Oct 18, 2023

'I'll definitely be going back': I visited Level X and was quick as a flash on speedy go

The venue - featuring high-tech crazy golf, VR games, bowling, and arcades galore - launched in the former TJ Hughes building

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Channeling the famous words of Lightning McQueen, "speed. I am speed."

There I was, helmet on and feet on the pedal, the only thing on my mind on how I was going to zoom past six complete strangers at the brand-new go-karting track venue Level X. The site - which launched last month in the former TJ Hughes building - is part of the regeneration of Captain Cook Square in Middlesbrough and features everything from bowling to VR games.

Although I'd visited before for its grand opening, I never got the chance to get behind the wheel and unleash my inner Max Verstappen - or more aptly Luigi, as it is literally like a real-life version of Mario Kart. Here's what I thought of my experience at Level X for the day and, spoiler alert, I'll definitely be going back.

READ MORE: Ready, set, GO: Level X launches on Teesside with 'amazing' race track, bowling, and arcades galore

When walking in, you're first greeted with a huge X and the bright glaring lights of the arcades. Having been to the Edinburgh Lane 7 and the Newcastle venue a number of times, you could say I was a bit of a Lane 7 expert. My excitement started to build as I made my way upstairs to the sounds of roaring go-kart riders.

I then had to throw on my balaclava and helmet before getting listening to a safety briefing and getting into my pre-assigned cart. We then did a quick loop round before lining up at the start line. At £9 a pop, it wasn't an extortionate price either for a race.

The countdown clock quickly ticked down on the go-kart tablet screen, with the illuminous track barrier lighting up green signally the start of what was to be a competitive race. I floored my foot down on the pedal, expecting a dramatic boost as if I was about to take off from the track and land somewhere outside in Captain Cook Square.

Instead, I simply trailed along, at what felt like a snail's pace, much to my shock. After a few seconds, the operators quickly realised that I wasn't just taking things easy, and stepped in to swap me over into a new kart, halting the race so those pesky drivers that had zoomed past me couldn't get too far ahead.

As it's a new venue, no doubt there are bound to be some teething issues, and I'm glad it was swiftly sorted. All of it was forgotten when we got the green light and I was able to whizz back into a comfortable racing position. I was genuinely surprised by how fast they went - especially considering you are driving in what was formerly a calm retail space filled with racks of clothes.

The mission quickly began to catch up to the others - and that's when I realised I'd been given one of the smart little power boosts and was able to speed past those who overtook me.

The game was advertised to me as a 'real-life Mario Kart' by the instructor - and as a kid that grew up hooked to a Nintendo Wii, it was fair to say I had decent expectations. I loved how you could 'throw a bomb' at your opponent, slowing them down, because it meant that it could've been anyone's race right up until the last minute.

There were a couple of crashes along the way - but nothing the team didn't sort out quickly. The illumious lights were a great way to figure out what was going on - green for go, red for stop, and gold for the race being over.

When it came to the final lap, I was finally able to overtake the person who had held first place for a fair share of the race and take home the crown. I even took a little victory lap, with the helmet sadly disguising the smug look on my face.

While I was there, it would be very rude not to have a go on the Big Putts' high-tech crazy golf. There, I had to assign a ball to myself using a band, which kept track of my points around the course. That's right - no more need for a tiny slip of paper that you constantly forget which pocket you put it in and smudge pencil lead all over.

I got stuck straight in - and I have to say the course is very impressive. From a huge stadium to a course where you had to put a ball by using the club as a snooker cue, I thought it was very inventive from some of the usual crazy golf ideas. When I put my ball down, the floor lights up, as does the hole when you pot it, with screens nearby showing your team's scores.

It was crazy to me that mini-golf could become so futuristic. My shock didn't stop there either, as when I learned that you can earn extra points from trick shots - such as hitting the ball through a risky hole rather than taking the simple route - and I was left astounded by how sensors knew instantly and added points on.

It was a great course overall and a very welcome addition to the venue, which is already home to a huge range of other activities. But at a price of £6.50, I thought it was very reasonable for such a different experience.

So overall, what did I think of my trip to Level X? I think it's a really exciting new addition to Middlesbrough, and am sure I'll return as I only scratched the surface of what was on offer - think bowling, VR games, bumper cars, darts, and pool. It's a huge space, and the bar is a nice touch, so it could even be a good stop-off on a night out.

Either way - I'll be back.


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