Review: Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force (Sony Playstation 3/Vita)

021743Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Stuidios
Genre: Pinball
Release Date: 10/15/2013

Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force is the second Star Wars related release for Zen Pinball 2, a free release on the PSN that works on the PS3 and the Vita, your cross buy at work. All of the tables that come with your Zen Pinball 2 download are demos until you unlock them and you can import your tables from Zen Pinball into Zen Pinball 2 if you have that version as well. Unlocking these gives you access to the full tables, trophies, leaderboards, the whole bit all within what amounts to the pinball arcade that hosts them within Zen Pinball 2. Like the last Star Wars Pinball release, you’re only getting three tables for the same price as the four you get with the Marvel release, but I thought the three tables were worth the money last time. It looks like Zen Studios has managed to grab that magic from before and do even more with it this go around. Let’s take a look.

The three tables we get this time aren’t quite as varied into the full saga as it exists right now, sticking far more to the original trilogy for the look and feel. The prequels and Clone Wars are completely missing in this batch except for the Vader assembly from Episode III. The Starfighter Assault table takes us to the space battles of the original trilogy and more specifically references the Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi. The table is split in look for both the Empire and Rebel Alliance allowing you to launch as either side and has a great look and feel that really evokes that part of the trilogy. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi encompasses the entirety of the film from Jabba’s Palace to the ground assault on Endor and compliments the Starfighter Assault table nicely in this regard. Although it looks and plays great, I had a few issues with the audio on this one. More on that in a bit. The cream of the crop for me, and I imagine most people, is the Darth Vader table. It is the most striking of the three tables as the red Sith color just completely dominates the table and it’s a lot of fun to play.

2013-10-30-153014Visually 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 mini-games that take place outside of the table entirely, tie-fighters flying above the table and over-sized versions of characters and vehicles, like a Star Destroyer coming right up on your tables one side and opening fire. 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 but I would have liked it a little less obvious. One of the neat things with Zen Pinball 2 is the ability to change the LCD-style pinball scoreboard HUD in size or off completely. The options are nice to see on a console title and really help to personalize the experience. These are all screenshots from the Vita version.

Like the previous set of tables, the audio here is pretty good. It will sound better on the PS3 than the Vita as the PS3 sounds just like a ball rolling through a pinball machine at certain points and just kind of sucks you in where the Vita never quite evokes that same sound even with headphones on. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the difference is, but it’s there. While they do use dialogue from the films on each of the tables, a few of the voice actors they got don’t quite jive with the actual actors on the Return of the Jedi table. It’s probably the more lackluster of the three in regards to audio and with the clips repeating depending on where you like to send your ball, you’re going to get hit in the face with a few of the clips often. The other two tables aren’t nearly as bad since the Darth Vader table has a decent Vader sound-alike and the Starfighter table doesn’t use as many actual dialogue bites from the main characters of the original trilogy for its cues.

2013-10-30-153928Controls 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. 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. When you do score a special the left trigger scrolls through your available options if there are any. Actual controls in the mini-games will vary a bit if they go off the board.

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. Vader’s table has several missions and the trench run from the first film. I’ve only seen a handful of these since I started playing the table so for me even though the table is the most fun, it’s probably the harder one to trigger the special events. The Starfighter Assault has several interesting triggers that include a Star Destroyer and/or a Rebel Cruiser moving in on one side of the table and a mini-game that replicates the old Star Wars arcade game where you pilot an x-wing through groups of tie-fighters to take on the Death Star trench run but focuses more on taking out tie-fighters that are assaulting your rebel fleet instead. It looks interesting but controls a little weird so your mileage taking out ships may vary. The thrust of the table is still getting the ball around, so while this little diversion is neat, it’s not where your bread and butter will be in the high score. The Return of the Jedi table has a number of these as well including using an Imperial shuttle to pick up and the redeploy your ball in an area of your choosing. Multiball is easier to manage this time around as the tables aren’t quite as cramped but don’t expect it to last long unless you’re very quick with your bumpers.

2013-10-30-154613As far as playing this over again, you do have trophies built into the game along with the tables for the trophy hunters, a high score table and leaderboards that pits you against the world or just your friends. And let’s face it, there’s nothing really as satisfying in an arcade pinball machine more than having the high score over your friends. There’s a multiplayer option which basically amounts to passing the Vita back and forth if you go that route or split screen if you play it on the PS3, or you can take turns with it there as well. Hell the nostalgia factor from the first set of Star Wars Pinball had me going back and playing those tables over again, so expect to be playing these over and over again if you’re a fan not just for trophies and multiplayer but because they are fun. Even with as much as I’ve played them I’m still triggering specials 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.

Buying this off the PSN, like the previous Star Wars Pinball, unlocks all three table for the Vita and PS3 versions of Zen Pinball 2 so it’s a nice two-fer. Your high scores cross between the two and since there’s an issue where you can’t see trophies on the Vita it is nice to have that cross over to PS3 for that to work. More on that later. While it isn’t giving you four tables like the Marvel release did, it is at least three tables like the last Star Wars release and if you’re looking at it from another perspective, if you play each table from this pack a total of forty times between them then it’s already paid for itself in the cost of firing up a pinball machine with a quarter in the arcade. The design of the tables themselves allows for their own degree of difficulty as the layout changes how hard it is to keep the ball in play and get the special scoring events triggered and completed.

2013-10-30-153247While 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 space fighter mini-game, the shuttle picking up a ball and letting you launch it around are all neat and while not an ‘authentic’ pinball experience, it gives these tables a fresh feel while working that nostalgia and not ripping off the existing 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 so them doing their own thing with these is perfectly fine.

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 as well as revisiting the first Star Wars release to try and beat Alex’s score 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 partially as I have to share the TV and can play the Vita on the side. Star Wars sells and I think people will enjoy these, especially as they’re well designed tables that are a lot of fun to play. 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 especially as slanted to the original trilogy as they are.

2013-10-30-154440Much like the previous release, the game sounds and looks worlds better on the PS3 than it does on the Vita. While I still tended to do better on the PS3 tables overall, I had some really good games and beat my high scores on the Vita but also turned in some of the lowest scores I pulled in on the handheld. It still loads much faster on the PS3, usually a table in a matter of seconds instead of ten to twenty seconds on the Vita. The Vita version still can’t seem to understand I’ve unlocked paid content with the Star Wars tables and won’t let me poke at the trophies on there at all, prompting me still towards the Marvel and Classic content. The checkmark to tap to select an option when you have it still pops up on screen but actually goes away on the new tables on the Vita which was an issues previously with the Boba Fett table. The PS3 version has no checkmark to hit so that’s never an issue and the trophies and everything else work fine. I do find it a little disappointing that they haven’t done anything to patch that in the Vita version for the trophies in the last eight months though. There are people who only play on their Vita and not having trophy access with purchased content would be annoying when it’s advertised with it. It’s not a deal breaker for me as I’m not a trophy hound usually, but it’s something to bear in mind if you are into those.

Short Attention Span Summary
Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force is a great addition to the other three table we got with Star War Pinball for Zen Pinball 2. It brings a bit of variety to what you’re playing not just with looks but in the way the tables are completely set up as well giving people with different pinball playstyles something to toy around with. The mini-games they incorporated into each table are fun and while they are uniquely tied to the fact you’re playing on a console and not in an actual arcade, they fit right in with their tables themes. Like the first three tables they’ve managed to balance nostalgia with the table design and while the Return of the Jedi table feels a little phoned in voice wise, it’s still a blast. Firing these up made me want to play my other three tables as well and the six of them do make a nice set to play through and well worth the money you’d spend on these here. And look at it this way, if you play through your three tables a total of forty times you’ve already matched what it would have cost you on a real pinball table and all without having to hunt one down outside of your home.

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