(Xbox 360 Reviews) Pinball FX2 – Star Wars Pinball

Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Genre: Pinball
Players: 1
ESRB: Everyone
Reviewer: Nick Stewart

Overall: 9 = Must Buy

Given the wide range of pop culture targets at which Zen Studios has taken aim with their increasingly excellent Pinball FX2, it really was just a matter of time before Star Wars came into their crosshairs. After the superlative pinball conversions received by such properties as Street Fighter, Marvel Comics, and Plants vs. Zombies, fans of the genre have good reason to be excited see Zen Studios’ interpretation of this beloved sci-fi series. With three tables representing very different elements of the Star Wars canon, the Star Wars Pinball pack tries to appeal to all fans by swinging through the original trilogy as well as the Clone Wars, with a brief stopover with everyone’s favorite bounty hunter.

Broken up into three tables, Star Wars Pinball takes a hearty stab at recreating some of the series’ most memorable moments from among the many that have graced its history. The original trilogy is represented by what’s arguably the best of the movies in the form of Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, which unquestionably acts as the emotional core of the table pack. It’s definitely worth noting, however, that the tables ignore the “new” trilogy entirely; in other words, you won’t be seeing Jar-Jar or Watto or a pre-adolescent Anakin hopping around any of the tables. In fact, it’s fairly telling that they bypassed Episodes I-III entirely and went right to the Clone Wars animated series, which has a table of its own here. Regardless of your own opinion of the most recent Star Wars movies, it seems fairly clear that Zen Studios wasn’t exactly a fan, as their lack of representation here is fairly damning criticism, albeit in a roundabout way. Instead, their preferences appear to lie elsewhere, as is equally nicely evidenced by the choice of a table specifically dedicated to Boba Fett—which, combined with their refusal to include Episodes I-III, is a major nod to ensuring that these tables are all about fan service.

Of course, any attempt to appeal to Star Wars fans would be incomplete without some connection to Empire Strikes Back, and it’s both terrific and totally logical that it’s present here. Fire up this table, and you’re greeted by Vader himself before you launch into an effort to recreate the most iconic scenes from the movie: whether you’re trying to retrieve Luke’s lightsaber in the ice caves or tangling up the AT-AT’s legs, you’ve got plenty of source-faithful material here to live out in pinball form. This would sound like a bizarre proposition just about anywhere else, but the gameplay is so incredibly well-connected to the action that you can’t help but be swept away in it anyway. Taking on the AT-ATs, for instance, requires that you complete a series of loops, mimicking the circling the Rebels used to tie them up in the films.

The table is full of these kinds of gems, which are always accompanied faithfully by some terrific dot-matrix representations of the cinematic scenes, which are often also lived out on the table proper.  There are even some additional gems that allow you to live out some first-person lightsaber fights, which are as great to look at and play as anything else here. Indeed, this is a semi-complex table, design-wise, with plenty of missions, combos, and triggers, but it never feels overwhelming or overly difficult like some of the most recent Zen table packs. It’s a really well-balanced experience that is matched up with some stellar visuals and strong audio, including a broad range of voice clips. The only small hitch is that the voices are imitations rather than the original actors, presumably for licensing reasons. While these imitations are excellent, they are nevertheless quite noticeable, though this fails to detract in any way from what is a truly fantastic Star Wars table.

It’s tough to follow up a terrific act like this one, but the Boba Fett table certainly does its best to try. Wrapping itself in the Tatooine aesthetic, this table sets you firmly in the role of Boba Fett himself, one of the series’ most mythologized and well-loved characters (or at least until Episodes I-III’s ill-conceived attempt to provide a back story and much stronger role in the broader Star Wars universe). Set firmly in the Episode IV-VI era, this table brings the bounty hunter back to a time where he wasn’t embroiled in the Clone Wars, and simply lived to run risky jobs for shady characters. Complete a series of loops and you’ll be able to trigger some bounty missions for either the Empire or the Hutts, each with their own rewards and objectives. For instance, you might be asked to track down someone who owes a debt to the Hutts; complete a series of ramp targets, and your ship will descend on the playfield, where you need to load your bounty—i.e., the pinball—before finally earning your often sizeable point bonus, as well as some other advantages. Although it looks complex, this table plays quite cleanly, and even offers some ways around its more challenging missions in the form of “missiles,” which allow you to eliminate some of the more hard-to-reach target areas of a particular bounty. These are finite, of course, and can be earned in a variety of ways, but are yet another element of another great table. Whether it’s Fett himself soaring around the table, having Vader and Jabba come out to discuss bounties, or the fact that the spinner is in fact Han Solo encased in carbonite, this is another table that’s as much of a joy to watch as it is to actually play.

Even if you’d had minimal exposure to the Clone Wars animated series, the Star Wars mythos is so deeply ingrained into its DNA that it’s hard not to enjoy it anyway. This is the only table which seemingly uses all the original voices, which allows for some fun presentation elements. This includes the authentic narrative crawl that precedes each of the movies, and which is read by the actual Clone Wars narrator. Like the Empire table, this one focuses on playing out various missions undertaken throughout the series, and aside from the mass of lightsabers adorning the body of the table, it’s easily the cleanest of the pack. It’s pretty straightforward, mainly made up of ramps, but this is actually a refreshing switch from and a good complement to the Empire table, which has a great deal more going on. Still, there are a few loops and flippers tucked away in just the right spots to lend this just enough of an edge to still have some solid meat on its bones, and it’s tough not to love the cartoon characters leaping and fighting on the periphery as you nail just the right combo.

Looking back on the annals of gaming history, it becomes obvious just how easy it is to completely waste the Star Wars license and end up with a game that ultimately pleases nobody at all. Luckily, Zen Studios’ Star Wars Pinball pack is not one of them, and instead should stand as one of the best examples of how a creative developer can breathe new life into a treasured and done-to-death setting. Each of the three tables here are great in their own way, full of the perfect visual touches, animation, and sound you’ve come to expect, but given the kind of love and care you could only expect from someone who understands what makes the material special. This is also clear from Zen Studios’ choice to provide a table that exclusively focuses on Boba Fett, as well as the choice to pretend that the most recent movies simply didn’t happen. What you’re left with is a trio of tables that takes individual things that are great about Star Wars, dresses them up with some of your favorite moments and references, and matches them up with appropriate and entertaining pinball gaming. This is no mere cash-in, but a terrific tribute to the movies, while also somehow managing to be a great set of pinball games along the way.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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