Pinball. The word itself brings up all sorts of images; flashing lights, bells, buzzers, and of course a silver ball. Star Wars. Two more words that bring up other images; flashing lasers, robotic blips, mechanical breathing and a Deathstar. Zen Studios felt it was time to put these two together in Star Wars Pinball, an expansion for their video games; Pinball FX 2 (Xbox 360) and Zen Pinball 2 (PlayStation 3 and PSVita). How well do they work? Strap yourselves in, I'm gonna make the jump to light speed.
Overall there is very little in story in the Star Wars Pinball, but across the three table’s bits of the Star Wars saga does play out. Zen Studios picked well. The three tables are themed; one for The Empire Strikes Back, one for Star Wars: The Clone Wars and one for Boba Fett. Each table has special play modes that are based on scenes from their respective inspirational choice. For example on The Empire Strikes Back table you can "navigate an asteroid field" or "refight" the battle on Hoth.
Controls and Gameplay
Classic pinball is what we have here in Star Wars Pinball. Keep the silver ball in play as long as possible, scoring points, before it rolls into the drain at the bottom of the table. The controls feature the classic two flippers and a launcher. The left and right upper shoulder buttons on the controller (the only shoulder buttons on the PSVita) control the left and right flippers respectively, while the X button on the PlayStation 3 (A on the Xbox 360) controls the ball launcher. You can also give the tables a "nudge" with the analog sticks, but don't "nudge" them too much otherwise you will cause a tilt.
Graphics and Sound
The tables in Star Wars Pinball are bright, colorful, and noisy, just like you would expect from a real pinball machine. The tables have a realistic look as well. A majority of the elements could be found on real pinball tables, bumpers, targets, rollover switches, flippers, the silvery steel ball, etc. are all here looking as they should.
The Star Wars elements also look like their movie and cartoon counterparts. Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, and more all look as they should from The Empire Strikes Back, while Anakin Skywalker, Ahsoka Tano and more take their look from the animated Star Wars: The Clone Wars series.
The sounds in Star Wars Pinball are equally realistic. The bumpers click, flipper activate, even the ball occasionally “smacks” against the glass, producing sounds that feel real.
The Star Wars sound effects feel like they have been lifted directly from the movies and placed carefully into the game. The twang of laser fire, the "woom" of lightsabers and "scream" of Tie Fighters in flight are all exactly as they should be.
The only nitpicky part I could even find here is the voice acting. They are all tonally off just enough to know that they are not the original actors, but sound-alikes. Many classic lines get the appropriate treatment though. I think my favorite is the use of "You said you wanted to be around when I made a mistake, well, this could be it, sweetheart" when the ball goes down the drain on The Empire Strikes Back table.
Zen Studios has been producing video game pinball for years and they pretty much perfected the genre. So it comes as no surprise that they brought Star Wars to the video game pinball world successfully. They should be very happy with what they have here.
While there is a certain level of random chaos to pinball, long time players of pinball learn ways of controlling that chaos. Even so each of these tables seems to have a skill level. The Star Wars: The Clone Wars seemed easy to score on, while Boba Fett felt impossible to really get any score run going. The Empire Strikes Back felt like it struck a happy balance between the other two. Of the three, The Empire Strikes Back was the one I kept coming back to. Considering it is the fan favorite of the movies, that is really no surprise. For me the draw of the "scene challenges" it offered the most fun.
I was lucky enough to be able to play all three tables on three of the many systems it's been released on; Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PSVita. Credit goes to Zen Studios again for keeping the look, sound, and gameplay across three different systems the same. The only one that I had any sort of "problem" with would be the PSVita and that is only because I went from playing on a big 40 inch screen to the little 5 inch screen. Small targets and such are a little harder to see, so it becomes a little more of "playing by intuition" than sight. A very cool feature is that the PSVita and the PlayStation 3 do share cross-play leaderboards so you can post a high score at home or on the go. PlayStation 3/PSVita owners can also take advantage of the cross-buy option, buy it on the PlayStation 3, and get it for free on the PSVita.
As a fan of both video game pinball and the Star Wars saga I was very pleased with the results of Zen Studios' work. All three tables capture the best elements of the saga and pinball and mix them well giving us hours of fun. I give Star Wars Pinball a 5 out of 5.
Star Wars Pinball is rated E10+ for Everyone 10 Years and Older by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) for Fantasy Violence and Mild Language.
For more information see the Star Wars Pinball web site.