- The Washington Times - Friday, June 24, 2005

NIAGARA FALLS, Ontario — The last thing I expected to see a block away from one of the world’s most famous natural wonders was a 23-story building with a gigantic, two-dimensional Hulk bursting from its corner.

Yet there it stood, above the main entrance to Marvel Adventure City, an approximately 30,000-square-foot home to the Marvel Comics universe that mixes a traditional game arcade with multisensory attractions.

As part of the Canadian Niagara Group’s Falls Avenue Complex, the ode to Stan Lee’s favorite comic book company has existed for the past couple of years next to such attractions as MGM Studios’ Great Movie Journey, the World Wrestling Entertainment Pile Driver and the Pink Panther Falls Balloon ride, along with an avalanche of hotels, shops and restaurants.

Marvel Adventure City, which will never be confused with the more sophisticated and thrilling Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure in Orlando (which has devoted a huge chunk of theme park real estate to Marvel icons), comes off more as a co-op arcade on steroids rather than mini-theme park.

Still, the overall experience will temporarily fill the bill for fidgety youngsters tired of looking at cascading water and in need of a superhero fix.

As visitors enters the City, they are greeted to a quick showdown between life-size, animatronic versions of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin, who banter a bit and move around.

A hard-rock version of the Spider-Man theme song concludes the performance as sirens blast away and a narrator beckons brave humans into the colorful environment to “help save the world.”

A cavalcade of coin-op machines and characters culled from Marvel’s Ultimate lines of sequential art dominate the City, although only a few machines actually offer Marvel hero themes — either through stand-alone Spidey mobiles or actual arcade video games.

As visitors view giant colorful cutouts of such stalwarts as the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Captain America, Kingpin, the X-Men and artist Greg Horn’s famed Elektra illustration hung above them, they will also run into a reproduction of the “Spider-Man 2” movie costume on display.

The major, multisensory attractions reside along the corners of the City and offer a “hit and miss” opportunity for families looking for a quick thrill.

• Spider-Man Ultimate Ride: This stands out as the best of the bunch. It’s an actual ride that melds 3-D technology, multimedia and target shooting. Visitors are whisked through a railed maze in an egg-shaped vehicle.

Bad guys such as Doctor Octopus, the Lizard and Scorpion greet the riders, who, after putting on those dorky looking 3-D glasses, point a weapon shaped as a Spider-Man arm/hand at stationary targets to collect points and make the targets react; that is, open, spin or move.

Slick movie moments accompany the roughly three-minute experience via monitors and screens as characters and terrain come to life.

More animatronic villains, webbed and hanging upside down, reside at the end of the ride that delivers a real treat for the web-slinger fan.

• X-Men Bumper Cars: This puts visitors in vehicles shaped like Professor X’s high-tech wheelchair and mixes mutant-themed action with the traditional bumper ride as opponents shoot and ram each other to collect points posted on a giant leader board.

• The Incredible Hulk Encounter: This is anything but, and stands out as a complete waste of money and space. A slightly haunted maze basically greets daring guests who walk through an abandoned, very fluorescent, “radioactive” facility filled with loud noises, and zombie heads popping out of toxic barrels and doors. At no time does the famed green behemoth make an appearance, nor do any of his friendly or hostile companions.

• Spider-Man and Friends Funhouse: Younger children can enjoy this award-winning attraction based on the Toy Biz line of action figures. It twins with the Daredevil Obstacle Challenge to give tykes a chance to blow off some steam. They slide and climb around a well-padded, multilevel street-scape environment, and the fun culminates in a ball fountain blasting soft projectiles around them.

Marvel City Adventure does offer discounted pricing for those wanting to try multiple attractions. Visitors can go on any three rides for $19.95 Canadian ($17.65 American) or just purchase individual tickets priced as follows: the Spider-Man Ultimate Ride ($10.95 Canadian), the Incredible Hulk Encounter ($6.20 Canadian), the X-Men Bumper Cars ($5.95 Canadian) and the combined Daredevil Obstacle Challenge/Funhouse ($9.95 Canadian).

Overall, I give the adventure a high grade for bringing a superhero experience to vacationers but I was amazed at the lack of real comic books available for sale. Only a smattering of graphic novels could be seen under a glass case, and they were really used to support a collectible bookend set rather than tempt youngsters with actually reading about some of the characters shown in the City.

My suggestion to the Canadian Niagara Group is get some magazine racks loaded with comics, set up a much larger retail space for sequential-art-themed items and add a Marvel hero snack bar to give guests a well-rounded couple of hours.

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