Zen Studios has shown that it can take a popular license and turn it into a fantastic series of pinball tables. Consider the company's past work on familiar properties like Plants vs Zombies, Street Fighter, and Marvel heroes like Iron Man, Wolverine, and Spider-Man. After working on so many heavy-hitters, where do the creative folks at Zen go from here? To a galaxy far, far away, naturally. Zen has released the first in a series of pinball tables based on the Star Wars universe for its suite of platforms Zen Pinball 2, Pinball FX 2, and as a standalone package for various arrangements of the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, iOS, Android, and PC. The Empire Strikes Back, Clone Wars, and the bounty hunter Boba Fett provide the source material for these tables and show that when it comes to adapting one of the most beloved fictions of our time, the Force is with... aw, you know the rest.
Reviewing pinball tables is an interesting experience. Becoming skilled at platformer games or shooters takes some time and talent, but in my experience, if I can crack one game in a genre, I can tackle most all that I encounter. Pinball, on the other hand, is unique. I can tear up one table and rack up near one hundred million points on my best day, while on the next table I may top out at a measly fifty-eight thousand. It takes time to find the rhythm of a table, and in my time with the three Star Wars Pinball tables, I've found that, for me, each table has a distinct feel. Boba Fett is the middle of the road table; I can trigger missions, hit targets, and accumulate just over twenty-two million points before the last silver ball goes down the drain. Clone Wars is by far the easiest table and the most accessible; my top score is just over sixty-six million. The Empire Strikes Back, however, is the most difficult of the set with six missions long enough to deserve checkpoints, a training challenge, and multiple secret (or, at least, less obvious) objectives. My score on Empire? A paltry seven million.
Each table has its own special structure. Empire challenges players to relive the film through a series of six missions, each of which represents a scene from the movie. For instance, via the medium of pinball, Luke Skywalker must retrieve a lightsaber and Han Solo must land the Millennium Falcon in Cloud City. This table's missions are the most challenging of the set. I have yet to complete any of them. Thankfully, this table features checkpoints for each mission so I can continue to hammer away at what little progress I make, and it's very helpful not to have to replay the same parts of missions as I train. There are a variety of special bonuses to earn on this table, and under the right conditions they will stack which opens the door to major bonuses. I like this table, but since I'm not very skilled at it yet, I haven't seen near all that it has to offer. I keep plugging away at it though. Something about this one keeps me trying to move forward.
My favorite table of the set is Clone Wars although I've never seen the Cartoon Network series on which it's based. Sure, when Yoda speaks (and he speaks an awful lot, and always with Confucius Says type platitudes), I recognize him, but when the table tells me that Asajj Ventress is attacking, I don't know if I'm supposed to be excited about that or afraid. My lack of familiarity doesn't impact any enjoyment of the table though with its variety of challenging but manageable missions and multiple ways to earn bonuses. When I get into a rhythm on this table, the ball flies through the ramps and I can score the big points (well, big for me, anyway). I've tended to spend most of my Star Wars Pinball time with this table because I feel that if I'm going to become a super pro at any of them, it'll be this one, so I continue to try and up my game.
The final table in the set, Boba Fett, is the most difficult. Players must complete missions for both the Empire (represented on the table by Darth Vader himself) and the Hutts (led by Jabba, of course) in order to earn respect and become the most feared bounty hunter in the galaxy. The missions are easy to trigger, but I'm never quite clear on how to clear them, and there's something happening here with missile bonuses that I don't understand just yet, so I spend most of my Fett time trying to master the ramps, trigger the multiball, and jump the in-table sarlacc pit. There's plenty of personality on this table; both Vader and Jabba turn up to lecture or congratulate Fett depending on my performance, Fett himself flies around the table with his jetpack and will even yank the ball out of the drain with a grappling wire sometimes. It's fun to watch all of the table's elements interact, and sometimes I think I keep coming back to this table just to watch it in motion.
While I may not be a pinball wizard on these tables yet, I've loved my time with Star Wars Pinball and expect I'll keep working to improve my scores for quite a while to come. Seven more tables in the series are due out over the next year or so and I know we'll all be watching Zen's plans with great interest. In the meantime, don't miss out on these tables if you're a Star Wars fan and/or a pinball fan. They're extremely well done with high production values and a wonderful fun factor. For more on the Star Wars Pinball set, don't miss Episode 95 of Power Button in which Neil Sorens, Creative Director at Zen Studios, explains all of the work that went into creating the tables and what we can expect next in the series.