Zen Studios’ Pinball FX series is one of the most popular and well-received series in the Xbox Live Arcade catalog. Pinball FX 2 allows players to have their own digital catalog of pinball machines, where they can play on an array of tables that range from defending the world as Iron Man to attacking scientists as Ms. Splosion Man. With their newest wave of tables, Zen has tapped into one of the strongest and most beloved sci-fi brands around: Star Wars.
The Star Wars franchise is no stranger in the realm of video games. From the 90s FPS classic Dark Forces to their recent MMO The Old Republic, the Star Wars brand has been involved in almost every type of video game imaginable. Some of their forays into games have come off as quick cash grabs in an attempt to profit off their prolific name, but this partnership with Zen Studios came off as an authentic, enjoyable addition to the franchise.
With 10 tables planned for the Star Wars Pinball collection, Zen Studios started fans off right with an awesome trio of tables featuring some of their most beloved characters and storylines, with The Empire Strikes Back, The Clone Wars, and Boba Fett. Chronicling Luke and the gang’s journeys from Hoth to Cloud City, the epic fight between droids and clones, and the life of one of the most prolific bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe, these three tables focus on retelling popular narratives rather than adding to series lore.
I thoroughly enjoyed the new Star Wars Pinball tables both for their nostalgic value and for the gameplay mechanics that have made Pinball FX 2 a smash hit. Check out the full review below for a detailed look.
Star Wars Pinball
EB 9 out of 10 Buddhas
(XBLA version reviewed)
- Phenomenal sound effects and music, atypical for Star Wars products
- Crisp graphics and bright, colorful visuals
- Addicting gameplay, chasing high scores
The Not so Awesome
- Same base game as before, rather than the standalone experience that is advertised
Buy or Rent
- Buy if you’re a Star Wars and/or pinball fan
While story and gameplay are elements that normally would be reviewed separately, in the case of pinball they are heavily interwoven. Star Wars Pinball didn’t reinvent the wheel when it comes to the storyline, but when you’re drawing from a franchise as rich in lore as Star Wars, you’re probably better off letting old tales speak for themselves. That’s exactly what Zen Studios did, and it paid off nicely. By weaving the stories in with engaging gameplay, you have a brilliant mix that will resonate with any Star Wars fan.
Nothing has changed with the Pinball FX 2 gameplay, it’s still the top pinball game on the market. Using the triggers of your controller to control the flippers, and the left and right sticks for tilting and launching respectively, you do your best to control the path of the balls at your disposal. I never felt cheated playing, as the ball responded not only to the flick of my flippers, but to the curvatures and quirks of each table. The realistic bounce of the silver orb gives you a satisfying feeling matched only by a real pinball machine.
Moving to the individual tables, The Empire Strikes Back focuses on the fifth episode of the Star Wars series, the darkest and most polarizing movie in the bunch. Empire chronicles the adventures of series hero Luke Skywalker as he helps protect the Rebel base on Hoth, trains with Yoda in Dagobah, and battles Vader in Cloud City. By hitting the center bank and activating the story missions, you actually get to play through scenes from the iconic movie. My favorite selection amongst the bunch was the scene where Han Solo pilots the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field to escape enemy Tie fighters. The side missions were another standout feature of the table – without revealing too many surprises, you might have the chance to wield a certain sword-like weapon if you hit the right ramps.
The Clone Wars – Only good thing to come out of the prequel era
The Clone Wars leads in with the classic yellow scrolling font that the series intros are known for. Focusing on the relationship between Anakin Skywalker and his apprentice Ahsoka Tano, Clone Wars ventures into the more recent CGI series. Although the story wasn’t as engaging for me personally as with the other tables, I am admittedly partial toward the old Star Wars movies, so part of that can be attributed to my attachment to the old series. Fans of the Clone Wars series will not feel let down as they destroy reactors and find themselves in the middle of the conflict.
“Boba Fett, Boba Fett, WHERE!?”
Last but certainly not least is Boba Fett, which centers around the iconic bounty hunter best known for secretly tracking Han Solo to Cloud City, leading to his eventual carbon freezing. One of the major secondary villains of the original trilogy, Fett’s story on his machine has him bouncing back and forth between Darth Vader and Jabba the Hutt. Collecting bounties on the heads of targets for various prices, your objective is to accumulate respect and funding in order to establish yourself as the best bounty hunter in the galaxy. Higher bounty prices bring a higher difficulty, so beware of going after those high price targets and biting off more than you can chew. Stepping into the shoes of the missile and laser touting Fett will give any Star Wars fan a rush of power.
Of course, the graphics for Star Wars Pinball were expectedly great. The series has been on the cutting edge of tech and effects since its inception, and Zen made sure that their new addition was no exception to the rule.
Each table had a very distinct look and feel that made playing each a wholly unique experience. Empire Strikes Back showcases the duality of the Force, with the Jedi represented on the blue-colored left side and the Sith represented on the red-colored right side. The table’s intro rises from Darth Vader’s feet until we are met head on by Vader himself, setting the scene for our battle against the dark side. AT-AT’s, Stormtroopers, and other members of both factions make appearances as moving 3D models which really capture your attention.
Clone Wars was the most distinct of the three tables, with a series of twisting loops and drops that appear quite imposing at first glance, but actually lend themselves to the easiest high scores of the trio. Anakin and Ahsoka bounce around the table as you twist and turn, and a separate training mode with two separate mini-playfields gives players another fresh surface to feast their eyes on.
Hopefully he won’t fly into Jabba’s sail barge
But hands down my favorite visuals among the group were found on Boba Fett. The main feature of the machine is the infamous Sarlaac Pit from Return of the Jedi, which showcases a spinning version of carbonized Han Solo floating overtop. The slug-like Jabba the Hutt and villain Darth Vader are prominently featured on either side of the table, though the star of the show is the namesake himself. Jetting around the playing surface from post to post with his signature jetpack, Boba Fett’s movement on the table showcases a dimension of digital pinball that physical machines would be hard pressed to duplicate.
One of the hallmarks of the Star Wars series is their legendary sound. The clashing smack of lightsabers, the shrill whine of laser fire, and the hum of various vehicle engines are just a few pieces of the long list of signature sound effects that Star Wars has contributed to the sci-fi universe. Just as importantly, John Williams’ composition of symphonic scores provided a distinct background for some of the series’ most important moments. His ominous Imperial March helped set an evil tone for Darth Vader and the Empire that could not be achieved otherwise.
Fortunately, Zen Studios continued the Star Wars tradition of brilliant sound work by using authentic Star Wars sound effects and music for their machines. The Star Wars license allowed the company to implement not just sound effects, but direct quotes as well. When C-3PO chirped, “Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately three thousand seven hundred and twenty to one!” at the start of the asteroid mission in Empire Strikes Back, the feeling of immersion soared as I tried to guide the iconic ship to safety via a tiny silver ball.
Ditto for Yoda’s scholarly advise as you ride the rails of Clone Wars; Yoda’s voice hovers over all your actions as if your pinball experience is akin to Jedi training, which was a nice touch that added a more personal vibe to the experience. No matter your age, everyone can learn a little something from the philosophical nature of Yoda.
Jabba the Hutt also makes his massive presence known in Boba Fett, as the player is met with his signature Huttese grumbling. His physical stature combined with his sloppy dialect leads me to believe he’s seeking food and not the murder of his enemies, but I’m no language expert.
Star Wars Pinball weaves the signature sound of the series into the gameplay effortlessly, which makes the experience smooth and enjoyable all the way throughout.
Star Wars Pinball is another worthy addition to the Pinball FX franchise, showcasing the dynamic pinball gameplay that has made it a hit. Partnering with Star Wars was a Grade A move, as the iconic sound and visuals lend themselves to the flashing lights and blaring noise of pinball.
I absolutely loved the Empire Strikes Back and Boba Fett machines at first sight for retelling some of my favorite stories through exciting pinball gameplay, and I’ll be back for more cracks at them to increase my high score. Clone Wars was not as initially exciting for me as it didn’t pull on the same heartstrings as the other two, but the exciting gameplay was enough to keep my interest and win me over.
The only disappointing part of Star Wars Pinball is that it has been marketed like a standalone game, rather than an addition to the repertoire of the Pinball FX series many know and love. If you’re expecting a completely revamped game, turn somewhere else, as Zen Studios stuck to the formula that has served them so well. This is a plus from a gameplay perspective, as the game plays great, but a little disappointing from their marketing team.
Overall, I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys either pinball or Star Wars, and it’s an absolute must play if you’re a fan of both. I would give Star Wars Pinball 9 out of 10 Buddhas. Be on the lookout for future additions to this engaging trio of games. May the Force be with you in your quest for high scores!
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