I have got to hand it to Zen Studios. Not only do they arguably create the best digital pinball tables on the market, but they also seem to pull all the right strings to obtain some of the most influential licenses in entertainment. From tables based on popular gaming IP owned by Capcom and Bethesda, all the way to movies, characters, and TV shows from 20th Century Fox, Marvel, Universal Studios and, more recently, digital reconstructions of Williams’ own line of classic pinball machines. Many of the developer’s past ventures are even becoming harder to find and download due to licensing issues, evidently making a handful of them become somewhat a digital collector’s item in their own right.
Speaking of conquering and collecting licenses, Disney’s D23 event saw to it that Star Wars has much more life left in the franchise long after Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker closes the lid on the saga’s third trilogy. It’s great timing then, that a bumper release of Zen Studios’ past Star Wars-themed tables have been packaged together within its own dedicated digital and physical compilation – a first for the studio and hopefully not the last.
Star Wars Pinball boasts a whopping 19 tables that cover everything from the movies to the animated TV spin-off, and even some dedicated cabinets to certain characters and iconic action scenes. Each table has its own story to explore, complete with a handy in-depth guide to study and master. The imagination and loyalty that has gone into designing each and every one of them to look, sound, and feel like Star Wars so faithfully is an impressive achievement in itself.
It would have been easy enough just to plaster a picture of Darth Vader on the playing field, stuff in a few laser gun sound effects when hitting bumpers, and throw a John Williams score behind it all before calling it a day. However, that’s not the way that Zen Studios usually does things. Instead, they often blur the lines between ultra-realistic pinball mechanics while taking the utmost advantage of video game programming to bring the magic of cinema to life.
Take the Han Solo table, for example. Right bang in the middle lies the Millenium Falcon which can be piloted through an asteroid field if the right conditions are met. The sides of the table have the interior of the famous starship, whereas sitting right at the top is the famous Mos Eisley Cantina – complete with iconic bar music. Every single cabinet is a homage to over 40 years of Star Wars history, with more props, artwork, and memorabilia than Simon Pegg’s attic.
Having 19 different tables at your fingertips can be pretty overwhelming, especially if you consider how many different kinds of missions there are within each one. Thankfully, the newly introduced Career mode for the Nintendo Switch version does a great job at giving the player enough reason to try them all out. Each segment has a score limit to reach and a certain condition to abide by – such as gaining as many points as possible with 200 nudges on the flippers, or how much score you can accumulate on a rolling distance. While the conditions do often repeat and stay rather safe, they are at least practical enough to keep the flow of gameplay both bite-sized and consistent.
Some missions do implement the minigames found amongst the tables in the pack, whether that be a first-person showdown against Darth Vader or the Space Invaders-style shoot-out between X-Wings and Tie-Fighters. Each mission rewards you with up to three shards depending on your score that can be used to purchase special perks to help aid your progress and rack up the points even further. Having the ability to temporarily slow the ball down can give you time to nudge the table when the ball is heading for the outlane, or you can upgrade the bumper score multiplier to make those smaller points count for something bigger.
Of course, you can keep it honest and rally up points in the traditional manner without the added perks. Personally, I’ve always preferred this classic way of playing pinball as it’s the most optimal and addictive way to notice improvements and feel rewarded for my own efforts. You can also set up your own tournament to challenge friends and strangers, or even hop onto weekly leagues and aim for the top. These have become staple points of the core Pinball FX series, although it is unfortunate that Zen Studios has decided to scrap head-to-head simultaneous play in recent years. The only local multiplayer mode available is the life-swapping hot seat option, which never seems quite as fun in comparison to simply competing against each other with a full stock of lives and stamping the winning initials on the local leaderboards.
Strangely enough, if there is anything that I really didn’t like about Star Wars Pinball it has to be the actual game icon on the Nintendo Switch home menu screen. It just looks incredibly cheap and tacky, almost like it’s been poorly photoshopped and printed for a counterfeit toy sold on a flea market. It would have also been nice if some of the conditions in Career mode were a bit more experimental than they are. The fact that the mode is included at all is a great addition to the package, but nonetheless, more variety to the objectives would have certainly been the icing on the cake.
Star Wars Pinball does have an easy-to-swap TATE style portrait mode though, providing all the more flexibility to showcase Nintendo Switch’s versatile possibilities. The HD Rumble is fantastic too, allowing the player to adjust the feel of the feedback to however they desire it. It’s a solid line of tables overall, with an excellent physical edition price point to match. To buy a real pinball table would cost over five grand, so to have so many crafted at such high quality and realism makes the whole package a real bang for your buck.
It’s great to see a small company like Zen Studios becoming more and more recognized for the craftsmanship and quality in their products over the years. Even if you’re not the biggest Star Wars fan it’s hard not to be impressed with Star Wars Pinball thanks to the amount of love and detail implemented into each table – including all the official sound effects and John Williams’ iconic score from the movies. That makes it a must-have for anyone even interested in the idea of pinball. The Nintendo Switch is already like a portable ’90s arcade of nostalgia. So, what better way to top it off than have a whole library of Star Wars-themed pinball tables to match. Now all we need are some tables dedicated to some of Nintendo’s finest. In this day and age, surely it has to happen at some point!
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Zen Studios