For those of who might not yet know what a pinball machine is, let's do a quick recap. These machines have existed for decades, even though their presence has diminished a lot as most arcades started to close around the world and they stepped out of most local pubs along with video game arcade machines, in favour of their money-making cousins (like Bally's Bingos and its derivatives).
The most basic pinball games are fairly simple to play. A metallic ball is thrown into a play field using a plunger, where if it hits certain targets, bumpers, or is successfully slotted into certain holes, the player will score points. In order to do that, the player has to skilfully use flippers at the bottom of the slightly sloped play field to avoid the ball rolling out through the hole at the bottom, and launching it back upwards, aiming the shots at the various targets.
Modern pinball machines involve far more intricate mechanics and can even sometimes sort of tell a story of their own, based on their "theme," which is coveyed by background illustrations on the play field or its back glass. The Zen Pinball games, of which Star Wars Pinball is part of, are of the latter sort, and actually go beyond what would be possible on a real, physical pinball table. Indeed, having a Darth Vader appearing on the pinball table and smashing the ball to pieces through the use of 'The Force' is kind of hard to imagine in a real machine.
Star Wars Pinball offers three tables in its basic set: 'Empire Strikes Back,' 'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' and 'Boba Fett.'
The first is based on the "Episode V" movie from 1980 - arguably the one most fans prefer - the second off the animated movie of the same name, and the latter is based mostly on the events surrounding the eponymous bounty hunter in "Episode VI: Return of the Jedi."
Each table presents the kind of features expected from any pinball machine, especially missions that need to be started by performing certain key actions (hitting certain points of the table with the ball, going up a certain ramp a certain amount of times, and so on). Missions are especially the central attraction since, just like in the other Zen Studios games, they are based off key events or actions from the franchises they are based on, and here, being Star Wars and all, they follow almost exactly the events from the films!
Without spoiling anything, take, for example, the Empire Strikes Back table. Missions here are called 'scenes' and will have gamers replaying through key scenes from the movie. Scene 1 involves Luke going to check out what he thought was a meteorite crashing on planet Hoth, but ending up being captured by a Wampa and taken away to its icy cave dwelling, where Luke must attempt to attract its Lightsabre by use of The Force. Well, here in the pinball game, the player has to shoot the ball three times into one of the ramps on the left, within a time limit, in order to let Luke grab his lightsabre, and then hit three times a target at the very centre of the table to strike the beast, cutting off its arm.
The scene continues like this with Han Solo searching for Luke in the blizzard, and then finally with Han having to shoot down the imperial probe. All of this is accompanied by music and actual lines of dialogue directly from the movie, with their original voices, and even some pieces of video from the movie itself, digitised to be rendered of the virtual Dot-Matrix-Display on the pinball machine! This is probably the most stunning aspect of this game. Looking back to the 1992 Star Wars pinball machine by Data East, the pinball playing child inside kind of wishes machines capable of this existed back then!
Figuring out what to do in each instance of those missions and objectives isn't always easy though, and it takes some getting used to. Sometimes the instruction message flashes so fast on the virtual dot-matrix-display that it's hard to figure it out, and it can take hours for a player to learn all the ins and outs of each table, and finding out the tricks to perform well and fast enough to succeed. However, the same can be said of most real-life pinball machines, which are mostly devoid of instructions whereas here, the action can be paused and the playing field looked around as much as desired in order to figure it out if the flashing message was missed.
Each table is filled with little details from the franchise, like a rotating Han Solo trapped in carbonite on the Boba Fett table, or Jabba the Hutt appearing in person, still on the same table. It's extremely well done! The game relies heavily on the use of its licensed stuff to wow at every turn, on top of being exquisite in terms of visuals too!
In terms of sound, as was mentioned earlier, lots of digitised voices taken directly from the original movies are used all the time, on top of background music taken from the same source. Unfortunately, for reasons yet unknown, the sound quality of the music tracks leaves something to be desired. It is indeed badly compressed. Either this was done to reflect the usually poor quality of digitised music in old pinball machines or this is a mistake on the developer's part or a technical choice - it is unknown. However, is known is that the system surely must be capable of better and since the team already go beyond the realm of possible in terms of real life pinball machines, so sticking to compressed music wouldn't make much sense anyway. That being said, this is not so much of a problem that the game suddenly becomes a pain to play, because it's not. It controls and plays extremely well, just like all of Zen Studios pinball games. It's just that being Star Wars and all, the fan within allows himself to become a bit more 'nitpicky' than usual. The voice of the narrator from The Clones Wars is also very annoying - that had to be said!
The game also goes beyond the realm of pinball by including bonus sequences in 3D graphics, such as Luke's training to become a Jedi, and so on, but players can discover that alone.
Thus far, the game only has three tables, with the promise of more coming soon as DLC. Eagerly awaiting the content and price announcement will be the order of the day after playing this, with the hope that what's coming will uphold the same quality standard as what's already on offer here.