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Mario Kart VR is everything virtual reality should be

Plus you get to marvel at Bowser's giant behind.


In a proper arcade, VR shines.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

There's something surprisingly enjoyable about looking around and seeing Bowser's giant, angry face bearing down at you like a stampeding bull with a steroid addiction.

That's the situation I found myself in when I tried Mario Kart VR in a London arcade for the first time -- and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Here's how it worked:

Four driving seats with steering wheels and pedals are set up in the arcade. I climbed into seat number four and was fitted with tracking sensors on my hands and an HTC Vive headset with headphones. Almost immediately I was transformed. Gone were my familiar hands on the wheel -- in their place, large green mitts. I had become Yoshi. 

As I moved my head, I could look around the virtual world. I looked to my left and saw the other players (mostly journalists also attending the launch event) looking around too -- or at least, I watched as Peach, Luigi and Mario looked around.

I prepared for the race to start, but before the lights turned green two bigger characters barged their way to the front of the queue, arrogant cackles in tow. It was Bowser and Mario's evil counterpart, Wario.

As the lights turned from red to green I slammed my foot down on the accelerator, determined to beat the cheating duo. The thing is though, when you play Mario Kart on your TV at home, Bowser looks like nothing more than a slightly bulky nuisance. As I watched him in his giant vehicle barge past me, his immense frame towering above me, taking him on was a somewhat more daunting idea.

I suppose I owe the smaller characters an apology for the years I've forced them to race up against gargantuan monsters, armed with nothing but a banana skin. Only now do I realize what I put them through.

Banana skins do, of course, make an appearance. Only now, they hang above the racetrack for you to physically reach up and take one down before hurling it to the track. The same goes for green shells (chuck them at your rivals) and red hammers (smash them to bits).


Players were fitted with tracking sensors on their hands and an HTC Vive headset with headphones.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Mario Kart has been a staple of many people's living rooms for years, but VR has given it a new twist. It's been made even more immersive by the addition of proper racing wheels, pedals and mechanized seats that buck and jiggle.

And it's that immersion that VR has promised all along, but has never quite managed to deliver at home. This wasn't just me playing a bit of Mario Kart. I felt like I was Yoshi, face-to-face against the other characters. It's an immensely fun experience, and that's exactly what VR should be -- an experience. 

I have an HTC Vive set at home, but it's rarely used. The home is not where VR is at its best. I'm endlessly knocking over the tracking sensors in my living room. But here, in a proper arcade, it shines. There's enough room for it to work properly and, importantly, there are technicians on hand to do all the busy stuff, leaving you to enjoy the ride. 

Enjoying VR as an experience is amazing. I still see huge potential in the platform for both gaming in arcades and educating in schools. But it's no longer something I'm excited about owning. 

In the UK you'll find Mario Kart VR in the arcade within Hollywood Bowl at the O2 in London. It's also going to be set up in arcades in Leeds and Tunbridge Wells. Outside of the UK it's available in Japan, but whether it reaches US or Australian shores isn't yet clear.

I don't encourage you to spend hundreds on a Vive headset, not to mention the thousands you'll need for a gaming rig. However, if you find yourself near an arcade that has Mario Kart VR set up, I absolutely urge you to give it a spin at any cost. I promise the slight VR nausea will pass.

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