Zone are present, we also have some new rides to play around with. I already talked a bit about these recently, but today I got to play them in person and they were almost all a lot better than I was expecting.
My first port of call was the Evangelion ride, which has you enter one of three Evas via the plug system at the base of their necks. The warm-up sequence and launch were particularly fun and very accurate to the newer Evangelion movies, rather than the TV series. Once in combat, you faced the 10th Angel Zeruel and it was a brutal and difficult fight. Just trying to break its A.T. Field with regular guns was tough work, but this was clearly meant to be played a few times to get the most of what it had to offer. As someone that enjoys Neon Genesis Evangelion a great deal, I had a lot of fun with this and it was a definite highlight for me. My only criticism was that you couldn’t turn around, but instead simply move forward, back and strafe. Bar that, though, it was impressively done.
Following that, I tried out the new Mario Kart Arcade GP VR. This had a standard steering wheel and accelerator setup with a force feedback chair. The additional gimmick here was that you had to physically grab one of the three power-ups with your hands — that of a banana, hammer or green shell — and that was a little tricky. You also could not jump and perform power slides like in the newer games, but the chance to play a modern Mario Kart game in VR was exactly as good as I thought it might be. Trying to grab the power-ups was maybe a bit too strict on the collision detection, but I am sure with practice you would be fine.
I then ended up over at the Hanechari ride. I thought this might be related to the classic ’90s Namco arcade game Prop Cycle and it turns out I was entirely correct, to the extent that the game was even called that during development. The main difference in control here was that peddling caused you to gain altitude, rather than propel you forward. Instead, forward movement was produced by pushing the handlebars forward, while pulling back on them allowed you to brake. It took a bit of getting used to after playing Prop Cycle so much back in the day, but I can say that I got a similarly strenuous workout. The main objective was to reach a sky temple, which I did, and that made for a nicer game as popping balloons on Prop Cycle could get a bit tedious at times.
The next major port of call was the Dragon Ball VR game. This had you receive instruction from a variety of famous Dragon Ball characters on how to fight and produce a Kamehameha. This was the only real disappointment, as the motion tracking on this was a bit off for me. With sensors attached to your feet, hands and waist, even with careful calibration before it started, it was incredibly hard for me to shoot straight. I may just have been unlucky in how my sensors were set up and I hope that was the case, as this could have been a really interesting exhibit otherwise.Apart from that, I also played my favorite VOTOMS Battling again, which is probably the most fleshed out of all the games available, as well as did a spot of fishing. However, compared to the previous VR Zone in Diver City, the sheer amount of events, rides and games on display here means that there is enough variety now to at least make for an afternoon of fun. Especially as the whole facility is very nicely done. Bandai Namco has utilized the talents of NAKED to do all manner of projection mapping installations throughout the structure, as well as outside on the front of the building (though this can only be seen at night). It definitely helps to elevate the facility’s interior design and makes for a very futuristic feel to the whole establishment (shown below).In addition to all the VR related delights, there are some other activi