Review: Star Wars Pinball – Zen Pinball 2 (Sony Playstation 3/Vita)
by Ashe Collins on March 8, 2013

500Star Wars Pinball – Zen Pinball 2
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Stuidios
Genre: Pinball
Release Date: 02/27/2013

Star Wars Pinball is an add-on for Zen Pinball 2 which is technically a free game you can get off the PSN that runs on the Vita and the PS3.  The tables you initially get in Zen Pinball 2 are demos, which can be unlocked for full functionality with trophy support and leaderboards, the whole bit.  Think of Zen Pinball 2 as a menu and shell for gathering up a set of pinball tables you pay to unlock.  Star Wars Pinball is the latest set in this game that includes titles from Marvel’s bigger names as well as a Plants vs Zombies table and the tables from the first Zen Pinball.  Unlike the last Marvel release pack that came with four tables for the same price as the Star Wars bundle currently, this new set only comes with three tables for the same price point.  The big question is it worth it?  Let’s take a look.

You get three tables with this pack and each has a distinct theme within the Star Wars universe.  First up is the Empire Strikes Back table offering up several themes from the film, unlockable short clips that garner you bonus points for unlocking and other hidden sound bytes for nailing different items around the board.  This table is for the old school fan of Star Wars.  The fan who grew up on the original trilogy.  It’s kind of a middle ground between the two in terms of ease of play and scoring points but also hits all the right nostalgia points on it. The second table is based on The Clone Wars series airing on the cartoon network right now.  This is probably the easiest table of the three aimed at a much younger audience it seems.  This table also feels a lot more claustrophobic even with all the bells and whistles to it.  Sometimes there’s just too much on the table to really get into it, and while it doesn’t hit nostalgia buttons as the show is still airing, it does still have that Star Wars feel. 

2013-03-05-144112The most difficult table is the Boba Fett table.  It’s not a bad design, but it is awkward to keep the ball in play or to really kick off those options that are so ready and eager in the Clone Wars table or that require a little less work in the Empire Strikes Back table.  While there are some nice nostalgia bits as the Boba Fett table really encompasses bits from both trilogies, I think most fans will gravitate to the other two just because of how frustrating this table can be to really get going.  There is a multiplayer option including the arcade rules of passing the ball to the next person and if you have friends with Zen Pinball 2 you can rank up a ‘team’ score there by combining your ranking with theirs.  You can do this hotseat style or online. 

Visually the tables look great on both the PS3 and the Vita.  There’s a nice attention to detail for all of them that really evokes the film or character that they’re trying to convey along with the subtle touches that make it feel like Star Wars.  While going for the pinball feel, they do make use of the fact that this is a video game and suspend a few things, like large versions of Boba Fett and Darth Vader walking around the top of the pinball table.  The Clone Wars table can spawn an Anakin lightsaber battle with past enemies while you try and keep track of your ball.  Then of course there’s the Sarlaac tentacles on Boba Fett’s table constantly flicking about.  The PS3 visual effects, like a fast moving ball glowing and the ball trails, are far more obvious than on the Vita, and the Vita you can see that there’s been a slight reduction in polygon count over the PS3 tables which is to be expected.  One of the neat things with Zen Pinball 2 is the ability to change the old style graphics display in size or off completely.  The options are nice to see on a console title and really help to personalize the experience.  All of the screenshots here are from the Vita version.

The audio is a well done on all three boards with the expected Star Wars fanfare, dialogue clips, and of course sound effects.  If they didn’t use actual clips from the films or shows they got a very good voice double for all the character voices they used in each table.  What was more interesting in the Empire Strikes Back table was the use of the 20th Century Fox drumroll when you kick off a movie scene.  The clips and sound effects are well chosen and well used, although if you hit on the same clip or the same areas over and over again as you sometimes do when you’re playing pinball, the repeated phrases could grate on the player and the people around the tv or handheld.  I will say the PS3 version has better overall table sounds.  When I was playing on my TV it sounded like I was playing on a table right in the room with me.  The ball rolling, the flippers hitting, impacts with objects on the table, they all sounded just like you’d expect from a pinball table which was awesome.  The Vita version gets the rest of the audio right, with the actual Star Wars sounds and audio coming through ok, but the table sounds are very subtle and the handheld doesn’t have quite the same experience in that regard as the PS3 version does. Cranking the Vita audio helps that a bit, but it’s not quite the same. 

2013-02-28-143202Controls on the PS3 are pretty straight-forward out of the menus.  Holding the right analog stick primes the ball and releasing it launches it.  From there it’s the left and right triggers to hit the paddles on the table.  Pressing the left analog stick down shakes the table, but be gentle.  Yes I have had a ball get ‘stuck’ on both the PS3 and Vita from all my wild ball launching.  Both times I had this happen on the Boba Fett table.  The vita versions has relatively the same controls but lets you use the front touchscreen to pull back the ball for launch and release as well as tap the screen to trigger the bumpers as well which is essential when you turn the Vita diagonally to lay with that option which lets you get a view of the bulk of the table on the handheld, but makes it harder to track the ball. 

Gameplay wise you’re looking at mostly standard fare as far as pinball goes.  There are some rails in each, the usual bumpers and of course objectives that require you to hit specific points on the board and after triggers or conditions are met there’s usually a time limit to hit other spots to keep things going or to rake in a higher points score.  Each board has different options and different triggers.  While Boba Fett’s is the hardest to trigger events, once you get going it’s much easier to keep it there than the other two.  The Empire Strikes Back has several events tied in including six film clips you have to collect, but they appear to be random as to which one will trigger.  Multiball in all three of them is pretty difficult to maintain just because of how cramped the set-up is.  Balls will run into each other and you can never seem to get a rhythm going with multiball because of it.  I think that was probably my biggest complaint with all three boards.  Otherwise they play really well and hit all the right pinball cues for me.

As with any pinball game, replayability is kind of built in.  You always want to beat your score and having leaderboards for the tables adds to that in wanting to have the higher score out there.  Plus it’s a quick game to play through if you’ve got a few minutes to kill.  Both the Vita and PS3 version can be up and running in about a minute depending.  The boards are fun and there’s lots to try and trigger.  Even with as much as I’ve played them I’m still hitting things I haven’t seen before on there, especially with my pinball luck of generally nailing the ball in the same area every session and then alternating the next one, whether I’m playing digitally or on a real table. lus you can play these with friends who have them online or just hotseat it which can be a lot of fun too.  There are a few trophies to unlock with this, but not many.  This isn’t a trophy hunters dream.

2013-02-28-142948Buying these on the PSN automatically unlocks the tables for both the Vita and the PS3 so if you have both Sony consoles you only have to buy them once which is a nice bonus.  While this pack is more expensive per pinball table than the Marvel set, I do think you’re getting a decent set of three tables for a reasonable price.  Between the three you’ve got a nice set of difficulties and within the Star Wars table set they’ve got something for pretty much every Star Wars fan.  While I like all three, for example, I’m partial to the Empire Strikes Back and Clone Wars tables.  Clone Wars for the ease, but Empire for the pure nostalgia.  While they do a few neat things with all three tables, I think going beyond just the standard pinball set-up and realizing that this is on a console not a real table and adding features you would only be able to do in a game like this was a nice touch.  The walking characters, the ball being teleported to another area that couldn’t exist in a real board to try and rack up extra points, the Force ramps for training sessions, the moving gunship to assist with an evac.  It gives these tables a fresh look while working that nostalgia and not ripping off the actual Data East pinball machine, the Sega Trilogy machine,  the Episode I table, or the original Empire Strikes Back table from Hankin while doing it.  These are all new tables which is a very good thing. While I’d love to see some classic arcade tables, the Star Wars pinball machines I don’t have very fond memories of.

The decent design on the tables and the Star Wars design had me playing a little bit extra and that little competitive streak coupled with leaderboards and trying to best my own high scores on the tables has kept me going back to these.  The quick load up and play makes these very accessible when you don’t have much time to play which, usually when I have my Vita on me, I don’t.  The Vita version has gotten quite a bit of a workout compared to the PS3 version for me.  Star Wars sells and I think people will enjoy these, especially as they’re well designed tables that play extremely well.  Not all licensed games are good and not all pinball tables hold that special something, but these I think will appeal to a lot of people.

2013-02-28-143500I will say that while the game loads faster, looks prettier, and sounds much more like a pinball machine on the PS3, I got much better results playing the game on the Vita.  The game is much more focused on the ball and its position on the Vita and so its easier to focus.  All of my high scores are off me playing on the Vita.  I’ve yet to get within 10 million on my highest scoring Vita game on the PS3.  There is a small problem with the Vita version, well two small problems. The Vita copy doesn’t seem to think that having Star Wars installed gives you access to trophies and so on there, at least on my copy.  It keeps prompting me to buy the Marvel or other Pinball tables to unlock this feature.  The PS3 version I’ve had zero problems with in that area.  On the Vita version, a check mark pops up on the screen on each table on the Vita.  On the Boba Fett table this check mark won’t go away even if you can’t do anything once it’s triggered.  It’s not huge, but it is annoying. 

Short Attention Span Summary
Star Wars Pinball, although lacking the fourth table that other sets in Zen Pinball 2, is a decent addition to your table collection in the game.  If you don’t have any other tables at all it’s a good set to start off with giving you a variety of difficulties through the three tables.  The tables hit the right bit of nostalgia and fun, and with the tables taking it beyond what a normal pinball table could do and into the realm of video games only, it adds a nice touch to each of them, giving them a feel you won’t get in an arcade but still giving you that arcade feel which I love.  While you’re short a table over the Marvel bundle, Star Wars Pinball delivers a nice experience that a fan of both pinball and the films will love. 



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