Game Review: Zen Pinball 2 – Star Wars Pinball (PS Vita)

Star Wars Pinball Logo

Forget Killzone: Mercenary, Tearaway and countless other big name PS Vita games for 2013. The one that I had been looking forward to the most wasn’t a standalone release but surprisingly DLC for an existing title, and Cross Buy DLC at that. Ever since Zen Studios confirmed that they had acquired the rights to bring out a series of Star Wars tables for Zen Pinball 2, my inner geek was eagerly awaiting the release of all ten tables promised in the series and after teasing everyone with screenshots and trailers of the tables to get everyone into a frenzy, this pack has been unleashed featuring the first three tables in the collection…

Each table has a set theme in this pack. Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is based solely on the second movie from the original trilogy and whst is considered by many to be the best of all of the Star Wars movies. Next up is The Clone Wars, and this takes its inspiration from the CGI animated series of the same name. Finally is Boba Fett – the only table to be based on a single character (let’s just hope that we don’t get a future table dedicated to Jar Jar Binks…). Unlike Zen Studios’ previous licensed tables, what makes these significant is the use of the license – not only do they feature sound effects from the vast Lucasfilm sound library, but also feature voice clips from the films and television episodes, video clips playing on the simulated dot-matrix display and, most importantly, the original music as well. It may not seem important on paper, but when you start playing their presence soon becomes an integral part of the game.

Anyway, onto the tables themselves and first up is The Empire Strikes Back. Immediately this table speaks quality the second it loads up. You are presented with a view that resembles an Imperial Star Destroyer, with a viewport set behind the table showing a panoramic space scene which changes throughout the game showing various planets, backdrops relating to each mission and Star Destroyers flying past in view. Prior to that, the game introduces itself with a full view of a large imposing 3D figure of Darth Vader talking to you setting the scene for the game admirably. Once the game starts, you launch the ball (from a lightsaber, no less) and the table itself begins. Throughout the game, there are countless soundbites playing taken directly from the movie from most of the cast hinting at which of the tables missions you should aim to play next. Scattered all over the table are objects from the movie, but rather than being there for decoration, each serves a purpose. When your ball drops between the shield generators (located at the top of the table) as seen in the Hoth sequence at the start of the film, they spell the word SKYWALKER which unlocks one game mode.

The main game modes are based on several key scenes from the movie itself. These are activated by repeatedly shooting the ball into the centre target and spelling out Star Wars. Once this is done, a trapdoor opens in the centre of the table. Get the ball into this and you can select from one of five key movie scenes. Playing through these scenes generally involves aiming at specific targets on the table itself. However, these modes are brought to life with speech, fully animated characters on the table and video sequences from the movie played out on the simulated dot-matrix display. Each mode is broken up into several stages adding more variety to the gameplay as well. For example, the third mode sees the scene where the Milennium Falcon enter the asteroid field to escape the Star Destroyers. In this, a ramp appears in the centre of the table and you have to shoot the ball directly at this ramp and launch the ball at asteroids and TIE Fighters that are flying around on the table. Once this stage has been completed, the mode switches to Dagobah where Luke is undergoing the early stages of his Jedi training (complete with an animated Luke Skywalker…).

The sheer beauty of these modes is something new that Zen Studios have introduced with Star Wars Pinball. If you fail to complete one of the missions, or lose one of your balls, but start the same mission again during the same game, if you have made it beyond the first stage, it will set a checkpoint in the game and you can continue from that point! Absolutely original and a welcome addition. Those aren’t the only game modes though…

Another one that can be activated (again from hitting targets on the table) is your Jedi Training. Here, you leave the table completely (as is the case with selected game modes on other Zen Pinball 2 tables) and the view switches to a first person mini-game. This will be familiar to Star Wars fans everywhere as the game recreated the lightsaber training from Star Wars: A New Hope. Using the L and R buttons, you have to use your lightsaber to deflect blaster bolts being fired at you from the training remote droid. I have to say that this not only looks great, but provides a welcome change from the frantic action on the table.

There is so much on this table, it’s hard to single any particular thing out. It looks fantastic (with very little difference between this and its PS3 counterpart), sounds amazing and plays like a dream. The ball physics – as you would expect – are spot on, and there really is nothing to fault with the gameplay. A good table? No. This is pretty damn near as perfect a pinball table as you will find on the PS Vita and I have to be honest and say that it is worth buying Star Wars Pinball for this table alone.

But there are two more tables as part of this pack and I can’t ignore them… Next up is The Clone Wars, based on the CGI animated series of the same name that is set between Episodes II and III. The visual style of the table emulates the series admirably and as with The Empire Strikes Back table, key scenes and locations are featured in the game along with sound and music and stunningly animated characters and vehicles that take flight over the table. Lightsabers, battle droids, guidance from Yoda… what more could you ask for? Well, despite the very atmospheric opening to the table with the “Star Wars scroller” as the story to the table is introduced and narrated, this is probably the weakest of the three tables. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun table and another worthy addition to Zen Pinball’s stable and is still pretty damn addictive, but I think that this table would appeal more to those who are more familiar with The Clone Wars series than those who aren’t. Certainly as someone who hasn’t had that much access to the show, I felt somewhat distanced from it and just couldn’t engage with the characters in the same way I could with The Empire Strikes Back.

Finally we come on to everyone’s favourite bounty hunter, Boba Fett…Moving in a completely different direction to the other tables in the pack, this focuses on a single character. While you may think that this would make for a limited table, nothing could be further from the truth. There are two main types of game modes that can be activated but both focus on taking on jobs from different employers. Firing the ball into the left hand target (an Imperial base) will illuminate the word EMPIRE. Once this is lit, Vader emerges and you will be given a job to undertake. Similarly, on the right hand side, there is a HUTTS target to illuminate and once fully lit, Jabba The Hutt slithers out from a panel in the wall to present you with an assignment.

At the centre of the table is the Sarlaac Pit (which tried to turn Fett into its lunch in Return Of The Jedi) and points are scored for getting the ball into the Pit although most of the time you need to jump over it to reach targets such as the Imperial Base so it’s a hinderance to avoid (as in ROTJ). Despite the limited nature of what can be done with the character, the table is littered with plenty of small touches that really add to the game. There is a points spinner in the centre that looks like Han Solo frozen in carbonite, the animated Fett figure is continually using his jetpack to fly around the table, and if you have the ball save activated, rather than shooting again, on several occasions Fett will fire his wrist grapling hook to catch the ball instead to bring it back into play. Contrary to what I was expecting, this turned out to be a great table with plenty of variety, some great on-table animations and characters and plenty of diversity in the game modes with plenty of challenges to keep you hooked. It all adds up to a rip-roaring table that will hook you in!

As with all the previous tables offered for Zen Pinball 2, it links in with the global leaderboards allowing you to compare your scores with players all over the world and – more importantly – your friends who own the tables. The local and online multiplayer modes are still present (although sadly still no Cross Play functionality) and new trophies have been added specifically for these three tables.

I have to admit that I had very high expectations of this pack. Being a Star Wars fan since 1977, the saga was responsible for nurturing my interest in science fiction from an early age so it had a lot to live up to… and it hasn’t disappointed one bit. Every virtual inch of the tables is a perfect tribute to the films and characters, the visuals are absolutely breathtaking and it plays like a dream. Having the original cast recordings, accompanied by John Williams’ legendary score pump out of the Vita’s speakers while you play creates a stunning atmosphere that is seldom experienced on a pinball game and every game mode, mission and on-table character animation just enhances the playing experience.

There is so much I can say about this but it’s one of those games that has to be experienced to see how good it really is. Even people who don’t own Zen Pinball 2 once I have shown this to them have made the decision to buy it. For many gamers and certainly for Star Wars fans, it’s a sure-fire winner and has the real potential to sell consoles just on the strength of this game alone. Some have criticised Zen Studios for the pricing of this, charging £7.99 for three tables, which is more expensive than any of their previous releases, some of which have offered more tables for half that price. However, no matter how much I have loved their previous tables, none have come close to Star Wars Pinball in terms of quality and atmosphere and if I am truly honest, I would have gladly paid the asking price per table, let alone for the pack of three.

Is this a great set of pinball tables? Absolutely. Is is a worthy addition to the plethora of Star Wars games that have been released over the decades. Undoubtedly. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that this is not only the best set of pinball tables available right now for the PS Vita but is also one of the best Star War games ever written as well. This should be on every PS Vita owner’s “must have” list.

Simon Plumbe

At A Glance

  • Title: Zen Pinball 2 – Star Wars Pinball Expansion
  • Publisher: Zen Studios
  • System: PS Vita
  • Format: PSN Download
  • Cross Buy: Yes
  • Online Multiplayer: Yes
  • Local Multiplayer: Yes
  • Memory Card Space Needed: 161Mb (this does not count the space needed for Zen Pinball 2 itself)

Vita Player Rating - 10

Please note that although these screenshots may be from different versions of the game they are accurate representations of how the game looks on the PS Vita and are official images supplied by Zen Studios.

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About Simon Plumbe 891 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian.Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee: http://ko-fi.com/simonplumbe

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