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The nostalgic joy of playing 'Pinball FX2' in VR

Virtual reality pinball is something my dad could get into.

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I associate pinball with family, partly because my father convinced me it was cool when I was a kid, just like he did with The X-Files, Mystery Science Theater 3000, ping pong and a handful of other quasi-nerdy necessities from the '80s and '90s. Plus, one of my uncles had a room packed with pinball machines -- yes, he had the Addams Family table -- and as a pre-teen I'd revel in playing them late into the night every New Year's Eve. Now that I'm an adult, it's my turn to show these family members what's cool (or simply how to use Gmail), and virtual reality is absolutely on that list.

I'm not saying VR will take off commercially or change the world, but it is definitely a cool thing. And now, there's a clear way for me to introduce it to my dad, uncle or anyone with an affinity for those rapid-fire flippers: Pinball FX2 VR on the Oculus Rift.

Gallery: 'Pinball FX2 VR' on Oculus Rift | 12 Photos

Pinball FX2 VR launches for the Oculus Rift on March 28th and includes three tables, each controlled with the Xbox One controller: Epic Quest, Secrets of the Deep and Mars. All of these are housed in the VR version of a menu screen, which in this case is a beautiful beachside living room. It's a large, circular space with windows on all sides and comfy-looking, retro-futuristic furniture -- and three pinball tables, of course. Turn your head to locate each table and, as you select one, the room shifts into the appropriate theme.

Virtual reality is all about atmosphere and creating a believable sense of place. Pinball FX2 VR manages to do this within and around the tables themselves.

Epic Quest features the cartoonish knight, Max, who comments on the game while sitting astride his wooden horse next to the table. Tiny versions of Max crawl around Epic Quest's ramps and bumpers as you flick the ball around their winding passageways with the Xbox One controller's trigger buttons. The Mars option features an interstellar landscape outside of the room's windows and a brilliant sun burning directly behind the table. As you play, comets hit the tile and tiny drones fly in and out, sometimes helping dislodge the silver ball as it flies around under the virtual glass. Selecting the Secrets of the Deep table fills the room with water and adds a great white shark.

Full disclosure: I'm terrified of sharks. In fact, I accidentally selected this table as I was messing around in the living room space, looking around the VR room willy-nilly. I nearly tore the Oculus Rift off of my face, but that probably would have broken my glasses. Instead, I turned my back on the vicious, man-eating monster floating in front of me and selected the Mars table. The dense vacuum of space was a welcome relief.

The two tables I actually played, Mars and Epic Quest, were satisfyingly solid in the VR world. Flipping the triggers on the Xbox One controller is an acceptable facsimile for a real-life pinball experience and the game's physics have been honed over nearly 10 years of tweaking by creator Zen Studios.

Nothing will ever beat playing a real-life pinball machine in a dark, sticky-floored arcade, but Pinball FX2 VR is a close, gratifying second. It may not be the "killer app" needed to push sales of Oculus' new headset, but it's a welcome addition to the hardware. Plus, it'll save you a ton of quarters -- after you drop $600 on the Rift, at least.

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