Review: Star Wars Pinball – The Empire Strikes Back, Boba Fett and The Clone Wars

StarWarsPinball

As Yogurt the Wise, the All-powerful, and Magnificent said in Spaceballs, “Merchandising, merchandising, where the real money is made.”  Of course this was Mel Brooks’ slight dig at how prevalent Star Wars merchandise was (and still is), mocking consumers by suggesting anything and everything could be labeled with ‘Spaceballs’ and people would buy it (including toilet paper).

Who doesn’t want a Tauntaun sleeping bag?  Or a beer carrying R2D2?  Star Wars imagery and story translates well to all sorts of merchandise, but most successfully (and naturally) to video games.  Zen Studios has proven that it can translate Marvel super heroes into unique and engaging licensed pinball tables, so it seems a natural fit that they would apply their skills to Star Wars.  The first three (of a planned ten) Star Wars tables is now available for pretty much every platform, and consist of three different themes inspired by the Empire Strikes Back, the Clone Wars, and Boba Fett.

Say what you will about the prequel trilogy films, but the Clone Wars series has grown into a pretty great spin-off without being overly dreadful.  Perhaps it is the art style that helps to distance the series from the movies.  Or perhaps it is the fact that ever since Luke first asked Obi Wan, “You fought in the Clone Wars?” every fan’s imagination created their own idea of what a vague one-line reference actually looked like.  The cartoon, in its own serialized way, deals with both humor and dark subject matter, all the while digging deep into a period of time that eventually causes the Star Wars galaxy to fall to the power of the Emperor.

Translating that war experience into a pinball table is done with a creative take on the neo-classic modern tech look of sleek ramps that are reminiscent of Coruscant (the center of the Star Wars and planet city).  Almost too busy with various lanes and rampways, each subtle launch of the pinball sends it into a new path that has the potential to unlock a mini-game or bonus multiplier.  When certain mini-games unlock, gunships move around on the table, Ahsoka squares off with Asajj Ventress, or–in my my favorite event–the ball moves up and out of the main table where the view shifts into a gunship of sorts and an attack on the Citadel is made. Flipper action must be precise in order to keep the attack going as there is very little room for the ball to roll around and not be lost back to the main table.  I think part of why I like that smaller mini-game is the simple fact that while there are plenty of ramps and bumpers to hit, there isn’t quite so much flash going on all across the entire table, which can be a bit distracting.  

Learning what each ramp unlocks and having the patience to do just that is where the fun is with this table.  Another aspect I really enjoy with this table is how Zen utilizes the show’s intro voice announcer to shout out when various unlocks have been activated. On the flip side, the biggest annoyance of the table is Yoda’s verbal diarrhea.  I get that he is a wise old troll that talk he can’t in a sentence proper, but I don’t need to hear the same three or four phrases each time the ball shoots up a ramp. Fun that not is.

Then there is the Boba Fett table. Boba Fett is a bad ass.  He has to be.  His father is the sample from which all Clones were made from.  The iconic Mandalorian Armor seen briefly in Empire and brought to a grisly on-screen end at the Great Pit of Carkoon in Jedi has fueled more fan admiration than almost any other Star Wars character, so it is fitting that he gets his own pinball table.  Pathways lead over the Sarlacc Pit (or into it if the ball bounces at an odd angle), as well as up ramps which unlock various bounty hunter missions offered by both Jabba and the Empire. The real fun of this table is the way it brings in more imagination and originality. By that I mean the mini-games and multiplier unlocks don’t necessarily tie into specific events from the movies or TV show, so it’s more unpredictable. Instead they focus on what a bounty hunter does best: hunt his target. It is fun to see little cutscenes with Jabba and Vader, but the sheer joy of the table is trying to earn the bounties being offered.  I say this because each bounty can earn 30 million points or more by completing the hunt.  Of course actually doing that is much easier said than done (especially trying to shoot the captured bounty into the Slave I).  

Lightning supposedly never strikes in the same spot twice.  I can apply that logic to the Boba Fett table as well.  No matter how many times I manage to start a mission, I can never get the ball to shoot up the same ramp for that second, third (and sometimes fourth) run to unlock whatever is the reward.  It could be that I’m too hyper with my flippers, but it’s hard not to be when the ball shoots down so fast (sometimes not from the same ramp it went up).  Patience and ball control are key, which is fitting I would imagine, since that’s likely how Boba Fett became the top bounty in the Star Wars galaxy.

Rounding out the three table is one based around events from The Empire Strikes Back.  There is a ton of stuff to unlock and complete on this table.  Thank goodness this isn’t a real pinball table or I would’ve already sunk all the quarters I save up to pass off as tooth fairy exchanges for my kids into attempting to complete each of the various mini-games.  Attempting to hit Darth Vader and watching him use the force to destroy a pinball never gets old.  Trying to take down AT-AT walkers on Hoth is a blast.  Avoiding Tie-Fighters in the asteroid field is a joy.  Going through Jedi training and using the flippers to control a lightsaber to deflect the floating training orb’s laser blasts offers a nice reprieve from all the fast-paced ramps and flashing bumpers.  Hearing Han Solo humbly say, “You said you wanted to be around when I made a mistake, well, this could be it.” whenever a ball is lost just oozes charm and captures a great essence of Empire in this table.

As with any pinball game, the key to enjoying each table is learning how to time each shot with the flippers to hit the various ramps and pathways.  Learning that and not allowing all of the chaotic flashing to distract you can lead to a very long and high scoring session of pinball.  Pausing any table offers a nice way to view the strategies necessary for earning a higher score and watching user made videos posted on the Zen forum pages is also a great way to learn about all of the secrets each table has to offer.  At times I wish that the tables weren’t as complex as they are because without having Jedi reflexes more often than not the full extent of the tables is unreachable. Of the seven remaining (unannounced) tables, I would love to see Zen put a throwback table into the mix, designed around concept art from the franchise in a more classic mid 60′s or 70′s aesthetic where less is more and the table art is showcased more over flash and a ton of mini-game activities.

Pinball fans will love the latest from Zen Studios and Star Wars geeks will find plenty of hidden gems in each table. Plus it is hard to knock the fact that, if you have a Vita and PS3, the tables are cross buy so you get them on both systems for the same price. The current batch of tables comes highly recommended, and I can’t wait to see what is next from the Star Wars Pinball collection. (Please don’t do a Jar Jar solo table!)

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Fun mini-games in the Empire table based on moments from the movie
+ Great use of music and sound effects on the Boba Fett and Empire tables
+ Scoreboard chasing is elegant and addictive

Cons:
- Yoda-isms on the Clone War table are annoying
- Almost too much is happening at all times

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3/Vita via PSN, also available on XBLA, Google Play and the Mac/Apple App Store
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 2/26/2013
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review code provided by publisher

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.