Where does the Disneyland Resort's new WEB Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure rank among other interactive dark rides at theme parks around the world?
WEB Slingers opened in Disney California Adventure's new Avengers Campus this week. We dropped one of the first full POV videos of the ride on Wednesday night, and the fans who have been lucky enough to get virtual queue reservations for the ride have been offering their opinions as well.
The set-up for the ride is that Peter Parker's Spider-Bots have gone into an out-of-control self-replication mode and are threatening to overwhelm the headquarters of Parker's Worldwide Engineering Brigade. But the young engineers at WEB also have developed a new vehicle called the SLING//R, in which ordinary people can shoot webs from their wrists like Spider-Man. So it's up to us to get in the SLING//R vehicles and use our new web-slinging ability to catch as many Spider-Bots as we can, to prevent them destroying the Avengers Campus.
That's as convincing as any other interactive ride's premise, which usually involves something going terribly wrong, requiring riders to come to the rescue. But casting riders as visitors to the WEB Open House does not satisfy a Spider-Man fan's sense of wish fulfillment the way that training to be a MIB agent on Men in Black: Alien Attack does. Nor does it offer the cleverness of working as a stocking clerk in the disastrous Acme Factory, on the Looney Tunes-themed AniMayhem ride at Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi.
Structurally, WEB Slingers is Toy Story Mania v2.0. All the play takes play on the ride's four screens, with short transitions through the WEB's sub-basement corridors in between. But it's that gameplay that sets WEB Slingers apart. Like Legoland's Ninjago: The Ride, WEB Slingers does not use any weapon or tool to fire at targets. Instead, Disney has developed a motion sensor system that tracks your head, upper body and arm movement to infer where you are trying to case your webs, which are rendered on the 3D play screens.
Legoland's system just tracks your hand's motion slicing through a triangle of air at the front of the ride vehicle. It's a fun way to play, but WEB Slingers advances the concept. With a fuller range of motion being tracked, you can feel like Tony Stark waving his hands to transform Jarvis' projected maps and blueprints.
My original intention with this post was to rank my favorite interactive dark rides. But after picking my top two, I found that I just couldn't decide among the rest. Comparing WEB Slingers with this year's other new interactive ride in southern California - Knott's Bear-y Tales: Return to the Fair - I preferred the setting, animation, and storytelling on Knott's rebooted adventure over Disney's Spider-Man ride. But the gameplay on WEB Slingers blew away that on Bear-y Tales. (Though the Boysenberry jelly blasters are adorable.)
In my original review of WEB Slingers, I wrote about my problem with a cross-dominant eye and how that affects my ability to aim on shooter rides - especially 3D attractions, where you don't want to close one eye to aim. That challenge disappears on WEB Slingers, which is unique among interactive rides in that you can attack with two arms at once. (Well, without having to have an empty seat next you.) I found that playing with two hands expanded my field of vision for the game. Once I "dialed in" where the webs would go (I was aiming low at first), I found hitting targets on WEB Slingers to be much easier than on any other interactive ride I have experienced.
You can not only hit targets on WEB Slingers, you can grab and throw them with your webs as well, allowing you to rack up big scores with multiple hits from the same arm gesture. Forget the concern about needing Disney's much-debated WEB Tech upgrades, you can have a great time playing and help drive your car to the top of the leaderboard without that upcharge assist.
That said, the moments between the active gameplay on WEB Slingers disappoint. My top two interactive rides worldwide are AniMayhem and Men in Black: Alien Attack, in large part because of the non-stop, in-universe entertainment both rides offer in addition to their gameplay. (Another thing these two attractions have in common? They were both overseen by Dave Cobb. If you're developing an interactive attraction and you're not hiring Dave - at least as a consultant - put that on your to-do list.) The Spider-Bots are supposed to be over-running the WEB building, but we really don't get visual evidence of that beyond what's on the gameplay screens. The ride also un-loads on the same platform as load, undercutting the narrative that we've successfully stopped the bots, since both the start and end of the narrative occupy the same space at the same time.
A few years ago, Theme Park Insider reader Rob McCullough made the case against Toy Story Midway Mania, and I not only agree with his arguments, I suggest that many of them apply to WEB Slingers, as well. There's no reason for this to be a ride, as the ride vehicle motion does not factor into the game or the narrative. The transitions are pointless. There's no competition between riders or teams. Yes, there's a leaderboard at the end of the attraction, but if the point is for everyone to work together to stop the bots, that undercuts the competitive spirit that many people like in interactive attractions. Yet the benefits of teamwork are hidden as Easter eggs here, as they are on TSMM. At least on WEB Slingers, something has gone horribly wrong, and riders feel invested in helping to fix that.
To me, that - plus the more engaging gameplay and an attempt at social messaging - make WEB Slingers a better attraction than Toy Story. But on WEB Slingers I never felt anything like the awestruck joy that I experienced on Monsters Inc.: Ride and Go Seek, the slapstick naughtiness of Sholay: The Hunt for Gabbar Singh, or even the innocent wonder I still experience every time I play on Buzz Lightyear. WEB Slingers brilliantly advances the technology of interactive gameplay on theme park attractions. But it could use an additional healthy dash of storytelling and placemaking magic to become a truly elite interactive attraction.
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