For anime fans across the globe, one of the most popular tourist spots is the life-sized Gundam in Tokyo. But what you may not know is that there are other mecha only a few dozen yards away that you can pilot yourself–well, in VR anyway.
In Zepp DiverCity, the building next to the life-size Gundam, lies VR ZONE Project i Can. Providing a collection of VR experiences from horror to sports, there are two that even put you in the pilot’s seat of a giant robot.
The first of these is ARMED TROOPER VOTOMS Battling Dudes, a one-on-one fighting game where you square off against another player inside their own mecha.
Like all the attractions at VR ZONE Project i Can, VOTOMS uses the HTC Vive. But instead of the Vive’s normal controller, VOTOMS has a special hydraulic pilot’s chair along with two pedals and a dual joystick setup.
But before you climb into the virtual pilot’s seat, you first get to use a different Vive to see your mecha as it sits in the hanger being prepared. After a minute of this, you are guided over to the pilot’s chair and begin the game.
The game itself, with its twin stick setup, controls a lot like classic mecha arcade title Virtual-On: going left on both sticks causes your mecha to strafe left while pushing one stick forward and the other back cause you to rotate in place. Aiming is done via head movement: All you need to do is look directly at your rival and pull the trigger to lob shots at them, with the right joystick trigger sending bullets and the left (massively powerful) missiles.
But the coolest aspect of the mecha in VOTOMS is that, much like the mecha in classic anime Code Geass, they are on wheels. By pressing the right pedal, you are able to boost your mecha off in the direction you are moving and then turn around and shoot behind you as you continue rolling across the ground.
The actual battle takes place on a foggy night in a parking lot-type area with an overpass bisecting the map right down the middle. You and your opponent begin on opposite sides of the map, hidden from each other by the fog. Then you begin your respective attacks as you dash across the area.
While the game is listed as taking eight minutes, the actual play time is how long it takes for you to complete two battles. So, in the worst case, two direct missile hits could end each round in seconds. If you ever get a chance to play it yourself, I suggest making a gentleman’s agreement with your opponent to use the normal gun only, to maximize both play time and fun.
The second mecha piloting game at VR ZONE Project i Can is called Argyle Shift. Rather than a true mecha simulator like VOTOMS, Argyle Shift is a plot-heavy rail shooter.
After putting on the Vive and climbing into a hydraulic pilot’s chair similar to the one in VOTOMS, you take the role of a test pilot for a new mecha. Beside you in the cockpit is the mecha’s AI, a cute anime girl in a revealing costume that seems to be around three feet tall.
The AI girl is the key aspect of the experience. As you go from being loaded into the mecha for a high orbital drop to high-speed flying combat, she is always by your side–literally, as the cockpit has a little virtual chair for her next to your own. As the seven-minute-long game goes on, she gives a constant running commentary while doing surprisingly cute things, like floating into the air as the mecha drops or trying to rest her hand on your arm before you do something dangerous. This leads into the oddest aspect of Argyle Shift: as the AI girl has no concept of personal space, her close proximity at points can feel uncomfortable, even though it’s virtual reality.
With the focus on your AI partner as much as piloting a mecha, Argyle Shift is more like a truly interactive anime episode than a game. While you do have some control–you lock onto enemies by looking at them and pull the triggers to shoot–the plot is predetermined and you can’t actually lose.
Moreover, Argyle Shift has quite the anime pedigree with Shinji Aramaki (Appleseed) as director, mecha designed by Takayuki Yanase (Gundam 00, Ghost in the Shell Arise, Valvrave the Liberator), and a world/scenario designed by anime studio Production I.G.
If you’ve ever wanted to be inside an anime, Argyle Shift is about as close as you’re likely to get at this point.
Unfortunately, VR ZONE Project i Can will be closing up shop in just a few days, on October 10, 2016. However, if you’re in Japan and want to try it out for yourself, you can try and make a reservation at the official website (Japanese Only).
©BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment Inc.