As a franchise, Star Wars evokes deep-rooted nostalgia in its grown-up fans and entranced wonder in kids. As a genre, virtual pinball seeks to emulate that wonderful, mechanical feeling of an actual table mixed with a video-game-like flair. Put the two together, and you have something truly extraordinary. Star Wars Pinball, the latest add-on for Zen Studios' Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX 2, offers up three original tables that any pinball fan will adore, regardless of your level of mastery over the flipper-based Force.
Zen Studios has always had a knack for crafting playfields that couldn’t work in the real world, while still retaining the feel of an authentic table, and that ability is in full effect here. Though the flow of each layout and the momentum of the ball all feel grounded in actual physics, you’ll be pleased by the flashy window dressing like TIE fighter flybys and raised shields that function as launching ramps. The attention to detail is what gives each table that extra oomph of charm; classic scenes fill the dot-matrix display, the pinball will turn red hot after sliding down an extending lightsaber, and each sound effect matches nicely with the various events (locked balls, ball saves, etc.) on each table.
In fact, the sound design plays a huge part in the nostalgic resonance of the tables, for better or for worse. LucasArts gave Zen full access to the original score, dialogue, and likenesses from the series, but the voice clips are done by sound-alikes who are hit-and-miss. Quotes from Yoda and the faux Han Solo sound pretty spot on, but there’s a subtle displeasure to hearing lines from a not-quite-right Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader impersonator. It’s never totally off-putting, but you might find yourself wincing at sketchy readings as often as you’re thrilled by the spot-on sound effects.
The table you’ll likely gravitate to first is the Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, which sections the beloved film’s memorable moments into moving dioramas and multiball-based missions. You’ll be happily surprised at the ways the two have been interwoven, like when an AT-AT emerges from underneath the table and only loop shots can effectively wrap its legs in tow cable. Empire is by far the most accessible of the three-pack, since starting score-laden missions is a cinch, and the main targets are in plain sight. That said, there’s a wealth of depth here--reaching the duel with Darth Vader is no easy feat, and three balls feels like nothing when you’ve set your sights on scores in the billions.
Advanced players will delight in The Clone Wars, the ramp-laden table based on the animated series. The flow of the playfield is quite simply incredible--once you’ve learned the complexities of this table’s colorful layout, you’ll be racking up combos like nobody’s business. It also walks a fine line of difficulty: Rarely will the ball drain via outside lanes, but the missions themselves are rather difficult. This table is near flawless, save for a confusing ball save effect that can sometimes be completely ineffectual.
Lastly, there’s the Boba Fett table, which is tailored to challenge the most dedicated pinball experts. With a flipper layout that evokes the real-world Addam’s Family table and some truly steep ramp shots, playing this table will force you to become a better player. You’ll have to learn how to take aimed shots on demand, lest you flounder in the dregs of your highscore list. This challenge also means that it’ll be a long while before you’ve experienced everything this table has to offer, and longevity can be a god-send for keeping pro pin players entertained.
As a complete package, Star Wars Pinball delivers the kind of arcade experience that makes you crave just one more game, constantly chasing to surpass your own score for the sheer satisfaction of it. Even after you’ve played a few good rounds and transitioned to another game, your thoughts will still be occupied with high-scoring opportunities and the unforgettable Star Wars theme. With each DLC, Zen continues to impress--and best of all, this three-pack is only the beginning for Star Wars Pinball.
This game was reviewed in Pinball FX 2 on Xbox 360.