Video pinball, in all of its forms, has a certain magic to it. When done right, it can suspend your disbelief with plausibly engineered ramps and orbitals, only to bend reality with separate play fields and fully modelled 3D characters stomping around on them. Using realism to lend power and believability to the fantastic is an age old trick, and one that Zen Studios applies deftly to their table offerings, including the upcoming Star Wars Pinball, which I had a chance to toy with last week. Though it can take a while for a pinball table to make its greatness apparent, the force already seems strong with this one.
Knowing that there are Star Wars fans of all types and ages, Zen is including three different tables in this initial release, with an eventual seven more planned. For the older fan who grew up on Episodes IV, V, and VI, the Empire Strikes Back table will look and sound satisfyingly familiar. Each of the many sound clips that play as you hit various targets are pulled straight from the movie, giving you a real sense of progression as you complete modes inspired by the film's major plot points. As ever, the physics and flipper action felt spot-on, maintaining an authentic pinball feel despite all the whiz-bang effects.
For the newer fan, there's a Clone Wars table, inspired by the series of the same name. I only spent a small amount of time on it, but it had a nice game flow, offering many continuous combo shot possibilities for big points, a la the World War Hulk table. However, the one I enjoyed the most was dedicated solely to the most infamous bounty hunter in the Star Wars universe—Boba Fett.
That's right, the fanboy favorite gets a table all to himself—and why not? Despite his limited screen time, and nearly nonexistent dialogue, he's always had a level of mystique surrounding him that even casual fans find irresistible. But it isn't just the character's overall badassery that makes this table a winner, but how it successfully translates the concept of bounty hunting into a fun game of pinball.
By hitting corresponding shots on the left or right side of the table, you can gain an audience with representatives of either the Empire or the Huts, and choose one of several bounties to undertake. Each bounty plays out as a unique mode that, if completed, ends in you capturing your quarry. But catching them is only half the job. Once you've nabbed your target, Slave 1 (Boba Fett's iconic ship) swoops down, lands in the middle of the playing field, and extends a ramp that oscillates back and forth. It's a tricky shot, but you have to hit it to get your captive onboard and then hit another shot afterwards to deliver that captive to your client. Aside from a massive score boost, this also nets you reputation points. Become infamous enough and you'll earn the right to pursue the biggest bounty of all: Han Solo.
I'm sure even more crazy modes and features will be discovered once players get a chance to really dig into them, but even with limited play time, the rulesets of each feel distinct and entertaining. While Boba Fett appears to have the most legs in the long run, I think each has something to offer, depending on what you prefer in your pinball. Though none felt as fast, complex, or exacting as say Civil War, Star Wars Pinball appears to be approachable enough for beginners, while packing enough technical play to keep vets busy too.
Expect Star Wars Pinball to be available for Pinball FX 2 and Zen Pinball 2 on XBLA, and PSN first, in late February, as well as most other platforms shortly thereafter.