Mario Kart VR is finally in the UK and it’s amazing, here’s how and where you can play
Mario Kart VR is real and, even better, it’s finally available to play in the UK. Yes, that’s right, Japan is no longer the only place in the world where you can enjoy the delights of Mario Kart VR, instead, you can head on down to the Hollywood Bowl at the O2, Greenwich Peninsula, and immerse yourself in all manner of Mario Kart antics.
Needless to say, there’s no better way to settle the age-old dispute of who’s best at Mario Kart than by literally becoming Mario, Luigi, Peach or Yoshi and duking it out in VR.
If like us, you’re buzzing to play Mario Kart VR and want to absorb every morsel of information about it, we’ve got you covered. Below you’ll find everything we know about Mario Kart VR and our impressions of having gone hands-on with Mario and co ourselves. Spoiler: It’s stupidly good fun.
Mario Kart VR UK: What is Mario Kart VR?
Launched in Japan at Bandai Namco’s VR Zone in Shinjuku, Tokyo, last year, Mario Kart VR is Mario Kart but in VR, played with an HTC Vive headset and Vive Trackers. Developed by Bandai Namco, under licence from Nintendo, it’s not the same experience as the Bandai-made Mario Kart DX arcade experience. In fact, it’s more like Mario Kart 64 in terms of pure, unadulterated experience, but now entirely in VR.
If you’re wondering what makes Mario Kart VR so special if it came out over a year ago, it’s that this is the first time it’s ever been made available outside of Japan. London is now the first place in the world – aside from Tokyo – where you can play Mario Kart entirely in VR.
In time it’s likely we’ll see Mario Kart VR spread to other European cities and, eventually, make its way to the US. Until then, London’s Hollywood Bowl at the O2 Greenwich is where you need to head to play. Shortly after there are also going to be locations in both Leeds and Tunbridge Wells Hollywood Bowl outlets.
Mario Kart VR review: What is it like to play?
Understandably, you’re probably wondering just what Mario Kart VR is like to play. Those of you who have played Mario Kart DX, the arcade version of Mario Kart, before will be somewhat familiar with the initial premise of Mario Kart VR.
You sit in a kart seat complete with steering wheel and pedals, and you play by simply driving around a course as you would do with almost any other arcade racer. The difference here, however, is that you’ll be wearing an HTC Vive VR on your head, complete with a Vive Tracker strapped to each hand. The kart seats you’re sat in aren’t just standard seats either, they move to replicate bumps and weapon hits, they’ll vibrate softly to emulate the hum of your kart’s engine and, mounted just above the steering wheel, is a fan that blows air into your face to replicate the feeling of acceleration or gliding while playing.
To pick your character you don’t visit a big virtual character select screen, instead you fight it out between you and your mates before you jump into your karts. Each kart is assigned to an individual racer, meaning you can pick from Mario, Luigi, Peach or Yoshi. It’s unclear if each character’s stats actually translate over into this VR experience, but as all four are middleweight racers anyway, it’s a generally even playing field.
It won’t just be your four racing each other though, both Wario (who’s the best Mario Kart character, according to science) and Bowser join the fray as computer-controlled players. Thankfully, they seem to be there simply for a bit of entertainment and target practice as, every time I played, they seem to drop towards the back of the pack in the final stages of a race.
Not that this cheapens the experience, you’ll spend the opening few moments of play gawping at everything around you and coming to grips with just how Mario Kart VR feels like to play. There’s no jumping or drifting here, and steering is nowhere near as twitchy as Mario Kart pros would probably like. However, it all feels rather natural – at least as natural as racing in the Mushroom Kingdom can be – once you get into the swing of things.
Kart control isn’t the only thing to have changed in Mario Kart VR either, as Bandai Namco has decided to switch up how you pick up items too. Instead of mysterious item boxes to drive through, items float across the track attached to balloons. Using your hands you can reach out and grab them, holding them above your head and driving one-handed before simply throwing them at your opponent. Needless to say, it feels incredible. And far more like you’re actually involved in the action than pressing a button to fire off a Green Shell.
There’s a whole host of other little gameplay tweaks and changes, alongside some easter eggs, tucked away inside Mario Kart VR. To reveal them all would just be cruel, but it’s safe to say that not only is this the most immersive Mario Kart experience you’ll have, it’s one of the most impressive VR experiences currently available in the UK.
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Mario Kart VR UK release date and locations:
Mario Kart VR released in the UK on 3 August and is only available to play in specific locations throughout the country.
Currently, you can play Mario Kart VR at the VR Zone in Hollywood Bowl, The O2 on Greenwich Peninsula.
At an unspecified time later this year, Mario Kart VR will also launch at VR Zones in Hollywood Bowl Tunbridge Wells and Hollywood Bowl Leeds.
Bandai Namco, HTC Vive and Hollywood Bowl have not currently announced any other UK or European locations for Mario Kart VR.
Mario Kart VR UK download:
If you’re hoping to download Mario Kart VR to play at home with your own HTC Vive or Oculus Rift setup, you’re going to be sorely disappointed as it appears Bandai Namco has no plans to release it to the public. Currently, the only way to play is at dedicated VR Zones across the UK or in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
One reason Mario Kart VR may not be coming to Steam or the Oculus Store is to do with licensing issues. Mario Kart is, clearly, a Nintendo IP but Mario Kart VR has been developed under licence by Bandai Namco for arcade purposes. A home release would need to be published by Nintendo and they’re not in the business of VR, yet.