Star Wars Battle Pod
In 1983, to coincide with the (then) final chapter of one of the biggest film franchises in history, arcades across the country prominently featured both stand up and sit down versions of Atari’s Star Wars Arcade Game. It’s a first person, on-rails shooter that places the player in the shoes of Luke Skywalker as he pilots his X-wing Fighter through a barrage of Tie Fighters, hostile artillery towers and finally down the iconic Death Star Trench in glorious color vector graphics.
I loved it. Still do. Home versions have never been able to do it justice because of its unique yoke controls; part of the arcade only experience.
Now, with a new set of Star Wars movies on the horizon, Bandai Namco has rejuvenated that experience with a 1200 pound beast sporting a domed screen and surround sound that envelops players as they pilot Luke’s X-wing, The Millennium Falcon, a Snowspeeder, a Speeder Bike or a Tie Advanced. The Star Wars Battle Pod amps up that arcade experience with gorgeous 180 degree graphics that does well to provide a sense of awe without invoking nausea.
One game equals one of 5 level choices with increasing difficulty. The easiest and most familiar seqeunce is The Battle of Yavin where Luke (the player) flies his X-Wing Fighter along the surface of The Death Star, blasting Tie Fighters and dodging debris along a preset path before diving into the trench and eventually taking out the space station.
Choosing the ice planet Hoth has you facing off again against Ties but closer to the ground this time and dodging the lasers and legs of the giant AT-AT walkers. The domed screen really helps to sell the scale of the metal camels and the dizzying manuevers required to fly beneath the underbelly of one that is crashing to the frozen tundra below.
Those choosing to up the difficulty and the virtual temperature can head to the forest moon of Endor. Steal a trooper’s speeder bike and shoot past giant redwoods while pursuing imperial troopers and tripping up the AT-ST chicken walkers looking to scrape ewoks off their feet. All of the scenarios use fans inside the enclosed cockpit of the game to enhance the effects of movement, but being the only open-air vehicle in the game, it makes the most sense and is utilized quite effectively here.
Continuing through the trilogy, the 4th scenario casts you as Lando Calrisian piloting the Millennium Falcon through a sea of Tie Fighters on the way to destroying the second Death Star at the finale of Return of the Jedi. Waves and waves of enemies fly at the screen before finally plunging into the claustrophobic innards of the unfinished Imperial space station in a disappointingly short attack on the central reactor core.
The final and most difficult level reverses the roles. As Darth Vader you take on the pilots of the rebellion, shortly after the destruction of the first Death Star in order to prevent the station’s super-laser from falling into their hands. A brief reflection of the Sith Lord in the cockpit window really sets the scene before you set out to take down X-Wings, A-Wings, Y-Wings and the Millenium Falcon herself.
The Star Wars Battle Pod is a fantastic experience, just not a good game. It’s akin to a thrill ride, not unlike Disneyland’s Star Tours. Your path is already set for you and and you have a pretty solid idea of how things are gonna turn out. The addition of a joystick, trigger buttons and a throttle make it technically interactive, but it’s not especially challenging. Unlike the 80’s original, you can’t pick and choose which enemies you take aim at. And, just like Star Tours, Once the scene is over, you’re done. Regardless of how well you perform, you don’t get to move on, so your 3 bucks (seriously, 3 dollars per play) get’s you about 3 minutes of flight time, so choose which scene you want carefully or be prepared to sacrifice your lunch money for a week.
That said, it’s worth a play or two, particularly if you’re a fan of the franchise. Just don’t expect to keep going back to attack your best your score too often. It’s a fun ride, but a short and pricey one. If you can find one (Dave & Buster’s in the U.S. has exclusivity at the moment), definitely give the Star Wars Battle Pod a whirl. At least until the inevitable Occulus Rift version comes out.