Thursday, September 20, 2007

Tokyo Day 2 - Sega Joypolis

Our main reason for going back to Odaiba tonight was the Sega Joypolis. If you're not familiar with this place, read a bit about it in my last trip report here. To sum it up, it's a small amusement park that specializes in virtual reality rides. We went for about an hour last year, and that was barely enough to sample it. Today, we bought a day pass and basically did everything that looked interesting.

I really can't recommend this place highly enough! I love it. I don't know if I'd call it a substitute for a real amusement park, but it's pretty close, and in some ways it's actually better. For example, there were more people there today than the last time we were there, but still, the line waits for rides only ever reached about 20 minutes. I've been to real amusement parks where I've only actually managed to go on three rides all day because of the crowds. Today, we did about ten rides in five hours.

Some of the highlights:

* Spin Bullet - a real (not VR) "wild mouse" style spinning roller coaster. It was closed last time we were there, but it was open tonight. My wife almost got sick on this ride, but I loved it. It's one of those roller coasters that looks like a kiddie ride from outside (well, except for the fact that it's enclosed in a completely darkened room), but gets really pretty scary once you're on it. I'll put it this way: they make you empty your pockets before you get on this ride, because your possessions otherwise will end up being flung out of the car.

* The "Wild" series of VR rides - Wild River Splash, Wild Jungle Brothers, and Wild Wings. These all follow basically the same template - put a bunch of people in a VR vehicle of some sort and give them a "wild" experience centered around a theme. In Wild River Splash, you're in a raft that's being thrown down waterfalls, into the middle of a raging, stormy ocean, and finally off a cliff. In Wild Jungle Brothers, you get a similar experience but in an off-road vehicle. And in Wild Wings, the theme is flight. The realism is pretty amazing, especially in Wild River Splash, and there's a lot of humor in the presentation (the "Wild" theme is intentionally cheesy).

* Half-Pipe Canyon - check out this video:

The idea is to score points by collectively (you and your partner) pressing a foot switch at the right time, which spins your board around as you reach the top of the half-pipe climb. It sounds simple but it's really hard in practice! And too much fun! It's not that the timing is difficult or anything, it's that the G-forces are such that it is just physically really hard to actually press that switch when you need to, and especially to do it at the same time as the person you're with. The most points we managed tonight was 34 - the top scorer of the evening had 55.

* Sky Cruising - this was the one ride we made it on in our earlier trip, and I still think it's one of the best at Joypolis. It really gives you a workout! We did better in the race this time, too - 43rd place!

There are a lot of other attractions that we enjoyed, but those are the best ones. Here are a few photos of some of the rest:

I really never saw the appeal in VR rides before visiting Joypolis the first time, and especially the second time. The best of them really do give you a pretty full experience, not to mention a physical workout. The "Wild" rides really toss you around pretty good, and at least the first time through, they're realistic enough that they're sometimes genuinely scary. With real water being splashed on you, a cold wind being blown at you and high-res, high-def graphics surrounding you as your vehicle twists and turns on a gimbal, it's easier than you'd think for your mind to get tricked on some instinctual level into believing you're going over a real cliff.

There were a lot more people at Joypolis this time than last, which was nice to see. It was still mostly young couples - this really is a great date place! Almost every ride basically requires you to work with or at least have a partner. And there are no gender-specific attractions anywhere - every single attraction in Joypolis seems like it could be equally well enjoyed by both men and women.

The weird thing is that the way the place is designed, it almost always looks deserted in pictures. Trust me, there were thousands of people there tonight. Most of the lines are behind facades, and most of the common gathering areas are hidden behind things like UFO catcher setups, so it's almost impossible to capture more than a few people in any given photo.

There is some wasted space in the small arena that I hope they address. The "Medal Zone", which consists mostly of gambling table games, only ever had one or two people in it while we were there. And there are several VR attractions that are clearly duds. Never saw anybody in line at the Aquarena, for example, which is no surprise considering it's described in the brochure as a virtual aquarium. I felt a yawn coming on even as I wrote that sentence. There's also a cafe on the top floor that looks visually interesting but has had a real hard time attracting anyone to eat both times we were there. The idea makes sense - give people a themed cafe so they don't need to leave Joypolis if they're hungry - but maybe it's the placement, or the food, or the design, but we never saw one person in there. We thought about trying it ourselves at one point, but then felt a little strange about being the only people to do so.

But it's still pretty amazing to see what can be done in such a compact space. I'd love to see this idea tried in the United States. Any investors ready to take a chance?

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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