Review: Star Wars Pinball: The Force Awakens

StarWarsPinball_TheForceAwakens_1

I could live without the Star Wars Rebels table, but by and large I would say that Zen Studios has lived up to the immense task of faithfully condensing the characters, events, and themes of the Star Wars universe into its catalog of Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX2 tables set in the galaxy far, far away. Already 11 tables deep, Zen has returned with another two-table Star Wars Pinball combo pack based on the latest film, The Force Awakens. Have a blast you will, young padawan.

[Warning] Just a quick spoiler alert for those who may prefer to be surprised by the table’s events, as I do explain specifics about a lot of the features. This is a pinball game so personally I don’t consider anything a spoiler (the trailers show pretty much everything to begin with), but I figured I’d play it safe and offer a heads up just in case.

The two tables offer views from both sides of the conflict. The eponymous Force Awakens table focuses on characters and events from the Resistance and Light side of the Force. The table takes place on Jakku, the junk planet’s desert wasteland and scrapyard motif captured perfectly by rolling sand dunes and spacecraft wreckage visible in the surrounding landscape. Once the ball is in play, lobbed into action via a ball launcher fashioned after Rey’s speeder, you’ll immediately be sucked in by the cinematic trappings of the Force Awakens storyline. The table’s primary feature is its sequential mission progression through 12 scenes from the movie. By hitting the main left ramp three times, the next scene is triggered. If the ball falls out of play during a scene, progress picks up right where you left off when the next ball is put into play, a nice change up from the way table events and mini-games immediately fail after a ball-out. However, once all three balls have been exhausted, naturally you have to start the story arc over from the first scene upon beginning a new game.

I’ve only been able to successfully clear four scenes on my best run, so I haven’t even come close to seeing everything that the table has to offer. But the events I have experienced hit all the right note of an epic Star Wars space opera. The first scene starts off with hitting ramps and lanes to help Rey scavenge for scrap to then bank in a central sinkhole. Scene two begins with Poe flying over the table in his X-wing while BB-8 drops onto an open platform at the top-right corner where Teedo appears atop a luggabeast to capture BB-8, triggering a mini-game in which nets begin to fall down in random spots and the flipper buttons must be pressed to steer BB-8 away from capture for as long as possible. Eventually the little droid is captured, and from there you have to hit ramps and lanes in a sequence of timed challenges to guide Rey from the bottom of the table to BB-8 and then mash the flipper buttons in a mini-game to cut the net free. In scene three, Finn comes up from a tube at the top-left corner and the ball actually turns into BB-8, who you flip around to ultimately bring Rey and Finn together to escape on the Millennium Falcon, which raises up from under a hidden door at the base of the table and takes flight. Scene four then plays out the escape as the Millennium Falcon zooms back and forth above the table while being pursued by TIE fighters. The sense of progressing through a story hasn’t been done this well on any of the other Zen tables that I’ve played.

StarWarsPinball_TheForceAwakens_2

Beyond the movie scene missions, the table is packed with plenty of other exciting challenges. There’s a separate multi-ball event that’s similar to the Millennium Falcon TIE fighter chase. Another multi-ball phase triggers after hitting a certain number of tentacles that pop up around the table, which spawns three rathtars that begin snaring balls and dropping them back at you. There’s a fun event where Han’s freighter docks at the top of the table and a moving targeting reticle appears that needs to be hit to launch the ball up into the open docking bay door to load it with scrap cargo. Kylo Ren also makes an appearance–after hitting the upper-table bumpers a certain number of times the ball turns into a bomb, and if you hit the left ramp before the timer runs out it’ll explode and lure Kylo out for a fight. I’ve only managed to pull this off once, though, and of course as soon as I did a bad bounce led to a gutter ball, so I haven’t seen how the confrontation unfolds.

The table’s overall ramp and lane flow is really smooth and well balanced. My only minor complaints are with the center sinkhole and the auto-launch mechanism. When the central hole has a barrier over it, the ball does a sort of magnetic jumble and flies off in a random direction that is hard to predict. Sometimes it’ll even drop the ball into a deadzone straight down the gap between the bottom flippers and out of play. Similar frustration occasionally strikes when you earn a ball save or lock a ball towards multi-ball and a new ball is automatically launched into play. Sometimes when this happens the launcher will throw the ball directly into the far gutter, which is a seriously annoying and cheap way to lose a ball, especially when you have a really good round going.

Switching to the Dark side of the Force, the Might of the First Order table takes place aboard a Star Destroyer, where you’ll use your pinball Force powers to expand the First Order’s influence and battle against the Resistance. While the First Order table doesn’t have a story progression like its Light side alternative, it is no less compelling. The centerpiece is a second mini-playfield below a glass ceiling right at the heart of the table, where captured balls are delivered to Kylo Ren and must be hit across a series of notches to a far-right locking lane. Successfully locking three balls in the mini playfield then triggers a multi-ball mode.

Other table features include a flametrooper next to the left ramp who torches the ball for a limited-duration double score mode. A Star Destroyer hologram at the top of the table is connected to a ramp that can trigger a mini-game in which the flipper buttons are used to aim its turbolaser to shoot down an attacking X-wing, as well as a tractor beam that sucks the ball up and deposits into onto other ramps or a ball lack hatch for a TIE fighter multi-ball. Hitting the table’s primary sinkhole leads to a mission to Jakku to capture Poe, who appears at the bottom of the screen and engages in an active firefight with a stormtrooper. Captain Phasma also looms over the right side of the table, though I haven’t had any luck triggering her event.

StarWarsPinball_TheForceAwakens_3

The First Order table is definitely the most challenging of the two, not necessarily in terms of scoring but rather how much tougher it is to activate and succeed at the various events. (For the record, my high score on the First Order table is a lot higher than my best score on the Force Awakens table.) All of the mini-game events have very short time limits that come and go if you don’t hit the appropriate lane or sinkhole within the first shot or two. Rolling the ball up the spinner lane resets the timer, but it’s pretty hard to hit. Additionally, all of the ramps are incredibly unforgiving, featuring steep slopes and sharp turns that spit the ball back at you far more often than not, General Hux’s pleas to “hit it harder!” and Kylo’s reminders that he will not tolerate another failure constantly taunting you into submission. The dynamic of having the mini playfield, which puts a second pair of flippers stacked right above the primary flippers, presents its own set of challenges, mainly one of depth perception as you adjust to identifying which playfield the ball might be on at any given time. Because of these obstacles, the First Order table has a strong learning curve. However, once you adapt to the dual playfield layout and get a feel for its other intricacies, the table proves to be a fun and fair challenge.

Zen Studios has once again done the Star Wars universe proud, enthusiastically living up to the hype surrounding The Force Awakens with a pair of tables that easily rank right up there with the best Zen Pinball 2 and Pinball FX2 have to offer. Together, the two tables capture the scale and tone of the movie while straddling the Light and Dark sides with a balanced mix of story progression and smooth, accessible ramp play on one side, and a higher degree of timing- and skill-based challenge on the other side.

Would it be cheesy and cliché of me to say that the Force is strong with Star Wars Pinball: The Force Awakens? Why of course it would be. But whatever, I’m saying it anyway!

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Engaging story progression on the Force Awakens table
+ First Order’s mini playfield adds a unique dynamic (once your depth perception adjusts)
+ Spectacular use of 3D models and mini-games to reenact movie moments
+ Has all the iconic music and sounds befitting a Star Wars experience

Cons:
– First Order’s steep ramps and dual playfields present a tricky learning curve
– Force Awakens table has a couple spots that can cause cheap ball-outs
– Repeated one-liners grow tiresome

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3/PS4/Vita, also available for Android, iOS, PC/Mac, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: 1/12/2016
Genre: Pinball
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1-4

Source: Review code provided by publisher.

Buy From: Amazon, Steam, PlayStation Store, Xbox Live, iTunes, Google Play

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!