VR is beginning to feel like the new
hope home for Star Wars gaming. With immersive experiences ranging from Vader Immortal to Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge, the technology seems to be a perfect fit for generations of fans who have grown up swinging a plastic sword and making that iconic humming noise. The marriage of immersion and fantasy just feels perfectly suited. With that being said, the galaxy of Star Wars gaming is wider than digital roleplay.
With Star Wars Pinball VR, Zen Studios has taken the various individual tables based on George Lucas’ franchise alongside a couple of new ones and packaged them together with a bantha-load of fan service. But is the collection capable of running the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs or is it just a bucket of bolts?
First up, let’s talk about what’s included here. Rather than an entirely new set of content, the collection is more like a Greatest Hits album with some bonus tracks thrown in as well. Fan favourites based on the original trilogy return alongside Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Masters of the Force, and Star Wars Rebels, some of which pinball fans may already have in non-VR. The shift to VR makes the feeling of playing these entirely more immersive and goes some way to justifying a double dip.
Brand new to this release, we have a Mandalorian table and the Classic Collectables table. The first of these is wonderfully atmospheric with that iconic music playing and even the Child floating next to the table and reacting to your play. The latter is a favourite of mine, due to me being a long time fan with my childhood figures still in my possession (unsealed, of course).
Visually, Star Wars Pinball VR is a mixed bag. The tables themselves look great, complete with the requisite flashing lights and bells and whistles. Many of them look very busy and confusing, but you soon learn the techniques and patterns for high scoring – especially as there are handy table guides included to teach you some of the more complex aspects. I loved the way that the Classic Collection included a rotating display of accurately modelled original action figures.
Around the table you’ll find specific characters standing and reacting to how your session is going, from the aforementioned Child to Emperor Palpatine himself. This doesn’t affect play in any real sense, but adds to the overall feeling of extreme fanservice. In most cases, you’ll soon find yourself screening out anything but the table itself anyway as the ball zips around and you try to make accurate shots at specific targets.
One of the ways in which this collection really excels though is through its use of the vast library of iconic music from across the Star Wars Universe. All of John Williams tracks are available to unlock and play through the in-game jukebox, enabling you to immerse yourself even more thoroughly. This jukebox is just one of the many aspects of the VR game room, though. Chasing high scores on the tables also unlocks decorations and collectables to place around the virtual space, with many requiring some real dedication to unlock. It’s way of making the fanservice feel a genuine part of the game and also gives a more tangible system of progress to further encourage pushing your high scores further. Add in the online scoreboards and you have a perfect system to make you try and become a true Pinball Jedi Master.
There are, however, some issues with the game’s presentation. The most glaring of these is the odd decision to make the options screen a physical location in the gaming space rather than behind a standard button press. This means that you have to navigate to the TV in-game to access options, and aside from different traversal methods (teleport and smooth movement) these options were fairly limited. This is in part due to my playing the Oculus version with its standardised build so I can’t speak for the Steam VR equivalent. There have been many complaints about the latter’s inflexibility though, with many VR controllers being incompatible, meaning that a regular controller must be used. If you’re playing via Steam VR, I’d recommend checking out the relevant discussion forums for the latest updates.
It’s difficult to emphasise just how well the pinball experience translates to VR, but just as with the real thing, that means prolonged play sessions can lead to an uncomfortable neck as you have to look down at the table. A more upright display option could have helped here, but that would obviously take away from the main selling point of playing in VR here.
Where the VR absolutely elevates the experience into something more transformative, however, is the immersive minigames that take place actually within the tables. Fulfil certain unique requirements within each table and you’ll find your point of view zoomed onto the table as you carry out story specific actions such as piloting a speeder bike through the forest moon of Endor or taking part in an epic shootout in the Mandalorian. These moments are tricky to unlock – at least at first – but absolutely pop in VR.