Zen Studios has a lot to live up to, and they have themselves to blame for it. The developer of the smash hit Pinball FX2 continues to raise the bar with each set of downloadable pinball tables that they release. Available for download now on Xbox Live Arcade and the PlayStation Network, Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force is Zen Studios’ second offering to feature the beautiful pairing of pinball with the classic franchise. The first DLC pack, simply dubbed Star Wars Pinball, featured three different tables, all of them being a treat for the senses and for the reflexes. This new downloadable content has three tables as well (Star Wars: Episode VI Return of the Jedi, Starfighter Assault, and Darth Vader), but are they worth taking up your precious hard drive space? Read on to find out.
As a gamer who grew up in the 80s, I had the honor of experiencing what it felt like to play in a real arcade: cola-soaked carpeted floors, cigarette burns on the pool tables, quarters on the Mortal Kombat game to hold the next person’s spot to play etc.. The pinball machines of that era were marvels of design and engineering. I often wondered how long it took them to build one of those things, to get the angles and the ramps and the bumpers in just the right spot in order to eat your stack of quarters as the ball inevitably rolled to the bottom hole.
I know what you’re saying: “Those days are long gone, Gramps!” Well, first of all, young whippersnapper, I’m no Gramps. Yes, I miss those days, but Zen Studios has built a solid reputation by being the group to bring the pinball machine back to life. Whenever I need a fix, Pinball FX2 on my Xbox 360 has done the trick. Detailed graphics, flawless sound, and intricate ball physics are responsible for making me feel as though I’m back in those scummy arcades all over again.
In the Star Wars Pinball Starfighter Assault table, you are asked to choose between the Rebel Alliance Fleet or the Galactic Empire’s Armada before the first ball is launched. Once you have picked a side in the conflict, you are then tasked with completing several missions in order to ultimately defeat the enemy side.
With destructible environments and lasers everywhere, the table is fully immersive. The authentic X-Wing and Tie Fighter sounds are great in 5.1 Surround. It does, however, get somewhat distracting when the game cuts away from the table and drops you into a Galaga-like meta-game where you pilot a group of starships and have to shoot down enemy craft. The controls for this particular aspect of the game were extremely confusing at first. The left-to-right movement is controlled by the triggers and the A-button (Xbox 360) fires the lasers. It is very unwieldly.
Save for that minor blip, the table is fun and visually busy.
The Return of the Jedi table is easily the best of the three, and the most challenging. Inspired by events of the movie, the table is seemingly plopped down in the middle of the forest moon of Endor, home to those “beloved” Ewoks. It features a slew of characters including Luke Skywalker, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca and Princess Leia. An animated Speeder Bike and AT-ST walker overlook the action from the sides of the table. and part of the film’s musical score accompanies the experience. The sound effects are particularly strong with this table too, as lasers, lightsabers, and R2-D2 highlight the wide variety of effects pulled directly from the movie.
Sadly, the actual voices were not used for any of the three tables and Return of the Jedi suffers the most, almost to the point of distraction. For Star Wars buffs, the voice acting here is almost laughable. The actors sound like they’re trying way too hard to imitate the inflections and tone of the real actors, and it falls flat.
With that said, playing through the events of the movie on a pinball table — from selling Chewie at Jabba’s Palace, to the final confrontation between Vader and Luke — saves this table. It ultimately provides the best Star Wars experience of the three available in the pack.
The Darth Vader pinball table is the one that I’m most on the fence about. On one hand, it’s great to have a table specifically tailored to one of the greatest movie villains of all-time. On the other hand, if that table isn’t executed properly, it can be disastrous.
The table lives and breathes Darth Vader from the first launch ball. The iconic mask opens up to reveal the bad guy on the operating table with the Emperor hovering over him. As you hit the targeted ramps, the robotic operating arms attach pieces to Vader as he morphs from Anakin Skywalker. The game assigns Sith missions to you as well, all coming from Emperor Palpatine (once again, a very weak vocal interpretation). Events from the Star Wars movies abound — everything from battling Obi-Wan Kenobi, to fighting Luke Skywalker on the second Death Star is included.
There are some great action sequences here, but if we’re looking at pure fun factor, the table is a bore. Ramps and targets are few in number, and there’s not much to do when compared with the other two tables. The table itself isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the other two either, and the Emperor’s voice is annoying. Truth be told, I played this table the least of the three, and I very much doubt I’ll go back to it unless someone on my friends list beats my high score. We can’t have that, now, can we?
When all three tables are looked at as a package, it’s difficult to say that they are worth a purchase. Return of the Jedi and Starfighter Assault are fine, but I don’t think that they’re enough to justify the $9.99 price tag.
In the history of downloadable table packs for the Pinball FX series, this one lands firmly in the middle. The fantastic visuals and precision ball physics remain intact, but pinball is supposed to be fun. With Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force the fun is hit or miss. If you’re a huge Star Wars fan, you probably already have the tables. If you’re not a huge fan, and you’re just looking for some exciting and challenging tables, you may want to see what else is out there.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.
For fans of the Star Wars franchise and of the Pinball FX series, the purchase of this downloadable content is a no-brainer. But, in the grand scheme of pinball tables, the three that included here are middle of the pack. Fun and challenging in parts, but annoying and distracting in others.