It won't happen today, and it won't happen tomorrow. But somewhere down the line, Mario Kart VR will be a product you can buy online. And judging by the small scale game that you can play at Bandai Namco's VR Zone in Shinjuku, the day it becomes available is the day Nintendo becomes Scrooge McDuck levels of rich.
Now that it's officially open to the public, anyone can pick up a ticket to try their hand at Mario Kart VR and all the other experiences at the Shinjuku VR Zone. The zone, a block away from the TOHO Cinemas in Shinjuku with the giant Godzilla head, is spread over two levels.
'.Anyone planning a trip to Japan over the next couple of years, take note. the VR Zone at Shinjuku is officially open now. And while that means you can see people lose their shit at VR horror experiences, it also means you'll be able to peg bananas and green shells at people in VR..'
The centre of the zone is basically a giant projection, with seats for people to chill out
A map showing all the attractions, including Gundam and Evangelion experiences, as well as an upcoming Ghost in the Shell attraction
You get a few choices when rocking up to the VR Zone. You can either buy tickets for individual colours, which will let you ride one of three attractions with that particular colour. The Dragon Ball, Gundam and Evangelion VR rides are all classified as blue, for instance, so you can only ride one of those three. There are a set of attractions that can be enjoyed with any colour ticket, like the VR panic room, or this climbing wall with a projection beamed onto it:
There's even a Questacon-style slide (pictured left)
Most people, though, will want to buy the day-long ticket. That'll set you back ¥4400 ($50), and gets you a ticket for each of the four colours, plus a general ticket for the other attractions.
The design is reasonably fair, in that all of the big names aren't all on the one colour. A single day trip will get you access to Evangelion VR, Mario Kart VR, a horror/survival experience (one of which sticks the player in a wheelchair), and either a skiing simulator, VR fishing or Argyle Shift, which is billed as a "interactive cinematic VR attraction".
But quite plainly, the main attraction is Mario Kart, and next to Evangelion that's what had the most stations.
As can be seen from the instruction handout, there's only three weapons in Mario Kart VR: a green shell, a close-range Wario-esque hammer, and a banana skin. Rather than driving over item boxes, you grab pickups along the way by holding out your arm and snatching them from balloons hovering in the air.
There's no turbo or power slides, and races last for about two to three minutes. The track itself is a composite of segments from Mario Kart classics, including Bowser's Castle, although it's not a recreation of any one particular track. Races are also limited to four players in total: Mario, Luigi, Peach and Yoshi, with players choosing their character of preference by jumping into the particular racing setup for that character.
An interesting element is how the Vive controllers were rejigged to work with the setup. When you're in-game, you drive by turning the wheel and flooring the accelerate/brake pedals - no surprise there. But rather than holding the Vive controllers, the tops of the controllers are flipped upside down and strapped to the top of your hand, as you can see below.
It's not a control scheme that's used for every attraction in the VR Zone. Evangelion, for instance, mostly relies on head movement with two joysticks, while the skiing experience puts the player on a treadmill-like device, with two skis that swing and tilt.
What's most intriguing about the zone is that every setup uses HTC Vive equipment, but the visual quality differs quite wildly. Mario Kart VR, for instance, was clear as a bell. Adjusting the HTC Vive is a fairly simple process, and the fact that throwing items is dependent on your arm and not head movement helps with any nausea people might have.
For fun, there's also two NPCs - Bowser and Wario - and the VR element means you can wave your hands at opponents throughout the race. There's a little downtime before races start, which I took as an opportunity to start doing the Macarena in-game, obviously to the delight of someone in real life who I could hear pissing themselves laughing outside of the headset. (Everyone is also given a headset with microphone, and you're all connected to the same audio channel so you can banter throughout the race.)
There's no end-game ceremony, which is a shame given the other attractions usually have some kind of win/loss cinematic at the end. The VR game is built using the Unreal Engine, as are most of the attractions in the VR zone. It raises the question: if Nintendo somehow made peace with the idea, they could very easily sell Mario Kart VR on the Unreal Marketplace or Steam directly.
And they would make millions. Comfortably.
There's plenty of limitations, of course, and the game is far from a finished prospect. It's also not ready for the kind of setups VR users have at home - right now it's reliant on a racing rig, customised Vive controllers and four computers over a local network.
But the concept works, and bloody well at that. Should Nintendo ever decide to make Mario Kart VR a proper thing - and given they've made more advances in the last couple of years when it comes to embracing new IP and new platforms - they would make a disgusting amount of money. Scrooge McDuck-like levels.
For the record, the rest of the Shinjuku VR Zone is worth a visit too. Evangelion VR was a huge disappointment, but the winged bicycle ride was surprisingly entertaining - perhaps the best controller setup in the whole venue - and VR skiing was loads more fun than I expected.
They weren't as good as Mario Kart VR, of course. But then again, there's nothing really quite like Mario Kart.
The author travelled to Japan as part of a press tour for Wargaming. The Shinjuku VR Zone was unrelated to the tour, but it was nearby so it made sense to check it out.