No scum or villainy here.
Review written by
August 2nd, 2013
Pinball games occupy a strange non-genre of virtual copies to antiquated experiences. Many of us look to pinball as a symbol of yesterday's primitive entertainment, vanquished by our new and improved games. The world simply doesn't need to flick around a metal ball now that we have high def shaders and force feedback in our controllers.
And yet, pinball videogames continue to be made, right in the face of logic that screams, "why would we ever need to use our modern resources to recreate something we've all pretty much gotten over"? Well the simple answer is that pinball is damn fun, and with the right design elements, we can do things with it in the virtual space that would have never been possible in the physical.
So let's look at Star Wars Pinball under that lens. The questions we should be asking here is not whether this relatively smalltime game compares to the other massive, narrative driven experiences open to us, but rather how does it simultaneously pay proper homage to a dying form of fun while evolving it in means only possible with video games. If you don't find pinball a compelling use of your time or money from the get go, then the almighty question of whether or not you should buy this game has already been answered long before this review was written. For the rest of you, let's break it down.
Star Wars Pinball, developed by virtual pinball madmen Zen Studios, comes with three tables for the fairly hefty sum of $9.99, or €9.99 in Europe. The three tables are, as you would hopefully expect, based on various elements from the expansive Star Wars universe. The first incorporates characters and events from Empire Strikes Back, the second focuses on the recently canceled Star Wars: Clone Wars animated TV show, and the third explores Boba Fett's illustrious bounty hunting career.
Most would assume this to be a soulless cash grab, exploiting a famous property while laughing in the faces of all who take it even remotely seriously. A natural assumption considering Star Wars and pinball have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Surprisingly though, this is not the case. It's actually quite the opposite. Zen Studios must have some Star Wars fans among its ranks, as even the most scathing Star Wars enthusiast will find the lack of callous indifference for the property admirable.
While all three tables have exceptional detail and a wide array of references and secrets, the bulk of the attention seemed to go to the latter two, as the Empire table feels a bit on the minimalist side of design. Enough playing and you'll find that there is, in fact, a surprising amount of hidden powers at play and plenty to do, but the other two tables beat it handily in terms of explosive, booming events and excessive detail.
The Boba Fett table is likely my favorite, as success hinges on your ability to obtain and complete bounty missions from both Jabba the Hutt and Darth Vader. While all tables offer clever incorporation of familiar elements, this table goes above and beyond, showing absolute love and care with the beloved character.
Mechanically, this is pinball perfection, as I experiences little to no noticeable problems with control or physics. However, not every encountered element worked to perfection, and while this is a common problem with most pinball tables, lost balls rarely felt like they were my fault. Luck was often more responsible for high scores than skill, although that could just be a signal of my lower-tier skills. While the overall feel is more on the side of fantasy and exaggeration than absolute realism, the controls, aided by the touch screen, does a good enough job at recreating the experience of real pinball.
However, things get a little messy with the visuals, as vertically oriented pinball tables don't translate well to horizontal screens, especially smaller screens like my own. There are a large number of camera settings, but in most cases you're going to want to stick with the camera that zooms in and follows the ball, as every other option seemed to blur out the details and make playing with any accuracy near impossible.
You can also play on the GamePad screen, but doing so only makes the above issues worse, as you get significantly less pixel resolution on that than you do an HDTV. Luckily, the GamePad makes up for it in other ways by highlighting cool moments or showing the ball falling through tight spaces. It can also be used to launch the ball by pulling down on a virtual spring lever, a nice touch that adds some extra realism to the experience.
All in all, Star Wars Pinball's ultimate worth comes down to how much you like pinball. Star Wars fans will certainly enjoy all of the little details and references, but there's no significant depth to be found in what is essentially a minigame collection. With only three tables at launch, some may be disappointed by how little they actually get for $9.99. On tablets, you can get nearly the same amount of content for absolutely free, and both Star Wars Pinball and most free Pinball apps will try to sell you more tables at some point or another.
But on its own, Star Wars Pinball is enjoyable and competent. It has loving detail and tight mechanics, and its three tables are different enough from one another that you likely won't get tired of the overall product soon.
A copy of this game was provided for review by the developer.
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