In a park full of stunning vistas and towering coasters, Street Mission sits tucked away in a fairly unassuming square. At a jog to nearby Shambhala, you might even mistake the entrance for a shop or cafe, another of the stylised facades that make up the SesamoAventura area of the park.
But that quaint, cute impression does well to set up the experience within. Continuing their creative collaboration with Sesame Workshop, PortAventura recruited Sally Corporation (and a host of partners, including ETF Ride Systems, Alterface, Bon Art Studio, Sim Leisure, Tecnolux, Bose and B Morrow Productions) to create what has become the flagship attraction of the area – and the result is an irresistibly charming adventure that manages to not just represent the characters of the beloved kids TV show, but channel its unique spirit too.
The queue area reminded me a little of Islands of Adventure's Spider-man ride – a fairly simple layout, but with plenty of sight gags along the way to keep things interesting. It culminates in a final room that features a 10-minute pre-show cycle, of a sort, featuring Detective Grover represented in both CG and animatronic form as he sets out the basic premise for the ride: a very important cookie has been stolen just before Cookie Day, and we're recruited to follow the crumbs and crack the case.
As with all the animatronics throughout the ride, Grover is beautifully animated. It's a crucial element for the attraction to get right – and the close working relationship the designers of the ride had with the Sesame Workshop puppeteers to nail that vocabulary of movement really shows. Sesame Street is the rare brand that still carries a lot of goodwill and warmth in adults who watched the show as kids. (Yep, my hand is way high on this one.) So having Big Bird, Bert & Ernie et al move as you remember them is a big win here.
Once we hit the loading bay, we're assigned into Sesame Street Taxis; six-person trackless vehicles manufactured by ETF. To help us on our mission, each seat is equipped with a “Clue Collector” device - which will feel right at home in the hand of anyone who's used a Wii remote.
The Sesame Street brand obviously demands a move away from the guns & blasters that typically sit at the heart of an interactive dark ride experience. But employing a design that feels intuitive to a large chunk of the ride's target audience is a particularly brilliant stroke – it allows us to plunge straight into the experience, and not have to think too consciously about the tech around us. The targeting & tracking system is excellent too, and similarly helps us to feel at one with the device.
If you've experienced Sally's smash-hit Justice League: Battle For Metropolis rides at Six Flags parks – or, like me, lived vicariously through TPI's extensive coverage of them – then you'll have some sense of what's in-store. As we progress through seven scenes, almost everything is a target. Our attention is focussed onto the cookies, where you'll find the highest scores (for bragging rights, look out for the shiny 5,555 point one near the end of the ride) but physical props and screen media are blended seamlessly to create an environment that encourages exploration.
This interactivity with the whole environment was perhaps my favourite aspect of the attraction. For me, the desire to find new surprises and effects hidden throughout the sets compelled me to get back in line more than an interest in beating my previous high score. By encouraging a sense of exploration away from – and in tandem with – the screens, it serves to the deepen our engagement and create that truly immersive quality that sits at the end of the rainbow in modern attraction design.
It's worth noting that Street Mission is, of course, aimed squarely at the younger crowd. But it's designed beautifully for that age group, with Sesame Street the perfect base. This is an example of a well-chosen IP truly enhancing the experience, in an industry where it's all-too-often deployed cynically. Interactive dark rides can sometimes overwhelm with their combination of narrative and gameplay elements (or, worse still, lazily pay too-little attention to one or both) so using a brand that's known to children and adults alike allows us the shorthand we need to engage immediately and get on with the mission.
It's also paced expertly, giving just enough information just as you need it. In the early stages, animatronics are offered as “guides” of a sort to help anchor the scenes, and there's plenty of opportunities throughout to take a moment to breathe and just take it all in. It's all nudged up in such a precise manner that, by the time we reach the giant 180° wraparound screens of the final two scenes, even the youngest riders are ready for the show to play out on that scale.
There's one particular moment toward the end of the journey however – best left unspoilt as far as full details go – where everything comes together in an almost breathtakingly-impressive feat, a sequence that evokes the more thrilling moments of rides such as Ratatouille: The Adventure or Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey without sacrificing its focus on its youngest audience members. It's the perfect example of how well-integrated each element is – the vehicles, the media, the music – and demonstrates why the work here is a step above your average shooter dark ride.
After riding, I spoke to Fernando Aldecoa from PortAventura World and Ed Wells from Sesame Workshop (a full interview with them and the Sally Corp team to come in a later post) who hinted at further collaborations to come. If the success of Street Mission is anything to go by, that's going to be something to look forward to.Tweet
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