May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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Step Into the Sandbox: Bergen’s Best Kept VR Secret

Virtual reality (VR) experiences offer users a chance to leave their world behind and be transported to an entirely new plane. Each year, VR technology continues to improve with higher-quality VR headsets and more interactive applications. Located in the heart of Bergen County in Paramus, Sandbox VR provides an extremely advanced VR environment that includes additional elements to make the experience feel even more immersive and realistic. They develop their own unique gameplay, which includes an adaptation of one of the world’s most popular recent shows, Netflix’s Squid Game. I recently visited Sandbox VR with my brother Gabe and two of my friends, Jake and Yoni, where we tried their newest game, Squid Game Virtuals, and their zombie survival game, Deadwood Valley.

When driving to Sandbox VR, it is conveniently located just off Route 4 on NJ-17, less than 15 minutes from Teaneck. However, spotting the building can be tricky since it doesn’t stand out and is obscured by a P.C. Richard & Son building, making it easy to miss. My advice is to drive slowly as you approach the location to avoid driving past it. Sandbox has ample parking space outside their building, so we easily found a spot. Once we entered the building, a sign directed us up the stairs to the Sandbox area. We were immediately greeted by a very friendly staff member who checked us in and helped set up our gaming experience. First, we had to fill out a form and enter our basic information, including our names and email addresses. We then chose our own nicknames and a team name, which would stick with us during our experience. After that, we each selected a character for the game. I chose to play as a dark-skinned female, and Gabe chose an old man.

After registering us, a staff member helped each of us put on our gear. We wore devices on our ankles and hands and a vest over our bodies, which allowed the VR game to fully capture our body movements in real time. With our gear on, the staff member led us to an empty room marked with tape on the floor, outlining the boundaries for the experience. The room can accommodate up to six people playing the games simultaneously. Then, a team of employees quickly helped us put on our VR headsets. They explained that they would be monitoring us via cameras and in case we needed help, we were instructed to wave our arms and shout «Sandbox,» and they would come to assist us. Once we were all set up, the VR headset turned on, and we entered the world of Squid Game.

In the opening scene of the game, we were transported to the colorful, mesmerizing staircase filled with bright pink, green, and blue stairwells, as seen in the Squid Game show. The attention to detail here was impeccable, and the four of us couldn’t stop laughing in amazement. Soon, we were inside the main sleeping area where we saw hundreds of non-player characters (NPCs) dressed in the green Squid Game suits all around us. The four of us were in the center of the room, also all dressed in green suits and looking identical to the character skins we had selected earlier. A large gold piggy bank was lowered from above, filling up with gold coins, and a voice overhead told us that this would be the grand prize if we could get through the challenges.

Each of the challenges was designed to simulate the events in the actual Squid Game show. For the first round, we played Red Light, Green Light. The goal was to collect as many coins as possible while the giant robot head of a little girl, which looked just like the one in the show, was facing the opposite direction. After the robot head announced «Red Light, Green Light» in Korean, it quickly turned around, and if we were moving, we «died.» The experience of “dying” had us hear a gunshot and have our vests vibrate slightly, I guess simulating what it felt like to get shot (without the pain). Additionally, fans were installed all around the walls, which helped create the feel of being outdoors whenever the wind blew and also kept us cool while we ran around. (Pro tip: make sure to dress light since VR is a workout!) Once one of us died, we had to wait about 15 seconds before respawning and continuing to collect coins. I won the first round, likely due to my experience with VR games and not being as afraid of «dying,» as I was more adept at convincing myself that the VR environment wasn’t real.

After each round, we were transported back to the sleeping area where fewer NPCs survived each time, effectively mirroring the show’s progression where more players died with each episode. We also observed the NPCs bicker and mistrust one another, which helped build up the drama of the experience. The gold piggy bank filled up higher and higher, and our scores were displayed, showing the live standings among the four of us. The next game was based on the candy-shaped challenge, where we each had to contort our bodies into specific shapes to fit through a moving panel that crashed into us. If we hit the walls of the panel, we «died» and had to wait to respawn. However, if we managed to copy the shape correctly, such as stretching our arms out or curling into a ball, we earned points. Yoni won that round.

Probably the scariest and most intense round was the third one, which simulated the tempered or regular glass bridge challenge. We had to step on a glass panel that would either hold sturdy or shatter. If it shattered, we plummeted down, and the visual effects were extremely vivid, giving us the sensation that we were really falling. This round was my favorite because it offered the most realistic VR experience and gave me the biggest adrenaline rush. Gabe managed to score the highest points by taking a large leap and skipping over a lot of the platforms (which I think should have been cheating).

The last three rounds did not adhere as closely to the show but were still very fun. The fourth round was Simon Says. The fifth round resembled the glass bridge round, but this time there were four large trap doors, and by grabbing a coin, it indicated which platform to avoid stepping on. In each round, one or more platforms would disappear, and if we were standing on that platform, like in the bridge round, it felt like we were falling and we «died.» The challenge intensified when multiple platforms would disappear simultaneously, forcing players to quickly decide where to stand. This scenario required players to either share or withhold information about which platforms they believed were safe or unsafe, introducing an element of strategy similar to the decisions faced in the prisoner’s dilemma. I was pretty devious in this round because I would stand on a platform knowing it was a trap, tricking my friends into standing on it too, but then at the last second, I would hop off onto another safe platform. The final round was «Catch and Match,» where we had to grab shapes and fire them into a cannon that had a picture of a matching shape displayed on it. The cannon then shot the shape back at us, and we needed to duck to avoid being hit. Jake, who is a serious marathoner, won this round very handily using his elusive speed and quick reflexes.

In the end, Gabe, who had pulled far ahead by dominating, (cough cough… by cheating) the glass bridge challenge, was able to secure the win. Since it had just been Gabe’s birthday and we had informed them in advance, we enjoyed a virtual birthday party complete with digital balloons and cake for a few minutes. We all sang «Happy Birthday» and had a digital dance-off. Following the birthday bash, we took a short break and chatted with the staff member who told us that there are 10 different Squid Game challenges in total, ensuring that no two experiences are alike. All in all, the Squid Game experience lasted about 30 minutes, which felt like a substantial amount of time, especially considering the wide variety of challenges.

Next, we played another Sandbox-owned game, Deadwood Valley. For this game, we each were handed a plastic gun with a trigger to use in the game. This game was a lot darker and scarier than Squid Game. The plot basically involved a zombie apocalypse in which only two people, a scientist named Albert who had created a vaccine to cure the zombie ailment, and his wife, who had already received the vaccine and was immune, could save the world. Our mission was to bring both of them to a safe house, alive, so that they could share the vaccine with the world. All the while, waves of zombies, including zombie dogs and vultures, swarmed at us and we had to gun them down to protect Albert and his wife. If enough zombies attacked us, we “died” and needed one of our teammates to hold onto our shoulder for a few seconds to revive us.

What was cool about this game was that the stakes felt truly high. It was possible in the game to fail and have the zombies kill Albert or his wife if we hadn’t protected them well enough. Each wave of zombies occurred in a different setting. Sometimes we were in the downtown area of the city; other times we were in a moving van as zombies tried to jump into our vehicle through the windows. In the final round, the main villain, a 9-foot-tall powerful zombie, attacked us with his horde of zombie minions in the middle of the forest. We ended up saving all four of the NPC officers who had been working with us to fend off the zombies and Albert’s wife, but we lost Albert. This gave us a pretty good score, but not the highest possible.

Following our intense VR gameplays, we huddled around a television to watch a highlight reel of each of our experiences. These videos were incredible and included scenes of us in real life with our gear on playing the games, while sometimes switching scenes to show our perspective of how it looked in virtual reality, with sporadic audio of us talking. I found it very impressive that Sandbox’s technology was able to generate such a spectacular highlight reel in such a short amount of time. We were each emailed a copy of our own highlight reel for keepsake.

Besides Squid Game and Deadwood Valley, Sandbox offers multiple other games, including the prequel to Deadwood Valley, called Deadwood Mansion. The staff member told us that while Valley primarily takes place in the downtown area, Mansion is mainly set in a forest, which is creepier. The most kid-friendly game is called Curse of Davy Jones, where you use both a plastic gun and a sword. Another popular game is called Amber Sky, where there is a battle between robots and grasshopper aliens. Users get to fly in outer space and see the Earth from below, which is pretty spectacular. Another medieval game is called Seekers of the Shard: Dragon Fire, where players fight goblins, dragons and skeletons. This game saves users’ scores and loot so that they can upgrade their weaponry based on their loot for the next time they return. There is also a game called Star Trek Discovery and Unbound Fighting League.

Sandbox VR offers a one-of-a-kind VR experience and is just a short drive from Teaneck. Given the shorter duration of Chol Hamoed, I highly recommend that families with children aged nine and up check out Sandbox VR. It is best to book a reservation online so that you won’t have to wait for your turn, and the staff can be best prepared to accommodate you and your party.

With its stunning and creative games and enhanced effects such as fans blowing wind and vibrating vests, Sandbox VR offers the next level of immersive gaming entertainment. Sandbox’s impressive venue reaffirmed my conviction that it wouldn’t be surprising if businesses started hopping on the VR bandwagon and began transitioning from Zoom meetings to VR meetings to improve the quality of meetings despite the physical separation.

Definitely make sure to put Sandbox on your Chol Hamoed to-do list. You’ll have an amazing time there and awesome video keepsakes to treasure when you get home, too. Happy Pesach!

Admission: $55-$70 a person

Hours: Weekdays 12-10 p.m. Weekends 9:45 a.m.-10 p.m.

Address: 305 NJ-17 South, Paramus, NJ 07652

Phone: (201) 407-7077


Zachary Greenberg is a consultant at Semler Brossy and the track coach for TABC. Zack is also running as a candidate for the Teaneck Democratic Municipal Committee in District 15. Recently, he completed the West Point Fallen Comrades Half Marathon in one hour and 42 minutes. He also watched the movie «Dream Scenario» on the streaming platform MAX. To join in on Zack’s fun adventures, make sure you are following @funzacktivities on Instagram!

If you have any recommendations of fun places for him to explore, please email [email protected].

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