My 7th birthday was one I will likely always remember. I had two parties, one with my friends and then on with just my mom, dad and little sister. For the friends party, my mom took us to a bowling alley. We bowled, which was fun, but they had an arcade. Much to my mom’s frustration, my friends and I actually spent most of our time in there. This was 1977 and at that time, there were but only a few video arcade machines around, especially up here in the great white north. This place was packed to the hilt with pinball! I had never seen one in person before but it was amazing! I had to stand on my tippy toes to see anything more of the table besides the scoreboard and the launcher but I was entranced. From that moment on my birthday’s were planned around arcades (except for my 12th...worst birthday ever...but thats another story). Fast forward a week later and on my actual birthday my parents took us to see Star Wars! Sadly my sister and my dad were not big fans but my mom and I loved it! I hadn’t thought of that chain of events in a long while but when the chance came to review Zen Studios Star Wars Pinball the memories came back and I started to feel like that kid again!
Ever since I was a young boy, I played the Silver ball
Zen Studios Pinball FX & FX2 quickly became a favorite of mine on XBLA. Not only are they extremely well done but they take up way less room on my xbox than actual pinball machines would in my basement! They cost a heck of a lot less too. With the 20+ tables I have for Pinball FX2, I have come to appreciate that Zen Studios creates tables that are fun, intricate, exciting and most importantly feel like real pinball. You can feel and see the physics involved in every movement. Whether it is the ball bouncing off a target or bumper or having enough momentum to travel up a ramp or habitrail the physics feel and look right.
Besides the normal components found in pinball, Zen Studios grabs the best of the experience in a physical realm and adds the wonderful things it can do only in a video game. There is more movement to their tables such as balls teleporting, 3D characters flying around, missiles firing, horses running, etc. To purists, this must be hard to swallow but for me it just adds to the fun. That is actually the best way to describe the first three of the planned 10 Star Wars Pinball tables I was lucky enough to play - these tables are pure fun!
He will join us or die my master
Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite of the original three films. It also happens to be my favorite of the three tables. The interface is clean, the objectives are clear and you can tell where most of the targets are hiding. To start, you choose who you are playing as. The only difference this makes, that I found, was in the movies quotes that are interspersed throughout the game. For instance, pick Luke and you hear more of him as you light up lanes and unlock specials. The center of this table is where most of the action takes place. Light up STAR and WARS and you unlock your choice of 5 classic clips from the movie. They will play in old school green and black in the dot matrix display and then your mission begins. Drop the ball through the center VADER target 5 times and he rises from underneath. The intent of this mission is to hit the ball at him where he will stop it with the force, break it and toss it away. Another ball appears and you do it again until his time runs out. Each successful attempt nets you 10,000 more points overtop of the base 100,000. It is cumulative not just in the instance you unlock him but any further instances within that same game as well. If you are in the zone you can grab a ton of points this way.
Other 3D characters and objects can appear such as a Storm Trooper, Luke Skywalker, lightsabers, even an AT-AT with a circling snow speeder. Each character or object is earned through unlocks and specials. As an aside, why is it that I can run a ball up a ramp at will any other time during the game but all of a sudden when it counts there might as well be a big brick blocking it?. This isn’t a fault of the game, it is one hundred percent on my end. I have come to realize that I temporarily lose all motor skills when it actually counts for something!
Of the three tables I found that the missions and unlocks were some of the more difficult to try and complete. Without giving too much away, a number of them required that you shoot the ball from a specific angle to hit specific objects. My ball seemed to be averse to the spots where it was more or less required to be shot from. As such, I found that this table was the most unforgiving one of the pack. Then again, so was the film.
What if he doesn't survive? He's worth a lot to me.
Boba Fett is badass. He is known as the most ruthless bounty hunter there is. I was concerned that after playing the Episode V table, Boba Fett was going to throw me down a Sarlacc pit and swallow me whole. Thankfully it is a lot more fun than being digested over a thousand years. At first glance there is more going on visually with this table than the Episode V one. There is a Sarlacc pit in the middle that you can jump the ball over, dump it in or smack the waving tentacles that are sticking out of it. There is Han in Carbonite on a Spinner. There is a marble painted like the “eye” in Jabba’s hideout on a seesaw and there are parts of Boba’s history and story as a bounty hunter sprinkled here and there.
There are two main lanes on this table. One where you light up the word “Hutts” and the other “Empire”. Run the ball up the Hutts lane into a sinkhole enough times to unlock a job offer from Jabba or light up Empire to watch Darth tell Boba that there is to be “no disintegrations”. Each job is actually quite rewarding in terms of points and I found Boba Fett to be a little more generous in his ball saves than the Episode V table. For instance, light up the outlanes and Boba will shoot a tether line to pull your ball back out of the drain.
I am a fan of how Zen Studios uses 3D models for more than just decoration. Besides the 3D models of Boba Fett, Darth Vader and Jabba, there are detailed interactive models of the Slave I and a TIE Fighter. I am also a fan of little touches that can add a whole lot more to the experience. Case in point is the end screen of this table. Lose all your balls and on the Dot Matrix display a clip is shown from where Han is frozen in carbonite. The technician bends down to check his vitals on the side of carbonite Han and the display pans to the initials screen. Every time I saw that (and I saw it a lot) I thought “that was just an awesome idea!”
Trust in your friends, and they'll have reason to trust in you
The Clone Wars is the third table and like the cartoon there is a lot going on. It is very busy visually and my old eyes found it hard to follow at times. On the first couple of playthroughs my initial thoughts were along the lines of “the cartoon is aimed at a younger audience so are the basics of this table”. I found it to be the most forgiving of the three with more ball save opportunities and it was probably the easiest to just bang the ball around and get points. However, the more I played it, the more I found underneath that “easily accessible“ surface. The other two had defined skillshots off the launcher that were shown in a pop up screen on the right. It highlighted what you had to do to earn that skillshot bonus. The Clone Wars tables doesn’t have that screen and for a minute I felt lost. It took a couple plays but I eventually figured it out. Earning the skillshot on this table doesn’t take as much finesse as the other two (In my opinion the Boba Fett table was the hardest in this regard) and once you know how and where it is pretty easy to nail it.
Like the other tables there are 3D characters and a ship that appear during certain missions. There are a lot of ramps and a lot of hidden bumpers that you can’t see from the initial view. I changed to a more top down view which helped me find these lanes and unlock a number of multiballs. Again, and it might just be that I had a lucky streak, but the multiball on this table seemed easier to unlock than the other two. The action in multiball is frenetic on all three, as it should be, but with all the lanes on this table it seemed to delay the extra balls just a fraction of a second more to become slightly more manageable. As I stated earlier, there is a lot going on with this table but like the cartoon, the more time you put into it the deeper it gets.
I brought the kids in for some hotseat play (available on all three) and they had a good time for the first few games. Then in one game I went on 9 million point run that felt like it lasted a good 10 minutes. They got bored and left. I would like to say that I went to go get them back when it was their turn...but I didn’t. Too bad for them! I just got double the turns!
Star Wars Pinball is available in: Pinball FX2™ on Xbox LIVE® Arcade, Zen Pinball 2™ on PlayStation®Network for PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita as Cross-Buy entitled content, Zen Pinball 2 on the Mac®App Store, Zen Pinball on the Apple®App Store and Zen Pinball HD on Google Play™. If you are a fan of pinball and the Zen Studios games you will like the Star Wars tables. If you are fan of the Star Wars Franchise as well then this is a no brainer.
(The best part of reviewing this game before it was released was the fact that for the next little while I am ranked fairly high on the leaderboards. It’s not going to last but right now it feels good!)