Sandbox VR Is A Virtual-Reality Experience in Roseville and Eden Prairie

June 2, 2022 | Twin Cities Geek | Portfolio
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A few months ago, I journeyed to Roseville to check out a relatively new VR experience in town: Sandbox VR. I’ve been a VR enthusiast ever since I sampled the HTC Vive back in 2015 and was hooked once I bought a PSVR. Admittedly, I’ve let some of that VR play lapse in favor of recent next-gen gems such as Horizon Zero Dawn and Halo Infinite. I tend to enjoy these immersive VR experiences a bit more than my home environment because it provides an opportunity to get a few friends together in a more cost-efficient way than investing in a great VR set.
When I first entered Sandbox VR and ascended the escalators, I was greeted by Brian Clonkey, store manager of the Roseville location, who ushered me through the available VR titles. There were several VR experiences available at the time of my playing, including a pirate adventure (Curse of Davy Jones), a space adventure (Amber Sky 2088), a classic Star Trek game where you command the bridge of a galaxy-class starship from star command (Star Trek Discovery), and a classic zombie horde experience (Deadwood Mansion). Since I was a fan of the Resident Evil and House of the Dead franchises, I had to give Deadwood Mansion a whirl. There were several difficulty options leveling up to a hard mode, but since this was my first experience, I opted for the normal level of difficulty.
Clonkey helped get me strapped into the suit and introduced me to Deadwood Mansion. These suits were seemingly not as advanced as those from my experience at Enter the Void, most notably with less haptic feedback, which allowed me to feel the impact of a hit or blast. But the upside to the lessened technology was a lighter-weight suit. As we entered the game, the weight of the vest seemingly disappeared as my brain substituted the VR suit for the tactical vest the characters of Deadwood Mansion wear. While suiting up, I was given the option of an assault rifle–type weapon or dual pistols. I opted for the assault rifle to match what I was most used to from playing Halo. While waiting for the game to load in the virtual lobby, I saw my digital self in the mirror and checked the responsiveness of the VR system by moving, shifting my weight and waving at the camera, noticing my digital avatar respond in kind. That made for lots of fun checking out how the in-game element responds to your bodily movement and some great test poses with the rifle in hand.
The game loaded up and we were transported to a decrepit mansion eerily reminiscent of the mansion from Resident Evil 1. Our mission was simple, as the in-game voice announced over our headphones: stop an evil doctor at the mansion and take him out before he could finish his experiments. Of course, these experiments were former humans who had been reincarnated as hordes of zombies. The first wave of these creatures involved the slow-moving variety like House of Dead and Resident Evil, but they dropped in from random places in the ceiling, broke through walls, and popped up unexpectedly, which made for some good jumpy moments as I played and also made these creatures more challenging. On top of this, there were creatures that would leap down from the ceiling with acid-like tongues, rats that would jump up from the floor and attack (which would provide feedback from the suit), and these heavy lumbering creatures that would deal out a great deal of damage.
One cool effect I really enjoyed was the ability to shoot rats off your partner. This highlighted the interactivity of the environment. You could shoot walls and see the feedback, shoot the floor, the chandelier from the ceiling, etc. During down moments, I enjoyed rifling a shot or two off at the environment around me to see how it would respond. Deadwood Mansion was not too difficult, although my partner and I were knocked down a couple of times and required healing. Like Call of Duty, there was an element of in-game healing where the in-game character would be knocked down. Once near death, the alive in-game player would need to touch the shoulder of the other player. This would deploy an in-game med pack getting them back in the battle. At times, this was difficult as my partner or I would fall while hordes of zombies attacked at the same time. I won’t spoil the ending, but the end boss was satisfying and not too difficult, especially if you’ve played these types of Resident Evil/House of the Dead–style games in the past.
As we ended the experience, one of the things that made this different was the postgame recap. After playing, I was able to watch a video trailer or summary of my experience live on video, which included highlights of the physical and digital me fighting off zombies, all of my key stats, accuracy, points, zombies killed, and which of the two of us was the MVP of the match. The videos and images are emailed out directly and can be shared on social media, put out on Twitch, or downloaded for later viewing. On top of this, there will eventually be a place where you can grab a drink, snack, or soda with a friend and debrief your VR experience.
The space is following all current COVID protocols, and Clonkey filled me in on the policy to sanitize all units after use, including wiping down equipment. I felt safe in the space due to this, but I wore a mask during my experience. This didn’t hold me back at all from enjoying Deadwood Mansion and wasn’t cumbersome even with the headset and headphones.
Overall, I enjoyed my time at Sandbox VR. I could see myself going back there with a group of friends and playing through a few of the other adventures that the location provides. It was noticeably different from Enter the Void at the Mall of America: it was much less cinematic, the rooms were smaller, and the suits weren’t as advanced, but this was a much more gaming-centric experience. I enjoyed the aspect of being able to have more control, take down zombies and fight bosses, as compared to what I had experienced at Enter the Void. Overall, I’d recommend this experience to anyone who wants to have an hour or two of fun with their kids or friends. There are now two locations in Minnesota: the one at Rosedale Center and a second location that just opened in Eden Prairie.