Bandai Namco brings anime to life with virtual reality park
Indoor facility in Tokyo looks to wow visitors with 'Dragonball' and Mario
HIROMI SATO and YOSHINO SAKURAI, Nikkei staff writers
TOKYO -- A new virtual reality amusement center opened Friday in Tokyo's Shinjuku district. The operator, Bandai Namco Entertainment, has incorporated popular characters such as Goku of the "Dragon Ball" anime series and Mario from the "Mario Kart" video game into the center's attractions.
For Bandai Namco, the goal is to generate revenue and give its amusement parks business a lift. Previously, it opened pop-up VR entertainment sites in Tokyo's Odaiba district and elsewhere. The permanent indoor park, VR Zone Shinjuku, is the largest of its kind in Japan.
On Wednesday, a private preview of the 3,500-sq.-meter space and its 96 VR machines was held.
"Dragon Ball VR: Master the Kamehameha" drew particular attention from visitors. Players don headsets and headphones, beginning a journey in which they learn how to cast "Kamehamaha waves" -- a type of energy beam that Goku, the main character of "Dragon Ball," uses to attack his enemies.
Guided by Goku, players stand with feet apart, hands on hips. Flames leap from the players' palms. As tremors build, the players thrust their hands forward, shooting out the waves and shattering rocks in the distance.
Vibrations in the floor and sound from the headsets that respond to the players' actions enhance the sense of realism. The "Dragon Ball" adventure attraction lasts 7 around minutes, including the time needed to put on the VR gear. The park's other attractions run for about as long.
For the "Hanechari," or winged bicycle, attraction, Bandai Namco uses balloon-like equipment under the ride to enhance the sensation that the rider is on a flying bicycle. It also makes use of the standard VR headsets and headphones.
The company is trying to squeeze more profit from its intellectual property, including characters like Goku, through the new amusement park, aiming to draw 1 million visitors to Shinjuku by March 2019. If it succeeds, it will buck the generally slumping trend for theme parks in Japan. Admission to VR Zone Shinjuku is 4,400 yen ($38.95) and includes access to four attractions.
According to the Japan Amusement Machinery Manufacturers Association, aggregate sales at amusement facilities in Japan fell for eight consecutive years through 2014. Sales in 2015 rose to 433 billion yen, thanks mainly to the renewed popularity of crane games, in which players grab prizes from a bin using a mechanical arm. But that upturn seems unlikely to last.
Hopes in the industry are growing that as VR devices improve, more people may return to amusement facilities.