Heat radiates around you as blaster shots echo through the air. You’re flying across a pool of lava, warm wind rustling your hair. Your stormtrooper armor feels heavy on your back. This must be a dream, right?
To many Star Wars fans, this is only a dream. But at the Mall of America’s newest attraction, it’s a reality. In the VOID, a fully immersive, “hyper-reality” experience, you can actually touch the walls of your space craft, sense heat from the lava, and feel the vibrations of blaster shots, all while wide awake.
Discovering the Omniverse
In 2015, an illusionist and a technology expert combined their expertise to create a world beyond reality, where (with a little bit of computer programming) anything is possible. Thus, the VOID was born. Today, there are a wide variety of experiences, together called the “Omniverse.” At the Mall of America location, there are two experiences to choose from. You can go undercover for the Rebellion as a stormtrooper in “Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire,” or—on weekdays only—you can play some live-action video games with Wreck-It Ralph in “Ralph Breaks VR.”
Unlike run-of-the-mill virtual reality (VR), the VOID plays with all your senses and immerses you into the world. When I first looked down at my virtual hands through my helmet, I realized that they were encased in stormtrooper gloves and moving exactly in time with my fingers. Mechanically speaking, sensors and an intricately developed computer system were tracking my every movement; my body was literally the controller. Experience wise, this was the first sign that this VR adventure was going to be unlike any other.
Besides the visuals and the perfect synchronization, high quality haptic technology—which simulates the sense of touch through sensors in your vest—allows you to feel the shot of a blaster or the vibrations of an explosion. Your helmet is equipped with a speaker and headphones so your party can banter in real time. But this is all happening behind the scenes. Once you pull on your helmet and vest, your imagination doesn’t need to work too hard to get lost in the world behind your goggles.
Entering the VOID
Visitors to the VOID should plan for about 30 minutes for the entire process of each experience, allowing time for the briefing, suiting up, and actual adventure. While you’re welcome to go through the experience on your own, I’d highly recommend bringing a friend or three. The experiences allow for interaction and even competition. Groups of four or fewer can go through at a time, simply because the rooms are designed for a personalized experience. Guests must be at least 10 years old and 4 feet tall to enter.
A general concern with VR is often motion sickness. In my experience, the combination of a free range of motion and the high res graphics were enough to prevent motion sickness. But if you’re ever feeling off during an experience, the staff members are always nearby to help. However, the experiences (especially Star Wars) are high intensity and often exhilarating. Your adrenaline will certainly start pumping: You’re in a battle!
If you’re feeling nervous about traveling the “Omniverse,” the staff is exceptionally accommodating and welcoming. They often stay in character throughout your time at the VOID, adding to the immersive experience. When a stage malfunctioned while we were playing, the staff was quick to offer a replay and immediately started working on solutions.
Choose Your Adventure
For Star Wars aficionados, “Secrets of the Empire” is especially incredible. What fan wouldn’t love to be in a galaxy far, far away, shooting a blaster at stormtroopers? But even if you don’t know who Darth Vader is (albeit unlikely), this experience is unlike any other. This play-through is darker, so if you’re looking for a light-hearted, playful game, I recommend spending some time with Wreck-It Ralph instead.
“Ralph Breaks VR” is a colorful, lighter, and surprisingly ticklish VOID experience. (Did I mention that the haptics are really high quality?) Wreck-It Ralph and Vanellope von Schweetz break you into the internet, where you can get competitive with your friends in a live-action, ‘80s era video game and survive an epic, right-in-your-face food fight.
For both of the experiences, the instructions are not always clear throughout. Sometimes, you have to use intuition and decipher what to do next, which makes it all the more immersive and real. Because of this, multiple run-throughs can make the experience more fun each time.
In the next few months, travelers of the VOID can expect a blood-curling horror experience, perfect for Halloween, and an action-packed Marvel experience to fix any lingering End Game sadness. But whichever adventure you choose, get ready for an experience that’s out of this dimension.
379 North Garden (Level 3, North)
The Mall of America
2131 Lindau Lane, Bloomington