It's fairly safe to say that Zen Studios has digital pinball locked down. From original tables based off of singular ideas, to their fantastic collection based off various Marvel licenses, their mastery of the tiny silver ball is beyond reproach. I feel confident saying that, even if I was not as impressed with their last release, Marvel's Civil War.
This confidence in their work, and really a solid love of the source material, sent me reeling when they announced that they would be releasing three Star Wars tables. Drawing inspiration from both the films and the most recent cartoon show, Star Wars Pinball is dynamic, exciting, and in the case of two of the tables, downright challenging.
Yeah, challenging. And not in the, “yeah all the tables are awesome so how do I decide which one to play first” type of challenge. Though, if we're being honest, and I think that we are, there wasn't any real choice to be made there. When given the option... you start with the table based on the most famous of Intergalactic Bounty Hunters: IG-88.
Ok, so it's actually based on Boba Fett, who, truthfully, kicks so much ass he survived being devoured, albeit very slowly, by a sarlacc (this was in the Expanded Universe, which technically isn't canon, especially since they are now going ahead with a 7,8, and 9... but that's neither here nor there). Working off of his fearsome reputation and mercenary status, Boba's table is a back and forth struggle between the Hutts, Jabba in particular, and the Empire, with an appearance by Vader himself and his famous “No disintegration” line. Mediating this conflict from a whole in the center of the table is the previously mentioned sarlacc, which, when given the chance, will happily eat your ball... take that however you want.
Missions are bounty based, with points offered directly reflecting difficulty. Yes, they all involve knocking the silver ball up specific ramps, but the time allowed is significantly more restricted, almost impossibly so, at the highest of point values. Fett's table also features tight ramp lines, and some very unforgiving gutters, with the right one being especially devious thanks to the secondary flipper placement. I can't count the number of times I simply stared incredulously at the screen after watching my ball repeat the same wall bounce to gutter to ball out maneuver. Yes, I am sure that it was completely my fault, but it doesn't stop it from feeling cheap and a bit uncouth.
Filling out the middle of the pack, in difficulty, not quality, is a table based off of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. This table was a bit of a surprise, as it starts as the most unassuming of the Zen Studios line up. Empty of the large characters present in a lot of Zen's offerings, the most standout parts are the two lightsabers that serve as “ball delivery devices.” Vader's iconic red serves as the launcher, and Luke's soon to be broken blue acts as a return ramp, lighting up and delivering the ball every time it lands in a well along the back wall. The center of the table is a simple gray dais with Star Wars written along the inside, separated by the word Vader.
Lighting up both "Star" and "Wars", which requires nothing hits from the silver ball, begins mission mode, with five scenes available to choose from. That's when things start to get exciting. Depending on the mission, the gray dais splits, revealing a host of interactive objects, ranging from asteroids to AT-ATs. The missions themselves are not incredibly hard, but the time can feel pretty constricting.
At certain points, the dais also opens to reveal a round-a-bout. Using it successfully spells out the word training, which when completed, sends the player into Luke's shoes for his lightsaber training aboard the Millennium Falcon. It's a real change of pace from the other “on-table” mini games Zen offers, but it's also a little out of place given that scene happens in Episode IV. Sure, that's nitpicking, but then again, Star Wars.
The table is a bit bare outside of the amazing mission scenes, with a side ramp leading up to the ion cannon from the Hoth base on the right side, and the left side filled with only the lightsaber ramp and some colorful R2 bumpers. It's kind of a shame that the best parts of the table are hidden away, and unless people spend a bunch of time with it, they'll never see some of the content that they've paid for.
The final table is based on Star Wars: The Clone Wars and it is 100% Big Score Hustlin' from the moment the pod containing your silver ball launches. This table practically throws points at you, with simple, non-mission related rewards easily offering rewards in the tens of millions. Featuring about six to seven ramps with about three to four drop off points, it's real easy to get into a rhythm. The secondary flippers are cleverly placed as well, serving to cut the board in half and allowing a lot of separate strategies for top/bottom of the table play.
Fast and lively, the missions feature Anakin and his Padawan engaging in both sabotage and rescue missions, as well as a great fight with Assajj Ventress along the back of the table. Most require ramps to be hit in a certain order, with the order resetting to beginning if you miss. Pulling off the right moves feels great, and like I mentioned before, Zen pulled the limiter off and throws the points into overdrive.
Each of the tables is absolutely stunning, and all three run without any stutter or slowness, as has become the norm with Zen products. Visually, Fett's table easily steals the show, especially with the sarlacc centerpiece, and the bounty hunter himself rocketing around the bottom of the table. Even for the casual pinball fan, there is enough visual splendor to keep you entertained for at least a couple of games per table, and those that stick around will uncover some of the better set pieces (spinning the ball around an AT-AT to simulate the Snowspeeder wrapping it's legs is a personal favorite).
It's also stunning how many of the actual sounds from the movie Zen managed to work into the tables themselves. Episode V is filled with R2's beeps and boops, as well as the killer lightsaber sounds (I am not willing to commit to any one onomatopoeia, so just make the noise yourself). Fett's table features a lot of dialog, with Jabba's and Vader's coming directly from the films, while Boba has more lines then he spoke through the entirety of said movies. It adds so much to the overall package, that even picturing these tables minus any of the sounds is an absolute crime.
I don't know what else they have up their sleeves, but these three tables were more then enough to get me absolutely salivating at the idea of more Star Wars content. Zen Studios has shown they know what to do with licensed content, and maybe next time, they'll let us blow up Alderaan, or even the Death Star... or just fire silver projectiles through a Jar-Jar Model. Hell, give me that, and I'd even allow a “Me-sah.” But just one....
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!