If the Disneyland Star Tours attraction was systematically dismantled and reassembled by brilliant maniacs who love tabletop arcade games a whole lot, it would surely be a perfect doppelganger to Star Wars Pinball. The creators of Zen Pinball and Pinball FX have somehow managed to stuff all the joy and adventure of Star Wars itself into three tables that dazzle the senses with Jedi, bounty hunters, spaceships, blasters, droids, scum, and villainy. Past all the noise and nostalgia resides a solid game of pinball that goes out of its way to create imaginative situations of flipper-flying intensity, even if showing off Bossk the lizard-man’s beautiful artwork takes occasional precedent over visual clarity.
Before leaping into the heart of things, you’ll pick a side to represent — the Light or the Dark — which sets the stage for a grand war of player preference. As you level up in the respective moralities by raking in points, you’ll contribute to your side’s dominance, which sets a fun tone for those Jedi and Sith who seek to bring balance to the Force. Even more important is bringing balance to the game, and as far as mechanics and physics are concerned, Zen Studios has done so. Metallic balls clang off bumpers and slide down ramps with dependable predictability, zipping along complex tables of impressive detail.
Sometimes the sheer amount of flashing stuff gets to be too much, what with spinners, ramps, and gates all smashed together amid colourful artwork, but an adjustable camera goes a long way to keeping you up to speed. In fact, there are enough customizable options in every area to instantly scare off the pinball illiterate, but tinkering is merely encouraged; not required. This philosophy carries into the tables themselves, delving deep into wonderfully elaborate chain reactions and sub-stories from the Star Wars universe. A scant three tables may not look like much, but they’ve got it where it counts.
The Empire Strikes Back table is bound to release the floodgates of nostalgia. Every inch of it is decked out in decorations from the 1980 classic. As the primary gimmick, targeting the Star Wars logo will open up five scenes from the movie, each with multiple parts that bring iconic moments to the table. For example, you’ll need to shoot the ball off a ramp while avoiding the asteroid field’s rogue TIE fighter, then help Luke balance rocks by hitting the appropriate slots, and finally nail the mynock targets before they can chew through the Millennium Falcon’s power cables. Not only will this table most likely connect with the greatest number of people, but its clean design and exciting variety ensure it top spot from the three.
The Clone Wars animated series gets a well-deserved homage with a table featuring Anakin Skywalker, his apprentice Ahsoka, and the lovable news-reel style announcer who graces the intro to the show. Similar to the movie scenes, various sequences pantomime TV episodes with a charmingly gung-ho attitude. Finding and planting bombs to take down a shield generator and sneaking behind the vicious Asajj Ventress are just a couple of tricky objectives among many, each of them challenging you to guide your silver ball through untold dangers and bouncy panels that make funny sounds. Cramped and a little confusing, this table stands as the weakest addition, despite a bunch of interesting scenarios and tightly designed loops.
To round out the collection, back from the sarlacc’s belly crawls Boba Fett, armed to the teeth and sporting his very own table. Taking on bounties is the name of the game, whether you seek the Empire for some “honest” work or aim for the Hutts instead. After enough skillful shots you can choose a job — the harder it is, the more points you’ll earn — which boils down to hitting targets and whisking your bounties away by aiming for the loading dock of a gloriously polygonal Slave I. Orchestrating the intricate sequence of events can be difficult and supremely rewarding, especially when Fett is flying around the table acting all deadly.
Each of these dynamic dioramas are filled with 3D models acting out the adventures, whether Darth Vader is looming above or Jabba the Hutt makes his grand appearance. The attention to detail is staggering, down to the carefully constructed probe droid on Hoth. Although music occasionally dips into low-rent knockoff territory, the majority is bona fide John Williams stuff, always accompanied by a torrent of familiar sound effects and dialogue to fill your heart with happiness. Seriously, it’s impossible not to smile when the 20th Century Fox drum roll pops up.
None of this looks quite so nice coming from the Wii U GamePad’s constrained screen, but with the flick of a finger you can zip the action to and from your TV on the fly. This is a delightful feature that struggles to fit an already busy smattering of levers and letters onto an even smaller space, so be wary when making the trade-off. The touch screen also displays extra camera angles (smashed into a tiny box off-TV), but prying your eyes away from the action is usually more trouble than it’s worth. However, playing a multiplayer race using the TV and GamePad is a fantastic option, and the Wii U’s oddball controller feels made for the flippers of a pinball machine.
Star Wars Pinball is fully armed and operational, packed with content to keep you pounding away for hours. With more tables already in development, this is a fine start to what promises to be a thriving hub of galaxy-spanning good times, despite slightly confused visuals and hit-or-miss GamePad features. For those who call themselves pinball fans, this new coat of paint is a shiny one; and if you’re just a Star Wars enthusiast wandering into uncharted territory, you’re taking your first step into a larger world.