Star Wars Pinball made me do something I have never done in Zen’s superlative Pinball FX series. It made me turn on the music.
After the jump, I think you overestimate my chances
Okay, so that’s enough with all the superhero tables. It’s time for some Star Wars. Zen Studios first three tables out of a ten-table Star Wars series are available now. You get Clone Wars, Boba Fett, and The Empire Strikes Back, which I refuse to call Star Wars V in much the same way Thoreau refused to pay a poll tax. We all do our part to make the world a better place.
The Clone Wars table is a crowded cluster of ramps shoved to the top of the table to make room for a jumble of typefaces that represent, uh, Geonosis? Midichlorians? Waddo? Kit Fisto? I’m really out of my element playing this one. If you’re curious what’s going on, the Clone Was table is narrated by fortune cookie Yoda and a guy who seems to have something else on his mind, like getting out of the recording session before lunch. It’s not an awful table, but it is another doll based table, and I don’t really know who these dolls are. One is either Ewan MacGregor or Hayden Christensen. The other is one of those tentacle headed chicks that was probably supposed to be a throwaway latex effect in the first movie. It’s an energetic and colorful enough table. You could do worse.
But then we get to Boba Fett, a brutally difficult, fast playing, low scoring table based on everyone’s favorite sarlacc snack. Boba is surprisingly chatty. He opens with a monologue. It’s a work pitch, really. Sort of his own performance evaluation as a bounty hunter. Then the Boba Fett doll jets around a fair bit.
But what I like about this table is that it makes no bones about not being for the feint of flipper. To work your way along the mission structure, you have to line up a series of shots down narrow lanes, one of which is closed off behind a see-saw that you have thwack hard to unlock. These lanes represent Imperial and Hutt bounties. Once you unlock one of the factions, you get a risk/reward dynamic for how tough a mission you want to take. Basically, how many ramps do you think you can hit in the time limit? Alternatively, have you stocked up on missiles to take down your bounty automatically? Once you catch whomever you’re tasked to catch, you have to load him up on a big fat model of Slave One that parks directly in front of your flippers.
Boba Fett also has a unique sensibility, with its Tattoine palette and weird sound effects that I don’t recognize from any Star Wars movie I’ve ever seen. Is this what the world sounds like to a Mandalorian? Speaking of which, “Mandalorian multiball” has to be one of the best names for a multiball mode.
But let’s get down to brass tacks. You’re not here for the middling Clone Wars table or the surprisingly good and punishing Boba Fett table. You’re here for the only thing better than a Star Wars table: an Empire Strikes Back table. As we all know — and by “we”, I mean discerning movie wonks of a certain age who grew up with Star Wars and then watched it crumble — there is only one good Star Wars movie and it’s The Empire Strikes Back and it doesn’t have a Roman numeral on it. Let’s have a beer and hash this out at some point. For the purposes of this review, you’re just going to have to take my snooty word for it.
Zen’s table lovingly captures the movie’s production design, a combination of timeless imagination and 80s sci-fi aesthetic. Of course the sound effects are there, snippets of familiar dialogue, and characters, usually without any of the silly dolls. It’s mostly an easy table with a mission mode you can’t miss. Basically, Darth Vader’s neck opens wide, you drop a ball in, and you get to choose among six missions, each consisting of two stages based on events from the movie. This table knows it’s for movie fans. It’s not attempting anything other than a blatant appeal to nostalgia. In other words, direct hit. This is how you make a great table. Be sure to play a bit on the zoomed out view so you can see what’s scurrying around on the floor.
To get seven more Star Wars tables, Zen Studios will have to dig deeper into Lucas’ trough. Sure, it’ll be cool to have a Millenium Falcon smuggling table (How many parsecs will it take you to make the Kessel run?), a Death Star attack table (Do you worry about those fighters or the tower?), and a cantina table (See if that little squealing warthog guy can get served). But then what? An ewok table? Mon Mothma’s rise to power? A Naboo trade embargo negotiation table? Can Zen contractually avoid putting Jar Jar Bink onto a table? But the real challenge in the future won’t be coming up with material. It will be following up on a pair of tables as good as the ones you get here.