Review: Star Wars Pinball VR

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there existed an interstellar civilization at near constant war with itself.  Its culture featured many strange quirks such as space wizard-warriors, fortresses nearly the size of a planet, and a willingness to release what should have been an epic new trilogy without actually bothering to plot it out first, but one of the oddest features of this sector of the universe was its terrible display technology.  Whether holographic projections, in-helmet readouts or standard flat-screen displays, the most notable features were always the limitations.  As mechanically advanced as it was, the civilization of Star Wars would easily be capable of amazing pinball tables, but at no point would it be able to digitize the game, and translating it to VR would result in an unpleasant, frustrating mess.  Thankfully, despite Earth’s limited space travel capabilities we love a high-definition monitor with lightning-fast display times, so VR pinball is an excellent option that doesn’t cost thousands while taking up a huge amount of space.

Zen Studios has been working the digital pinball field for well over a decade now, initially starting on the Xbox 360 and spreading to all the major consoles and platforms.  The original tables it started with were soon joined by a huge variety of licenses, from Alien to Portal, and it even got the Marvel license sewn up before it exploded into the movie juggernaut of today.  Over the years Zen has also managed a good number of Star Wars tables, and while the series’ popularity may have faded for a while there due to oversaturation, it came back in a big way thanks to The Mandalorian.  Meanwhile the Pinball FX series has only lightly dabbled in VR, with Pinball FX 2 VR being a generation behind the mainline series and only featuring a handful of tables.  That’s all changed with Star Wars Pinball VR, which takes full advantage of being inside the headset to bring its silverball worlds to life.

Star Wars Pinball VR is a collection of eight tables, six of them having already been released in Pinball FX 3 while the other two make their debut in VR.  Half of the retooled six are based on the original series, while the other three are Star Wars: Rebels, Rogue Squadron and a catch-all theme for Masters of the Force.  The two new tables are based on The Mandalorian, and in a particularly creative use of the license, Classic Collectibles.  It’s a good cross-section of the Star Wars universe with little overlap, fitting in perfectly with the overall theme of general Star Wars fandom.

In addition to the main pinball games there’s a collectathon happening outside of the tables, with the setting being a large fan-cave decked out in far more Star Wars memorabilia than can be considered healthy.  Every nook and cranny has something Star Wars related in it, whether that be posters, models, statues or the bar with R2-D2-styled jukebox.  Most everything can be changed around, with different types of memoriabilia unlocked by completing goals within each table.  It doesn’t take long to earn enough goodies to start filling up the room, adding new models to the shelves and switching out the posters on the wall, and even the jukebox has plenty of new tunes to chase after.  VR always does a good job of putting you inside a space and the fan-cave makes use of that to create a cozy little area to take a break in between jumping from one table to the next.

If you just want the pinball, though, it’s a short walk from the title screen to the single table in the middle of the room.  Walking up to the pinball machine and hitting A brings up a menu of the eight different tables, all of which are ready to play at the start, and after choosing between Classic and Arcade modes it’s only a second or two before you’re able to launch the ball and get playing.  Classic mode is pure pinball, three balls and no modifiers, while Arcade is a slightly more complicated thing.  Arcade lets you earn and level up different abilities, both passive and active, to bump up the score-earning potential of each table.  Focus slows down time, for example, letting you line up a shot or catch an errant ball, while Distance Traveled gives a nice little bonus the farther the ball goes on its journey across the table.

Each Arcade ability starts at level 1 and can be upgraded by shards, which are earned in the Career Mode.  Career Mode is found on a large TV sitting off near the room’s entrance, creating a series of goals over differing gameplay types.  Three-ball and timed modes are just the start, with other limitations being a maximum number of times you can use the flippers, or score being secondary to the distance the ball travels during the game.  Every level of the Career Mode has ten goals to chase with three levels of success, each of which can earn a shard, and it’s hard to not retry a challenge until all three are collected.

Whether you decide to chase after superhuman powerups or play it straight, Star Wars Pinball VR plays a good game with plenty of action in its tables.  The different shots all link together nicely, and while it’s frequently hard to know what the next goal is, the instructions are a pause-button away.  Each table has a good variety of toys, some of which could be created in the real-world and many that couldn’t, such as The Mandalorian‘s Falcon Crest ship, which when it captures a ball, flies into the center of the table to release it.  Meanwhile if you can spare a second to look away from the playfield each table also has a number of thematically-appropriate people, robots, ships and walkers hanging about, sometimes using the pinball table as cover to fire a few blaster shots.  They’re only rarely distracting and do a nice job of keeping the room lively even when the call of pinball has burned your focus into ball, flippers and board with no room for anything else.

Closing Comments:

Star Wars Pinball VR is a strong collection of tables that all play differently from each other, whether it’s the large dominating loops of Rogue One, the small spiral tower of Classic Collectibles or the dark and light holocrons of Masters of the Force.  The tables revamped from standard-screen play were already a good pinball time and the two new ones complement them well, plus the move to VR makes any digital pinball better.  Standard flat-screen digital pinball is always a compromise of viewpoints, trying to find the least-unsatisfying angle, but VR pinball is as close as possible to playing the real thing.  Being able to track the ball with your eyes and focus on a section of the table, or lean forward or around to get a better view of an otherwise-obstructed shot, just makes it so much more playable than it would be otherwise.  Add in the Star Wars theme, complete with the fantastic soundtrack, and Star Wars Pinball VR is easily one of the best VR pinball collections available.