The Star Wars universe is no stranger to the world of pinball. Data East's 1992 Star Wars pinball table is considered the standard bearer in terms of quality, though 1999's Star Wars: Episode I isn't far behind. Needless to say, when Zen Studios announced it was creating three new Star Wars pinball tables, it had big shoes to fill. After all, Star Wars fans are some of the more passionate folks out there. After spending some time with the new tables, it's safe to say Zen has delivered on its promise.
Running in Zen's Pinball FX2 engine, all three of the new Star Wars tables are original creations. They play much like traditional pinball, though Zen expands on the experience a bit, including modes that would be impossible to replicate on a mechanical table. It allows the team to push its creativity, which works out well here.
Star Wars: Episode V is the first table in the Star Wars pinball pack, which is appropriate given that the first Star Wars pinball table ever was Hankin's 1980 The Empire Strikes Back. Episode V is also the strongest table on offer from Zen, so it's leading with its best foot forward. Themed after the second film in the original trilogy, the table covers all the major events from the battle on Hoth to Luke's training with Yoda on Dagobah and the confrontation with Vader in Cloud City on Bespin.
There are six primary modes that make up the core of the game, each based on a sequence from the movie. For example, in one scene, you have to defend the Hoth base from attacking Stormtroopers by hitting one with your ball. In another, you must navigate an asteroid field in the Millennium Falcon. All of these incorporate imagery and audio from the film, making the entire thing feel like a single adventure. In addition to the main missions, there are also a handful of secondary missions that can be triggered independently.
The center of the Episode V playfield is open, with a small loop midfield. There are also two main ramps, one of the left side and one on the right. Diverters can be triggered by hitting targets, which change the way balls travel along the ramps.
Where Episode V stumbles is in the addition of its "first-person" segments. Zen likes to push the limit with its tables, and this is one bit where the designers over-reached. The first-person bits control poorly and feel like they were tacked on. Thankfully, it is a small blemish on an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars is the second table in the group and the easiest. It's also the weakest of the three in terms of play.
Based on the animated series of the same name, the game follows Anakin and Obi-Wan in their battle against Count Dooku's separatist army. Fans of the cartoon will find all of their favorite characters mentioned here, but the game modes don't really stand out. It's not that The Clone Wars is a bad table; it just fails to impress.
The playfield is open and loaded with ramps. There are a number of shots that are nearly impossible to miss, including a combo in the upper area of the field. This table is packed with vibrant colors and flashing lights, though it's almost too busy. Rather than highlighting any one specific element, the overload of flashy, shiny things makes it look like a designer threw everything he had at the table rather than carefully placing items for maximum impact. The visual design feels more "Las Vegas" than it does "Star Wars."
In terms of screen time, Boba Fett was a minor character in the Star Wars films, but over the years, he's also become a fan favorite. As the bounty hunter who wasn't afraid of anyone, including Darth Vader, Fett stood alone in the Star Wars universe. It's only appropriate that he would get his own table.
Boba Fett's table is themed around the bounty hunter and his prey. The goal of the table is to perform missions for both the Empire and the Hutt Clan, capturing your prey and then delivering them for a reward. Completing a mission requires landing a ball inside a rotating Slave I. This also doubles as a lock for multi-ball.
This table includes a good mix of ramps and jumps, including one that travels right over an animated Sarlacc Pit. Han Solo in carbonite does double duty as a spinner on the table. Though the primary ramps are easy enough to hit, landing the higher point combos requires a bit of technical proficiency. As a table themed around a specific character, Boba Fett does an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the iconic bounty hunter.
Ultimately, it's hard to go wrong with Zen's Star Wars Pinball. Though the included tables don't quite surpass Data East's classic, they are all solid pinball experiences and among the best tables that Zen has produced — even if the Star Wars license wasn't attached. This is no Star Wars Trilogy, and that's a very good thing.
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