Bandai Namco Debuts New Concept
Immersive Location, Dubbed “Amusement Theme Park,” Opens in Japan
by Kevin Williams, International Immersive Technology Special Correspondent
The immersive entertainment scene saw a major development with the July opening of the new project from Bandai Namco Amusement (BNA). Called Mazaria, this brand-new concept opened in Sunshine City, Ikebukuro, Tokyo, and embraces the concept of being “a place to enter animation and gaming.”
Mazaria was the culmination of considerable investment by BNA that can be traced back several years, but most recently spurred by developments in virtual reality. Mazaria is an installation in a retail venue split into multiple zones. At the lavish opening ceremony, the corporation showed off an entry marked by some of the largest dedicated presentations (they call it “Wall Mazaria”), running life-size recreations of classic video arcade titles from the extensive Bandai Namco game stable.
Within the location, ticketing turnstiles usher visitors into what has been described as an “Amusement Theme Park” with the venue was split into four areas: the SF Zone, Panic Zone, Adventure Zone and Festival Zone. These are comprised of virtual and physical immersive entertainment based on many of the lessons the company learned from its VR Zone deployment concepts developed by its Project-i-Can team.
Zeroing in on each area, the SF Zone is heavily influenced by major anime and movie intellectual properties, including the previously deployed Godzilla VR helicopter. The Panic Zone offers more adrenaline-fueled attractions, such as the seminal virtual, 200-meter walk-the-plank test of stamina, Maximum High Altitude Challenge. The zone also sees the reuse of proven platforms. Among them, the motion system used in its white-water rafting experience, which has been re-proportioned for a four-player zombie blaster called Hardcall.
In the Adventure Zone, players virtually experience extreme environments and challenges of the great outdoors within activities such as skiing, white-water rafting and fishing. This zone also houses Bandai Namco’s free-roam, multi-player, backpack PC experience, Dragon Quest VR, which is based on Square-Enix’s popular IP.
The Festival Zone offers a wide diversity of play based on Bandai Namco’s own IP, in addition to the licensing of Nintendo properties and the evergreen Mario Kart Arcade VR. Taking center stage here is Pac-Man, of course, featured in a physical merry-go-round called Pac-Man Go Round and a brand-new VR experience called Pac-Man Challenge VR . This two-player experience sees players using the Oculus Quest standalone headset to race around the iconic Pac-Man play-space, collecting power pills and avoiding ghosts in 256 seconds.
The Festival Zone also includes a unique crossover of an established video amusement property with Taiko no Tatsujin VR. This drum experience has special haptic VR controllers to offer feedback for the music rhythm game. BNA’s library of amusement content that has been given the VR treatment included its 1995 Alpine Racer, which has been metamorphosed into Ski Rodeo. The 1997 white-water rafting game, Rapid River, has been updated into the four-player extreme VR experience Rapid River VR (its launch was covered in RePlay’s JAEPO exhibition story in the March 2019 issue). By the way, the VR technology employed within the Mazaria venue is supplied in partnership with OculusVR and HTC, with the majority of the attractions using the HTC Vive Pro headset.
As seen with the VR Zone concept, marrying full hospitality elements and intense immersive adventures is a winning formula. Mazaria takes full advantage of that and offers its guests a full selection of food, sweets and alcoholic beverages to choose from, all themed to promote the gaming experience. (Among the items available are Pac-Man curry and Ghost drinks.) The play experience and F&B offerings are, of course, supported by a cadre of merchandise. The layout of the two-story facility also sees the placement of big screens and chances to interact with the four-player Pac-Man Battle Royale playing on a large screen.
This development is the most recent example of the commitment and resources BNA has put into the development of compelling amusement theme park experiences. Seen originally with Wonder Egg sites in the 1990s and with NamjaTown, Bandai Namco’s operation expanded into VR development with the Project-i-Can team. The team first developed the VR Zone facility concept, that was then expanded into the travelling VR Zone Portal sites. These grew from several Japanese installations to Western deployment in the U.K., France and one in the U.S. (a VR Zone Portal placed in the K1 site in Irvine, Calif.) Whether or not a global presence is planned for the Mazaria concept remains to be seen.
With the innovation built into this first Mazaria, Bandai Namco’s hope is to create a new evolution of the amusement theme park approach, making a retail-zoned entertainment offering that maximizes the opportunity from the latest VR technology and acts as a vehicle to promote game properties. Based on the reaction to this first site, expect other venues to open across the Asian territories, and possibly see landfall in the U.S. BNA has already been re-investing in the development of its chain of entertainment venues in the West under the Pac-Man Entertainment brand, as seen with the re-design of their previous Level 257 location in Chicago. Further developments are expected soon.
Kevin Williams is a leading authority in the digital out-of-home entertainment industry through his consultancy KWP Limited and specializes in interactive entertainment. He’s had an extensive career in the theme park, amusement and entertainment software industries, and was once a Walt Disney Imagineer. Kevin is well known for his news service, The Stinger Report, that he boasts “has become a-must-read for those working or investing in the international market.” He is a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market and is a frequent presenter of conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of what he says is the only book on this aspect of the market, The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier, and is working on the next edition, scheduled for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at [email protected]