Review: Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within

StarWarsPinballHeroesWithin

When a new game comes in to review at the end of a long day my typical routine is to enter the code, download the game overnight and start playing the next day. I’ve learned from past experience that when a game is good and I start a late night session, the next day for work is a bit rough. Similar to Luke’s apprehension of entering the dark cave on Degobah, I pushed forward against my better judgment and loaded up Zen Studios’ latest set of Star Wars Pinball tables, titled Heroes Within, late at night. Mesmerized by the four included tables, I couldn’t put the controller down. The Force is strong with the latest and last collection of licensed pinball tables from a galaxy far, far away.

Heroes Within features tables focusing on Han Solo, Droids, A New Hope, and the conflict between Jedi and Sith. Each table is filled with the usual assortment of unlockable missions based on scenes or events from the Star Wars movies as well as iconic music from John Williams. What makes these tables the best of the bunch (from the complete Star Wars collection) is the fact that everything is accessible and tightly balanced. There are no ramps that feel aligned just a bit off or dead zones where the ball always tends to hit. Everything just meshes into a smooth, fast-paced thrill that has occupied several later than usual nights for me and completely overtaken my lunch breaks while pinballing on the Vita.

I started my experience with Masters of the Force, because I enjoyed the Starfighter Assault table from Balance of the Force and this one has a similar split table design, representing the conflict between the Jedi Knights and Sith Lords with items to unlock for good or evil. Hitting either Jedi or Sith holocrons opens secret locations, the mini-games common in Zen’s pinball games. Unlocking the mysteries of this table proves that I’m more likely to be cannon fodder in a Star Wars battle than earn glory and fame at front lines, because I just can’t get very far. Sure, I’ve unlocked the Challenge of the Fates encounter with Darth Maul and Qui-Gon Jin, but for all the visual flair and unique opportunities presented, the table proves to be (at least for me) one that requires a mastery that outranks my skills. Maybe I’m just put off a bit by Yoda’s incessant yammering, telling me to concentrate. Or maybe it is my predilection for good that keeps me from being able to enter the Sith side of the table and conquer the darkness. For all that is good about the rest of the tables in Heroes Within, Masters of the Force is one that I have yet to have an amazing run on that keeps me wanting to go back for more.

A New Hope, on the other hand, has so many achievable variables that I can’t help but replay over and over just to push further into each unlockable event.  Choosing which ramp to aim for at the launch of each ball for a skill shot bonus is just the beginning. Shooting the ball enough times over different ramps unlocks bonuses like nothing else. The mini-events are hoot as well. One of my favorites is distracting a Stormtrooper so that Leia can shoot him and escape. Another fun event involves getting stuck inside the trash compactor, trying to hit the Dianoga while the walls continue to close in. The ultimate event, though, is unlocking the Battle of Yavin and having four balls zooming around at once. Chaos ensues with blaster bolts and points flashing across the table as ramps are run and bumpers are hit. No dead zones to slow the trajectory of balls, just pure mayhem and fun.

While A New Hope is all bombast and fun, the Droids table is a slow burn. I didn’t initially enjoy the table as it felt sort of ugly and dull being set inside a representation of a Jawa Sandcrawler, but then the unlockable events started clicking. In one challenge you have to shoot the ball over various pathways and ramps to collect the parts of a disassembled C-3PO. The subtle change of ball color from silver to gold indicating when a part has been picked up is a great touch. Winning through attrition is what the Droids table feels like in some respects, because the table dishes out extra balls like nothing I’ve seen since the Plants vs. Zombies table from two years ago. Tricking Nebit the Jawa, or discovering the hidden droids while trying to get the Sandcrawler to stop, is a fun way to build up combo points while shooting the ball over molten sledge to the wonderful chirp of “Utini”.

Masters of the Force hasn’t completely won me over yet, A New Hope is fun for complete chaos, and Droids is a long haul points-fest, nothing compares to the absolute joy of playing the Han Solo table. Somehow Zen has managed to perfectly embody the plucky charm of everyone’s favorite scoundrel in pinball form. Part of the charm comes from the iconic Cantina music playing over the table. Another part comes from the snarky drawl of Solo’s best lines perfectly synced with events that unfold on the table. Spelling out “Courage” three times (by sending the ball up a specific ramp naturally) triggers a different type of multiball mayhem where Stormtrooper-like balls ping around the table. Navigating an asteroid field is another event which changes things up a bit. Another challenge involves a crane that moves at the flip of the flippers, with the goal being to drop the ball into the Millennium Falcon as a piece of cargo.

As with all of the previous Zen tables, leaderboard chases add friendly competition to the experience, especially now with the ability to take screenshots from both the PS4 and Vita and then immediately taunt friends via Twitter. Of course, for all the fun I’ve had with the tables I find myself completely blown away by the astronomical scores some of the best players have posted so soon after the tables were released publicly. Even though it was short lived, it was fun to see my score ranked 5th in the world. I can understand from a back end perspective the challenges of merging previous console scores with current gen console scores, but it would be nice to have leaderboards for PS4 be the same as the PS3 and Vita. Score chasing and bragging rights feel a bit diminished when you best a friend on one system only to find they’ve completely destroyed your score on a different console.

Zen Studios have outdone themselves with this last release of Star Wars Pinball. Fun narrative challenges, unique themes, a perfect blend of lines from the movies (which aren’t overdone) and a choice selection of music make Heroes Within the best set of the series.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Tables have a great flow and very little deadzone play
+ Great use of Star Wars characters, music and themes
+ Events aren’t punishing to unlock

Cons:
– Leaderboards for PS4 don’t sync with PS3/Vita scores

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3/PS4/Vita, also available for Xbox 360, Steam, Mac, iOS, Google Play, and Amazon
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 4/29/2014
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.