A long time ago, on a video game console that you probably still own, Zen Studios began its quest to deliver quality original pinball simulation experiences. It started with Pinball FX on the Xbox 360, then Zen Pinball on the PlayStation 3. It continued with improvements to ball physics and community-building with Pinball FX2 and Zen Pinball 2. The original tables gradually improved as months passed and people began to take notice. Companies with significant IPs began to show interest. The biggest partnership had been with Marvel Comics, as Zen Studios adapted a series of tables based on well-known (and not so well-known) comic book heroes.
In June of 2012, while getting a chance to meet members of the Zen Studios team during E3, I had an early opportunity to see some of the newer Marvel Pinball tables that were being worked on… but I also was treated to a surprise that I was sworn not to reveal. A deal had been struck to create a series of tables based on the Star Wars universe. Behold the fruits of those negotiations: Star Wars Pinball.
I sat on this for months, excited, but I had no idea what the tables would be like. I couldn’t have prepared myself for what I would go on to experience with the first suite of tables in the Star Wars Pinball series. They’re better than I possibly could have imagined, and, simply put: You must purchase them. I’ll state my case over the next few paragraphs, but these are the best original tables that I have played to date and easily deserve your money and time.
This initial suite provides three tables: The Empire Strikes Back, Boba Fett, and The Clone Wars. The Empire Strikes Back table stays true to the film and ultimately challenges players to “play through” the scenes by pulling off specific tasks. Scenes from Hoth, Dagobah, Cloud City, and the harrowing Asteroid Field sequence are among the scenarios that are simulated in pinball form. There are other features that players will come to learn and access as their experience grows. Jedi and Sith multiball sequences, taking down AT-STs via hitting certain loop shots, Probot skill shots, and even a first-person Jedi Training mode await. The music and sound effects are pulled straight from the film for the most part, although some music is original and very high quality. If there’s a downside to Empire Strikes Back, it’s that some of the ball returns after shooting the ball up certain ramps get confusing. It’s hard to tell on occasion where the ball is going to go and a very keen eye must be used to track and follow the ball as it makes its way along each ramp. At times, the ball travels from ramps to outlanes via a lightsaber; if the flipper buttons are pressed before the ball exits the saber blade, the saber changes locations. Be aware of this, too.
Boba Fett is an original table, chronicling the series’ most well-known bounty hunter. It’s also arguably the most difficult table of the three to master because accurate and quick shooting is mandatory for the best results. The main objective for this is revolves around Boba taking on missions from the Empire or from the Hutts to bring in bounties for big points. In order to collect these bounties, the player must hit seven different ramp or loop shots within the allotted time. This may not sound difficult on paper, but it becomes a race against time to line up and hit those last one or two shots as tens of millions of points are at stake. Higher bounty amounts- which increase by the tens of millions of points- also add penalties for hitting one of the seven shots more than once. Success in these missions means big points, provided the bounty can be delivered to Slave I by locking the ball inside. The idea of Slave I flying around the playfield is cool, but it flies so close to the outhole that a bad bounce or missed shot can lead to a frustrating lost call… and lost bounty points. When not taking on bounty missions, players can earn points by making plunger skill shots, facing off against rival bounty hunters, and collecting “easy bounties” by shooting the ball through the top-center spinner and hitting all of the seven required shots that normal bounty missions use. As with the Empire Strikes Back table, the sound and music are top-notch.
Finally, the Clone Wars table is based on the animated series. This is the easiest and most forgiving of the suite, and there are plenty of things to do in order to rack up points. Hurry-up sequences, multiball sequences, missions to complete, and a very cool bonus table which has players attacking a citadel (sans Commander Shepard) all await. The main playfield seems larger than the others, mainly because the action takes place mostly on one of two levels. The top level has various ramps and hurry-up shots to light, along with a series of bumpers that can activate a ball saver if they’re hit enough times. The lower level is where missions are activated and where certain shots must be made during missions to achieve success. The big challenge on this table is learning about the different shots, what they do, and what is required to collect certain bonuses.
With experience, observation, and persistence, success is very achievable; my first time playing this table was an effort of more than 300 million points. The drawback I have with this table- and it’s one of personal preference- is that Yoda talks way too much. It became grating before long, and that’s unfortunate as the music is again very, very good. It won’t be long during a good effort before you’ll want to switch the Jedi Master off completely.
I’ve had the pleasure of playing all of Zen Studios’ tables over the years. The level of quality has steadily increased with each successive release, and what the team did with the Marvel Pinball table suite was some of their best work. Star Wars Pinball has taken that level of quality and raised it substantially. The ball physics are outstanding. The visuals and sound are remarkable. Each table has ball error recognition, so if a ball jumps to a place it shouldn’t be, the ball is replaced within a few seconds. Each of the tables is engaging in its own way, and the various objectives and missions keep me coming back to see what else I can accomplish. The constantly-changing leaderboards keep me challenged as I peek to see which scores to take down next. Yoda may say “Do or do not,” but when it comes to Star Wars Pinball, there is only one option: DO.
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