In an effort to remain fully transparent I should let you know before we jump in further that I like many hold a soft spot in my heart for both Pinball and Star Wars. Whereas pinball machines and arcades as a whole may be extraordinarily rare in 2013, in my formative years they were seemingly everywhere. I would spend hours pumping quarters into various pinball machines as a kid, so much so that I’m terrified of the actual fortune that I must’ve spent. After exhausting my family’s supply of quarters it was not uncommon for me to run home and watch the original Star Wars trilogy in succession.
Those times, as simple and joyous as they may have been, are long past. Both pinball and Star Wars have become antiques, remembered fondly in the rear view mirror but met with an overwhelming amount of apathy today by many; including myself.
So when the creators of Pinball FX and Zen Pinball returned with their newest set of tables based on the cultural mammoth that is Star Wars, the nostalgic pairing of the two may have set off a few alarms; enough so to perhaps to lead someone to believe that “it’s a trap”. However I am overjoyed to inform you that the mixture is not only good, it has the power to rekindle a love you may have lost for each of them individually.
Based upon Episode V (The Empire Strikes Back), Boba Fett, and The Clone Wars (animated series), each one of the games three tables is vastly different than the last. Not only are Star Wars Pinball’s tables structurally and conceptually different, they also come with individually unique challenges that are directly influenced by their respective themes.
As a newcomer to Zen Studio’s variety of virtual pinball I was overwhelmed by just how modern of an experience Star Wars Pinball can be. Ships will soar by, soundtracks will bombast your ears, and you will battle fully 3-D enemies. There are moments in which the astonishing amount of action occurring in front of your eyes can be overwhelming, but at no time whatsoever I was never compelled to look away.
Not content to just reiterate the same formula, Zen Studio has decided to innovate on the pinball genre. Furthermore the studio from Hungary has included all traditional customization tools and features you would expect to find in a true pinball machine, including tilts and extending to even being able to access the “operators menu” to alter the entire game. It is clear that while Zen Studios aspire to evolve the pinball experience, they are also true fans of it and pay homage wherever possible.
Having the Zen Pinball 2 experience on Vita is a real treat. Although the game is available on a multitude of devices, Star Wars Pinball on the Vita feels like the perfect match. Play horizontal, vertical, use shoulder or face buttons, heck even hold it upside down simulating the true pinball experience of smashing paddles; the choice is yours.
On the topic of choice, when confronting Star Wars Pinball for the first time you will be posed a rather straightforward question, Light Side or Dark Side? Choosing an allegiance enters you into a meta-game in which you contribute to your sides ranking by leveling up. The social competition isn’t all that influential to the gameplay, but does offer another incentive to raking up the ostensibly inconsequential points.
What becomes obvious quite quickly is that the game’s main attraction is the table based upon the critically acclaimed Episode V film. Designed with only a couple choice attractions, the table certainly is the most traditional of the bunch, yet it is certainly the most enjoyable. Prior to putting your ball into play the game treats you to a flyover of the board and it is shocking how much love has been put into this particular machine. It feels like a lost relic from a dark, smoky 80’s arcade. With a classically built framework and beautiful I was so convinced at the authenticity of the game that I delved into research only to shockingly find that it is indeed an original, modern creation.
As you may expect this particular table features many of the sights and sounds of the game, especially during the games challenges. When you’ve smashed your metal sphere against the two central targets subtly labeled “Star” and “Wars”, you will trigger one of five missions based on scenes from the film. Once you have chosen your mission with a simple button press, you are then challenged to complete a designated task, such as hitting a specific ramp multiple times; in order to progress to the next successive missions. Most of these missions are accompanied by a 3-D manifestation such as tie fighters, or AT-AT’s roaming across the field of play. At the end of each mission you will be granted a first-person lightsaber training session in which you fill the shoes of Luke Skywalker himself.
Make no mistake, while Episode V is certainly fresh and enjoyable, the overall structure stems from very traditional-arcade roots. Arcades were the first micro-transaction based gaming experience, designed with ferocious difficulty in the attempts to rid you of your beloved quarters. Episode V is cut from the same cloth, feeling so difficult at times that it can be frustrating for someone who is not a pinball wizard. However while you will surely experience a great deal of failure, it will never be enough to completely cease your will return and try once again. Episode V is to many the best film of the Star Wars saga, and how befitting it is that even in pinball form it still manages to live up to its reputation.
Everyone’s favourite bounty hunter Boba Fett is also treated to his own arcade playground. Complete with an active sarlacc pit, the dune-style table is most befitting of the Mandalorian-armour wearing mercenary. As the enigmatic renegade zips across the board you put to task by Jabba the Hutt himself to carry out jobs, the riskier the proposition the greater the bounty. After you’ve apprehended your targets you must extradite them via the loading dock. Pulling off one of these underhanded missions is quite harder than it would seem, keeping in line with precedent set by Episode V.
Hard-core fans of Boba’s will be overjoyed with the amount of care and polish Zen Studios put in to making every detail reflect the character. Considering all the games that Boba Fett has appeared in its almost comedic that a game as crude as pinball manages to capture the spirit of the character better than most.
The final table included is The Clone Wars, based on the animated series and film of the same name.
Breaking the regular routine the table begins with the famous scrolling yellow text, moreover it is narrated by Tom Kane who reprises his role from the show. Both bright and jubilant, there’s a recognizable change in tone in terms of visuals and gameplay.
The Clone Wars is easily the most overloaded table in terms of the sheer amount of nonsense going off on screen. Between several lightsabers, ships, and Jedi; it can be hard to discern what exactly is going on at any given time. Thankfully the copious amount of diversions doesn’t impact the difficulty, in fact The Clone Wars is a significant amount less challenging than its peers. You exuberantly lavished with points as you react hastily to the games tight, claustrophobic quarters. For a pinball amateur like me having this break from being lambasted for my lack of skill was rejuvenating.
It is clear that Star Wars Pinball was created with forethought and handled with care. Each table in the set is masterfully crafted and truly reflects the enduring power that Star Wars has. If you believe that either pinball or Star Wars are products of a bygone era and should be relegated to only to deepest ethers of our nostalgia, Zen Studios is here to change your mind.