It sounds crazy, but some of the most fun you’ll have in the city right now is tucked away in the downstairs food court in Union Station.
Crammed in the seating area between Johnny Rockets and Subway is VR Zone Portal, a pop-up virtual reality arcade. If the words “virtual reality” bring to mind big, goofy-looking headsets and people stumbling around, grabbing at empty air, you’ve got the right idea.
But this arcade has something the U.S. has never seen before—virtual reality Mario Kart—and we’re the first city to get to play it. If you’ve ever wished you could actually throw a shell at your friends after a round of Mario Kart this is 100% for you.
I was cautiously optimistic about this place. It doesn’t really look like much when you first see it: a temporary booth surrounded by food court tables, but the games inside are an absolute blast. The VR Zone Portal offers three games: Mario Kart, Ski Rodeo and Argyle Shift. Ski Rodeo is a downhill skiing game where players stand on a treadmill-like machine designed to make you feel like you’re actually on skis. Argyle Shift puts you at the helm of a giant robot battling another giant robot, Pacific Rim style.
But the crown jewel of these games by far is Mario Kart. To play, you are seated in what looks like a go kart with no wheels. You have a steering wheel, gas pedal and a brake pedal. There are four karts total, so try to bring three friends along for the ride. But don’t worry. Just like normal Mario Kart, the game is plenty exciting with just two people. Bowser and Wario join the game as computer players bringing the total number of racers up to 6. Once you’ve picked your kart, the employees set you up with a VR headset and slip sensors on your hands. This means the game can register your hand movements and you can see where your hands are in the game.
Once the game starts, it really does feel like you’re on the track. You can feel the kart engine vibrate. You can look around in all directions. You reach out, grab items as they pass and physically throw them at your friends and the computer players. Or, in the case of one item, swing your arm up and down to smash everyone in front of you with a hammer. Even though you are in the middle of Union Station, surrounded by people, you can’t hear any of the bustle once the headset is on; you’re totally immersed in the game. It feels enough like actual go karting that I stayed far away from the walls on either side of the course, afraid of crashing. The race is incredibly engaging and the whole game is non-stop excitement.
It costs $10 per player for a round of Mario Kart, which sounds steep considering the game is only 5 minutes long, but it really doesn’t feel short, somehow. For an experience you and your friends will be talking about for ages and the right to brag to your out of town buddies, it’s worth $10. VR Zone Portal is going away in March, so make sure you don’t miss it!
If you want to keep up with the hidden fun, check out these local dive bars that are rumored to be some of the best kept secrets in DC.
View More Articles By Claire Smith
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