Villain-Con Minion Blast Is the Most Game-Like Theme Park Attraction YetPhotos courtesy of Universal Travel Features Universal Studios Florida
With Villain-Con Minion Blast Universal has taken aim at the very definition of the word “ride.” Can you call something a ride if you’re standing up the entire time, free and unconstrained? How much can you gamify an attraction before it becomes a game more than a ride? And are the moving walkways between Universal’s parking lot and City Walk a ride? Because that’s what Villain-Con Minion Blast is: it’s a conveyor belt that takes you through a virtual shooting gallery. Fortunately it’s a fun conveyor belt, and one of the best versions yet of a type of ride I typically don’t enjoy.
It really is that simple. There’s a moving walkway that winds through a half-dozen or so rooms. You’re given a plastic gun and told to stand on a dot on the walkway and sent out to shoot anything that moves on the many screens found throughout the ride. These screens broadcast movie-quality animated vignettes featuring the villains of the Vicious Six and dozens of those little yellow Minion guys, and feature targets of all shapes and sizes (including many secret ones) that will net you points or power-ups. You’ll probably want to hold your gun with both hands, not just because your arm will get tired of holding it before the ride ends, but because there are two triggers you’ll want to fire. Your gun’s main ammo can be fired off by squeezing the trigger near the handle, and the second button is underneath the barrel of the gun and shoots off limited special attacks you can acquire throughout the attraction. These include bananas, giant pinballs that careen around the screen, and other novelty attacks that fit the weird world of the Minions.
A slow-moving conveyor belt might seem like a very limited way to interact with an attraction, but the screens are so massive and full of hyperkinetic animation that you probably won’t even think about how you’re moving through them after a few seconds. You also have a freer range of motion than you do in more traditional shooting dark rides; you’re asked to not step off your dot, but because you aren’t strapped into a vehicle you’re able to move a full 360 degrees and aim at any of the targets that surround you. (It can be a bit of a tight squeeze, though, so make sure you don’t whack your neighbor in the head with your blaster.) Also, if you have a competitive streak, you’ll be too busy trying to blow everything up to care that you’re on your feet the whole time.
The trend of designing theme park rides as giant videogames isn’t new, but between Villain-Con Minion Blast and Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge at Super Nintendo World Universal has elevated and refined it into something fresh and exciting—maybe even groundbreaking. Both attractions are built to encourage repeated play, just like a game; the rides keep track of your stats through the Universal app on your phone or the Mario Power-Up band, and let you level up the more you play, unlocking new weapons, collectibles, and missions along the way. Villain-Con Minion Blast is even more successful at feeling like a game than Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge because it doesn’t have a ride vehicle creating distance between you and the world you’re in. You’re essentially moving through a life-sized rail shooter with the ride’s “E-Liminator X Blaster” serving as your game controller, with no restraints or encumbrances to remind you of real world safety concerns. Villain-Con Minion Blast really is more of a game than a ride; it even has the kinds of features that would’ve been touted on the back of a game box 15 years ago, with destructible environments, multiple power-ups, and permanent progression.
It’s become standard for theme park queues to entertain almost as much as the attraction itself, and that’s true with Minion Blast. Ever wanted to visit a trade convention for supervillains, with display booths for evil lairs, man-eating animal sidekicks, and deadly haute couture? After winding through a covered open-air portion for a stretch, the line for Villain-Con Minion Blast will let you visit the convention it’s named after. It’s full of good gags that play on the tropes and stereotypes of supervillains, and is clever enough to make me think I should actually give these movies a shot.
Villain-Con Minion Blast is part of a new land at Universal Studios Florida devoted to the Minions. Along with the new attraction and the existing Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride, Minion Land also includes the Minion Cafe restaurant, a meet-and-greet spot featuring the Minions and characters from other Illumination movies, and a handful of snack options. I’ll have more about Minion Land in general soon; it can feel a little incongruous right next to the Transformers ride, as part of the larger jumble of IP that makes up this park, but it’s internally consistent with its theme, and full of the kind of small details and architectural gags that often elevate themed spaces. Don’t expect anything to the level of Universal’s Harry Potter or Super Nintendo areas, but it’s comparable to this park’s version of Springfield.
The lynchpin of the new area is Villain-Con Minion Blast, though. And although it sounds weird and potentially uninviting when you read about it—a ride without a vehicle that makes you stand the whole time? yet another dark ride that’s built around shooting instead of just telling a story in a fantastic world?—it’s a strong and much-needed addition to Universal’s original Florida theme park.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin</a