Proclaimed as the world’s “first hyper-reality tour,” The Marvel Experience allows fans to fully engage in a highly engrossing environment that geeks of all ages can enjoy. Since its December 2014 debut in Phoenix, Marvel enthusiasts have been able to join their favorite superheroes including Iron Man, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Black Widow, The Hulk, and more into this one of a kind adventure. On the third leg of its four city tour, we were granted access to The Marvel Experience here in San Diego. Find out how well we managed S.H.I.E.L.D. recruitment after the break.
Since the 2009 acquisition, the comics conglomerate has integrated itself into many aspects of Disney’s culture. From heroes appearing on Disney cruise liners to their very own, successful Disney Animation Studios feature (Big Hero 6), Marvel has been sitting on cloud nine. And within The Marvel Experience, you can definitely feel Disney’s influence as they bring the total package. Among the number of interactive activities, including multi-person gaming, augmented reality, wall-climbing, a motion ride, and a 360-degree projection dome, this truly feels like an extension that could be seen at Disneyland.
As we embarked on the journey as fresh recruits, eager to join the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. – or Hydra depending on how you look at it – our first task was to register at the Mobile Command Center to set up the opportunity to purchase our very own S.H.I.E.L.D. badge at the Marvel shop once we completed our “training.” The Marvel Experience is not just a playground for fans to take part of, but rather the opportunity to become integrated within an original Marvel story.
Once debriefed on the issue at hand – the Red Skull, Madame Hydra, and M.O.D.O.K. have unleashed the Super Adaptoid – it is our duty to train up and take down this new threat alongside the Avengers. Heading into the Analysis Lab, where the Super Adaptoid is being held in containment, the fun begins. In addition to an interactive, touch screen game, there are other areas in the lab that allow guests to learn more about their favorite characters. Behind glass displays there are some really cool, scaled replicas of weapons from both our heroes (Black Panther, Falcon, Thor, etc.) and the villains (Loki, Bullseye, Green Goblin, etc.). There is also a Classified Files area that showcases some classic cover art.
Pushing past the Analysis Lab, our training begins. Through selected feats of skill and strength, recruits can choose from one of five areas to participate in: an agility laser maze, shooting range, a wall-climbing apparatus, Iron Man flight simulator, and a Hulk smash game.
The Iron Man simulator and Hulk smash area are both limiting as they are short games that tracked your movement via Xbox Kinect. Based on how well the Kinect registers your motion, the experience can either end up very poorly or just mediocre. Needless to say, it didn’t really give the feeling of being Tony Stark or The Hulk. However, the other three interactive experiences are quite enjoyable.
The Holo-Blaster training is sort of like that Buzz Lightyear ride where you need to rack up as many points as possible by aiming your gun at various targets on the projected 3D video screen. Given a heroes welcome, we’re tasked to obliterate various objects projected villains toss in our way. This can become a bit difficult because when the gun is fire your number appears on the screen, along with about 20 other recruits numbers. It can be disorienting and hard to see where you are aiming. There aren’t any prizes if you make the top three, but they do recognize the winners at the end of the training.
Then we have the wall-climbing apparatus with Spider-Man vs. Venom, controlled by a Marvel Experience staff member. Whether you choose easy or intermediate, this wall-climb goes as fast as your limits allow. I chose the intermediate level that actually has those fake rock climbing anchors to grip on to. It moved a lot faster than I had expected it to, but it could be due to my height. If you’re short it may make for a better time. It’s a bit rickety, but a good physical challenge that gets the blood pumping.
And finally we have the Agility Maze, my favorite of the entire training course. If you’ve ever seen a spy movie where the hero has to navigate through a room of lasers, this is a dream come true. There are four difficulty levels: easy, medium, hard, and expert; I chose hard. The higher the level, the more lasers will be blocking your path from the three buttons you must hit in order to complete this room. Recruits are timed to see how fast they can press the buttons without hitting any lasers; hit a laser and time is added to your score. Placing first in this difficulty level, I was agile enough to make it through in 111 seconds and tripping only two lasers. Something I took notice is that you could feel really self-conscious about your weight. The higher the difficulty the closer the lasers were to each other, leaving very little room for someone of a heavier build to manage.
Once we had our fill of the training area – you could try different simulators multiple times – as well as the stench of stale popcorn, it was off to the 360 degree projection dome. With 3D glasses in tow, the video projection in the dome is very well done. This is our final part of our training, the Simularium, where Iron Fist and She-Hulk provide a projected simulation of Wolverine, Captain America, Vision, Black Panther, and Black Widow entering the Red Skull’s secret lair. Unfortunately, things don’t go as well as planned and our villains rain on the parade, so we must move to the next room to avoid danger.
Having to swivel our heads and bodies to take in every aspect of the story is a unique audience experience. The video projection is great, but the 3D glasses are very one size fits all and can be difficult to wear for some. And the fact that the video is projected above everyone, you’re head is tilted upwards for a good five minutes, which left me with a pretty strained neck.
Moving into the final portion of The Marvel Experience, we come to the motion ride – no 3D glasses required thankfully. Again, the Disney influence can be felt here as this huge dome consists of a seated simulator that tilts and shakes while blasting air into your face; this is suppose to replicate the experience of being in a S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinjet as we take on the Super Adaptoid who has escaped the Analysis Lab. Apart from one jolt of motion under my butt that took me by surprise, this motion ride is fairly entertaining. It’s definitely more suited toward the younger audience, but anyone can still have fun with an open mind.
With the Super Adaptoid defeated, and our villains locked up in containment tubes, we are accepted as new agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into a giant Marvel shop full of comics, t-shirts, figurines, collectibles, and more. The coolest offering is a 3D printer, where you could get your picture taken and they would make a 3D mold of you standing next to a Marvel hero.
Overall, The Marvel Experience is enjoyable for fans of all ages. The whole shebang took about two and a half hours or so. Aside from the unenthusiastic staff who are suppose to pretend they are agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Marvel Experience ensures that everything along your path feels like you’re part of the story. Although entertaining for the most part, the value will really depend on how much you love Marvel. Depending on whether you choose the VIP package or a general admission ticket, it could seem rather pricey based on how much theme parks cost these days. There are also lines you’ll have to stand in like a theme park within the training center if you come at a busy time. As the first of its kind, The Marvel Experience does a wonderful job engulfing fans into its world, but for the price and the time spent, there definitely could be more to do and better options for interactivity.
The Marvel Experience is currently taking place in Del Mar, CA up until February 22. The next, and final stop on the tour, will be in San Francisco from March 4 to March 22. Tickets can be purchased online through the official website.
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