I mentioned in the last post that we’d have another Location Based Entertainment Virtual Reality (LBE-VR for those that don’t want to spout that mouthful every time) piece to discuss today, and here we are. This one comes to us from Japan, and Bandai Namco Amusements’ latest efforts to bolster VR gaming through their VR Zones, particularly at two different locations in Japan. One is at the existing VR Zone in Osaka, the other is a facility called MAZARIA, which opens in July. Last night, BNA Japan posted several videos to promote this new location, with some arcade-related items of interest to look at. We’ll start with the main promo and go from there.
Heads-up that this is a media heavy post. Thanks to Kevin Williams for clearing up a couple of things on MAZARIA and providing this image.
Let’s call this the “Date Night Promo”
Now for one of the games – Galaga Fever. Galaga carries with it instant recognition, and this particular game feels like it came straight out of the movie Pixels. I’m sure fans of the Galaxian 3 Theater wouldn’t mind an adaptation of this into a theater arcade format:
feels a little weird to have Galaga but not Pac-Man, so they’ve taken care of that too with Pac-Man Challenge. This is essentially a modern update to the clunky Pac-Man VR from 1996, although from the 7 second clip they’ve posted online(but not to YouTube), it is a little odd to be navigating the maze and grabbing the power pellets instead of eating them. They’ve drastically reduced the size of the mazes too, probably to help tone down the difficulty of Pac-Man when it comes to the first person. Another unique aspect of this compared to the other games that BNA has been running is that this will use the new Oculus Quest (HTC Vives have been the primary system used in most LBE VR systems, as Oculus thought it was a good idea to restrict their hardware from commercial use for the longest time):
Next up is an official return of a game you might have played in the late 1990’s when it was new, Rapid River. The goal is the same – work together to reach the goal on the river, avoiding obstacles along the way. In addition to the VR aspect of it, they also feature up to four players, although you really have to work at it for proper rowing as they are face back-to-back. I do wonder why they didn’t integrate the controllers into some oar shells, and it doesn’t appear there is any water mist (probably to protect the electronics, being HTC Vive’s, they weren’t designed as water proof), but this one looks like fun:
Here’s another one that definitely is influenced/inspired by another Namco classic, but I don’t see the name “Prop Cycle” anywhere. This one re-configures some exercise bikes for use with the in-game foot-powered hang glider. Like Prop Cycle, it does appear to use fans to create a realistic wind-in-your-face effect, although they don’t show the fans directly, so I could be wrong about that:
I don’t know if this one can count for a reboot/remake, but watching the movement in VR-AT (the AT standing for Armored Trooper…feel free to inform me if this is based on a specific IP) reminds me a lot of Cyber Sled:
Alpine Racer was rebooted a few years ago, so that might be why they decided not to tack the AP name onto Ski Rodeo. As you can probably imagine before even clicking on this, it’s a VR skiing simulator:
They also are bringing the popular Japanese drumming game, Taiko No Tatsujin to VR, but for some reason they did not do a showcase video on that one yet. You can see a page about it here however; and here’s a pic of the controllers. They are definitely challenging Beat Saber with this, but as someone pointed out on social media, most of the fun of Taiko is hitting those enormous drums, so without that it loses something.
While reboots & remakes are fun and all for their recognition, I am intrigued by original efforts and what new, creative ideas they bring to the table. The first of those is Hard Call, a title that reminds me a little of the ol’ Project Hades 8-player game that was designed for the non-VR ride known as Valkyrie. Hard call appears to be another zombie shooting romp, but by what I understand, one of the four players in this one becomes a zombie and you have to deal with that in some manner. The trailer does show them donning VR headsets at first, then it switches to non-VR play, but I think that’s just for the trailer.
Next up is everybody’s favorite radioactive lizard, Godzilla, with Godzilla VR. The IP aside, what I find interesting here is the Steel Talons vibe. It’s been quite a while since we had any kind of helicopter themed game grace the arcade scene, although one thing to note is that none of these games are slated for a wide release right now, just sticking to Namco’s VR Zones (and not guaranteed to reach all of them, at that).
Along those lines of giants and licenses, they also have a Gundam experience where you appear to ride along with a Gundam after gawking at a model of it.
If riding with a Gundam or chasing Godzilla down isn’t your thing, then there’s always Evangelion.
Back in the 90’s when various arcade game makers were attempting to create fishing simulators in arcades, Namco didn’t really get on board with that (the one exception I know of being Angler King, which I’ve never seen in the West). Now they get to make up for it with VR Fishing Gijesta.
And last but not least, you can say what you will about VR, it’s certainly allowed us to jump way ahead in terms of Jump Scare technology
Of course, this is fun and interesting and all, but at the end of the day, shows a weakness of VR for widespread use – none of these systems are looking at a worldwide release so far. You can’t even experience all of these if you do go to a VR ZONE, as they haven’t been rolled out to every VRZ location.
Even if they were mass produced and released for other centers to buy, they only work for FEC (Family Entertainment Center) locations and budgets, being attractions and not arcade games. You’re not going to find a 7-11 or unattended movie theater lobby throwing a Rapid River VR into the corner. I know that Namco isn’t the only major arcade manufacturer looking at VR right now, and that makes sense given the relative success of Hologate, so everyone is hoping to get a slice of that pie while it’s hot. But like we saw at IAAPA 2018, there are so many companies hoping to be that one system that everyone goes for, that it’s a tall order to be noticed in the sea. I think if Namco were to make a bigger move on these systems that they would get noticed, since they have the names and have been proving the tech. But we’ll have to wait and see if it goes that far.