Review: Star Wars Pinball VR
by ZhinanZhang on Jul 29, 2021
Zen Studios proved back in 2016 how well arcade classic pinball works in virtual reality (VR) thanks to Pinball FX2 VR, providing addictively simple yet thoroughly engrossing gameplay. Now the studio is back, returning with a bigger, bolder and even more engaging experience than before, just so long as you’re a massive Star Wars fan that is.
Star Wars Pinball VR is the very essence of a love letter to the sci-fi franchise, taking you through several of the films as well as adding its own extras. This isn’t so much a nod to Star Wars, it’s more a massive mosh pit for you to jump around in and customize to your liking – once you’ve put in some serious time at the tables to unlock everything of course.
You’ll find yourself in a fairly barebones Fan Cave, with lots of empty shelving, plinths, and poster frames to be filled. To do so you’re provided with eight tables, each with its own unique design and characters depending on what part of the franchise they’re based on. So you’ve got tables such as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope which come from the original Star Wars Pinball videogame but there are new inclusions like The Mandalorian. Unlike Pinball FX2 VR which had separate tables, in Star Wars Pinball VR all eight are housed in one unit, keeping the cave nice and tidy but also meaning you can quickly and easily switch between the tables.
Which is great once you found a couple of favourites (which you will). They’re all extremely intricate, fascinating to look at, almost overwhelming to begin with. Apart from the main central flippers, all the tables have varying degrees of additional flippers so there’s a sizable learning curve when you start a fresh one. Being pinball, the mechanics are very easy to pick up and play yet don’t let that fool you. The tables are incredibly complex with multiple stages to unlock as well as new animations. Read the table description if you want to see all that they have to offer. And that’s not even counting the VR additions.
Even with the older PC pinball tables, Zen Studios has given them a reworking. So you can view each one from the standard overhead view or actually jump inside for a close-up look. Called ‘Immersion Mode’ it looks great if you want to admire the table but not so much for actually playing it. You’re almost too close to the action making it tricky to track the ball, plus the ball looks really fake like it’s floating around the table. It’s the one feature in Star Wars Pinball VR which ruins the illusion of playing pinball in VR, so stay clear.
However, there are in-table moments that do work very well. There’s a sequence that can be unlocked during The Mandalorian whereby you control Mando for a brief time, blasting the ball away with your wrist-mounted flamethrower. There aren’t too many of these moments but they do add a pleasing side touch to the whole experience.
For the most part, you’re going to be aiming for table high scores as some massive scores are required to unlock some of the rarer unlockables like the Darth Vader statue or Baby Yoda. Thankfully, Star Wars Pinball VR features a couple of different ways you can engage with the tables to keep the gameplay interesting. Classic Mode is exactly as you’d expect, no-frills just you, a couple of buttons to mash, and some expert timing. Dig a little deeper and you also have an Arcade Mode and a Career Mode which are sort of intertwined yet hold the key to the monstrous scores.
Naturally, every Fan Cave has to have a huge TV. This is where you can play through the Career Mode with five chapters split down into ten missions each. They’ll each have their own particular challenges such as hit a particular score within a time limit or last for a set time with only one life. Do so and you’ll be awarded points on Force Powers and Force Talents. Upgrading them will increase their special bonus, nicely upping the ante when playing in Arcade Mode. They don’t alter the pinball mechanics in any way but having those means you can swap the Powers/Talents around and change your strategy if you take those pinball high scores seriously.
Away from the intensity of the tables you can always relax, put some music on the R2-D2 Jukebox, and admire your cave. Star Wars Pinball VR is for the most part a very comfortable experience as you’re at a table watching a ball(s) ping around. Smooth locomotion is the default movement around the cave so if you’re not comfortable with that snap turning and teleportation can be activated, they’re just not easy to find. The options menu is hidden within the TV system so it’s not instantly accessible wherever you are in the room.
Understandable considering Zen Studios is keeping a nice HUD-free environment yet it does make the process a little finicky for those players who do instantly head to the option settings. Another unusual addition is the hands. You’d think that in VR hands aren’t unusual but in the room, they’re completely inanimate, there’s nothing to pick up or physically interact with. They seem to be used more as a way to ground you in the space, automatically locking to the side of the table when playing.
Another minor gripe is the retro screens at the far end of each table, they need to be a bit easier to read. You can get so engrossed watching the ball(s) it’s easy to forget to look at the little yellow and black screen to make certain stage selections.
Even with those grumbles, Star Wars Pinball VR is an excellent addition to the franchise, another superb showcase of pinball in VR. There’s so much content to discover you’ll be playing for hour after hour trying to finesse those shots to unlock new secrets. Sure, it really helps if you’re a Star Wars fan as all the cave customization options will be lost on anyone else. VR headsets already have a decent selection of Star Wars titles with Star Wars Pinball VR being one of the best.