Pinball games have come along way. I remember being addicted to Pinball Fantasies on the Amiga way back in the day, through to playing on tables on my smartphone, and now, on VR on the Oculus Quest with games like Pinball FX2 VR.
Pinball FX is nothing new to anyone with a Rift headset, which this game launched on in 2016, however, this would be this game’s first outing on a portable standalone headset. Although the game doesn’t utilize room-scale too much, the 6DoF does help with overall comfort whilst playing around each pinball table. You can, of course, walk around the table and move closer to it, but there isn’t much else to do whilst in room-scale mode.
Upon entering the game you find yourself in a lobby containing a few selectable areas that you can enter. simply looking at them and confirming your selection will take you there. Initially, there is also a large screen TV where you can browse various options and also navigate through the collection of tables you can play and also purchase.
There are just three tables to select from, for your £13.99, which is a little disappointing as the rest can only be played by paying an additional £4.49 for certain licensed tables, and between £14.99 and £18.99 for packs containing a group of table themes. The three tables on offer are themed for Space, Medieval and Underwater, with each table bringing its own style of theme, sounds and, unique to VR, a number of props and characters that move and interact with you and around the table as you play.
Some may find a swimming shark or flying space shuttle a little distracting, for me, these elements kept themselves enough out of view to not be distracting whilst I was playing. Luckily, you can turn these off in the game’s menu options along with adjusting levels of the effect sounds and overall music volume – of which the latter I had to turn off.
Playing each table is done with the controller’s trigger or grip buttons to move the left or right flippers on the table, whilst pulling back on the analog stick or pressing the A button will launch the ball. Jogging the table is also possible using the left analog stick. I found the triggers to be the most natural way to play because you’re normally using your index or middle finger on a real pinball table. Using the grip buttons didn’t feel right to me and they could have been more suited to jolt the table instead.
Playing through the game’s rather limited collection of playable tables I found myself more drawn to the Mars space-themed table. In usual pinball game fashion, there is a lot going on in these tables than what any real-life table is able to do. Space shuttles come flying in and land on the table, inside them, are crane arms that deploy and move and grab the ball, lasers scan and floating alien spider-things leap from one side of the table to the other. Surprisingly none of this feels distracting whilst you’re playing, yet each animation adds a level of interest and freshens things up a bit.
Being a stationary game you tend to want to be sitting down whilst playing this game, with both arms holding the controllers resting on your legs. In-game though, you’re standing at the end of the table, at a set height, that for some might be a little too far away and there is no way to alter this. Its developers should allow you to pull both triggers before starting the game to adjust your playing height. Hopefully, it’s developers include such an option in a future update. I found a quick fix, where you raise the controllers over your head and hold the Oculus button to reset my view, this will bring you a little closer to the action.
Each table plays great, they also look great too, with plenty of flashing lights and animations to keep your eyes entertained for as long as you can keep the three available balls in play. Shadows are lost from the Rift version, to help with performance on the Quest, however with games like Red Matter raising the bar for what’s technically possible on the Quest, if feel with a little extra work we could have visuals that match the Rift version.
My most visually disappointing area of the game, was the lobby you’re in. I would have liked to be able to choose from a number of locations, such as a classic arcade, a bar or bowling alley. The kind of places where you expect a pinball table to be located, not some futuristic Sci-Fi lobby that looks fresh out of a Star Trek movie set.
Another issue I have is the lack of ambient lighting adjustment around the table. The reason I liked the Mars table more, was that it had the darkest ambient light around it. When playing the medieval table, the light in the lobby is too bright aground this table, so you don’t feel as retained as the other two available tables on offer. You can swap the table around their 3 available positions, but I don’t feel this gives you enough control. Having some ability to freely control location as well as turning down the lights a little would have been very welcome here.
After playing through each table and achieving a few high scores I wanted to see how we’ll I had done compared to the rest of the world. At first I was disappointed to see what only friend leaderboards where available, but with a little digging I soon found the options to view a worldwide leaderboard. I am sure I am not alone in saying that with friends not interested in pinball games, it would have been better to show the world leaderboard first and make it more obvious to navigate between them.
Other than your immersion-breaking surroundings, it’s the lack of playable tables for the price of entry that limits me from really enjoying this game. After you’ve played the first three tables there isn’t as much of a desire to explore other tables, especially where you can see them. It would have been good to have a time limited demo of each purchasable table or have the ability to unlock or progress through each table rather than buy them. It’s a very freemium approach to this game, but usually the price of entry is free, not £10.99.
Pinball FX2 VR is a good pinball game on the Oculus Quest, but with its three limited tables and the restriction of its library of other tables, I think this approach limits how well this game could win over gamers. I would have rather paid more and freely have all the tables available. Sure, I could still buy the extra tables, but without being able to sample the tables, how do I know if I will like the table?
With just a few corrections in its options and monetization mechanics, I think this game could have been great, but right now, Pinball FX2 VR drops the ball for me from really enjoying this game. On the other hand, if you’re a die-hard pinball fan that needs to scratch that itch on your Oculus Quest, Pinball FX2 VR is a decent title, just prepare yourself to hand over twice the price of entry to really fulfill what this game can offer you.