Video game companies tried to push virtual reality in the 80s and 90s with weird results. Despite coming up with imaginative games and products, tech limitations prevented customers from having that Lawnmower Man type experience.
Fast forward to today and publishers are at it again, this time with Sony’s Project Morpheus headset for PS4 and Facebook’s Oculus Rift device, among others. Neither have confirmed release dates, price points or launch titles, but thankfully consoles and PCs have the processing power to make VR significantly more immersive than products from 1995. In short, we’re excited. Skydiving? Walking on the moon? Investigating shipwrecks underwater? Please, take our money!
Of course there will be lots of video games, and while we’re not privy to insider information, Star Wars Battle Pod seems like a perfect fit. Released by Bandai Namco exclusively for arcades, this gorgeous VR-style game allows players to relive some of the greatest battles in Star Wars history, starting with the epic Battle of Yavin that resulted in Luke Skywalker destroying the original Death Star in Episode IV: A New Hope. The action continues with the equally engaging Battle of Hoth from Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, with Snow Speeders zipping around AT-ATs. From there they go to the forest of Endor from Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, blasting Scout Troopers while riding a Speeder Bike. Later they pilot the Millennium Falcon through the second Death Star, obliterating TIE Fighters en route to crushing the Galactic Empire; another Return of the Jedi favorite.
All of this takes place from the first person, with gamers staring at gorgeous graphics spread across a large screen. It’s the sort of in-your-face arcade game and cabinet that immediately draws attention. Walk into a room and most people will instantly make a beeline towards it, perhaps bypassing old mainstays like Dance Dance Revolution, Top Skater and House of the Dead 2.
Star Wars Battle Pod needs to be a Project Morpheus and Oculus Rife launch title. In all fairness the game only has five missions, perfect for the arcade but a bit light on content for a home release. Yet we’d still pay full price to strap on a VR headset and go inside an X-Wing for a chance to fly through the Death Star trench. The game does not use a standard console controller, though Bandai Namco could adapt those commands to the DualShock 4.
Plenty of console games over the years took us to a galaxy far, far away. Nintendo and Factor 5 did a wonderful job recreating the Battle of Yavin in Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, but that game came out in 2001. We never received the motion-controlled lightsaber game on the Wii (we’re still not sure it even existed), and Kinect Star Wars put a different spin on George Lucas’ universe.
Battle Pod, however, is in a whole different category. Imagine putting on Project Morpheus and flying into that Death Star trench, looking up and seeing the stars, then looking behind you at Darth Vader’s TIE Advanced hot on your tail. Then Obi-Wan Kenobi’s voice comes through the speakers… “Use the Force, Luke!” You switch off the targeting computer, Solo swoops in with the assist and you blow this thing and go home.
Would it be short compared to most games on the market? Of course, but VR is all about immersion, and with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens movie scheduled to debut this Christmas and EA’s Battlefront video game on track for November, it’s clear that fans want more of the franchise, and this is one of those titles that would instantly draw attention, especially if the prices of VR units are higher than anticipated.
Will Star Wars Battle Pod come to Project Morpheus? Too early to say, but if anyone from Bandai Namco reads this, please let us blow up the Death Star while sitting on the couch.
See Star Wars Battle Pod in action below.