Like their previous pinball tables, Star Wars or otherwise, the ones included in Zen Studio’s new Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force collection strike a great balance between realism and unrealistic expectations. Which is why, like their previous pinball tables, the ones included in Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force are as addictive and fun, well, Zen’s other pinball tables, Star Wars or otherwise.
Available downloadably on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PCs, iOS devices, the Kindle Fire HD, and probably a couple other things that haven’t even been invented yet, Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force includes three new tables inspired by the original trilogy: the space dogfighting-themed Starfighter Assault, Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi for fans of that 1983 movie, and Darth Vader, in honor of our Lord and savior.
As you’d expect if you’ve played any of the Zen’s tables, the physics in all three Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force tables are realistic, with the ball moving and bouncing off the bumpers as you’d expect it to if you were playing a real pinball machine.
It’s just where the ball sometimes moves, and what happens when it does, that makes this unrealistic, since these tables have a number of moving parts that just wouldn’t all fit or work in a real pinball machine.
Take the Darth Vader table. At one point, if you hit things just right, an X-Wing Fighter or a TIE Fighter will fly over the board, or you might get to watch as Vader and his estranged son Luke have a heated argument in front of Vader’s supervisor. But these aren’t just shown on a screen on the table, they actually happen on the table itself, which couldn’t actually happen on a real pinball table since it would require way too much money to get some models and action figures to move the right way. Not to mention that it would be physically impossible to fit it all inside the table itself.
Such is the magic of video games. Much like how Puppeteer was an amazing but physically impossible and financially-prohibitive puppet show (see my review here), so too would the Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force tables be impossible to construct in the real world.
The Vader table also has the distinction of being the most visually arresting of this bunch, as it has a mechanical look in red and black that makes it look like it was cobbled together by the Sith lord out of spare Death Star parts.
Similarly, the Episode VI table also uses its theme to great effect, as it looks like it was built into a hollowed out log and then placed in the dense forests of Endor’s most famous moon.
Then there’s Starfighter Assault, which looks like it was made by an Empire loyalist and a Rebel sympathizer who have issues communicating. The table is, visually speaking, split down the middle, with imagery and iconography from both sides of the conflict in mirror formation.
This split goes beyond mere visuals, though. When you start playing the table, you have to pick a side. But this does more than determine whether you’ll shoot from the right or left side. If, as you play, you meet certain conditions (which we won’t spoil), you have the option to move the action off the table and into space, where you get to pay a rudimentary, Galaga-like arcade shooter. Using the flipper buttons to movie left or right, and the plunger button to shoot, you try to take out enemy fighters — TIE Fighters if you chose to be join the Rebellion; X-Wings if you serve The Emperor — as they cross the screen in formation, while simultaneously avoiding some asteroids.
Admittedly, this minigame would work better if you could move using the left thumbstick. Heck, part of me wishes they would release this as a stand-alone game, maybe as part of a collection of Star Wars versions of old school arcade games (Asteroids with the Millennium Falcon? Pac-Man but with R2-D2? C’mon, Lucas, make it happen). But considering that it’s more of a momentary distraction (and since a real pinball table wouldn’t have a right thumbstick anyway), it works fine here.
Even cooler, this minigame isn’t alone…
What’s interesting is that while all three tables are very different visually, they actually share a common trait, mechanically: simplicity. Compared to Zen’s other tables, Star Wars or otherwise, the ones included in Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force are relatively less cluttered, with far fewer ramps and bumpers than previous tables. This is not to say that they’re better or worse for it — though it does let the ball fly a bit more — but rather, by not being so busy, these tables stand out by being different.
Of course, they’re not a complete departure. The tables in Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force still have all the iconic imagery of the sci-fi series, as well as many of the authentic sound effects.
More importantly, though, the tables in Star Wars Pinball: Balance Of The Force share the most important, and defining quality, of all of Zen’s pinball tables, Star Wars or otherwise: they’re just damn fun to play. When you get in the zone, and that ball is flying back and forth while Darth Vader or C-3PO or Luke Skywalker are reciting lines from the movies, it’s everything 12-old pinball addict Paul wanted when he walked into an arcade in 1980 and saw the first Star Wars pinball machine for The Empire Strikes Back.