Now, witness the power of this fully armed and operational Pinball Game! Zen Studios' recent release of Star Wars Pinball hits the Wii U eShop July 11. For those that have had the opportunity to play Zen Pinball 2, which has been out since March of this year, you are familiar with the quality of work that Zen Studios performs. Undoubtedly that helped them secure the license to design original tables set in the Star Wars universe. But Star Wars Pinball is more than just the three tables provided at the release, the platform itself holds achievements to be unlocked and a clever mechanic termed "The Balance of the Force" which we will discuss later.
While releasing Star Wars Pinball as a standalone application allows Zen Studios to implement those additional features, it does mean that the new tables are not available as DLC into the existing Zen Pinball 2 application. It also means that the tables cannot be trialed before purchase. Having said that, I agree with Zen Studios' decision to release the tables as a standalone application as the positive aspects more than compensate for those issues.
Star Wars Pinball is released to the eShop with all three Star Wars tables included in the 192 MB download. Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars - The Clone Wars, and Bobba Fett are the initial volley of tables but there will be more tables available as DLC later. Zen has confirmed on their Twitter page that the next Star Wars tables will be released this fall. Now that the application is up, hopefully the eShop will see the release at the same time as other digital shops, although that can be very difficult to coordinate.
Each of the three tables is heavily laden with the music and sounds we all come to expect from anything with the Star Wars moniker. Zen worked closely with LucasArts and had access to the huge library of sounds and original voice clips they were able to work into the designs. Once I was closing in on a new high score only to see my last ball drain down the outlane and then heard the voice of Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) say "Typical." At times certain sound clips can become repetative, but over all they are very well placed. The music played will changed as different missions or multiball modes are activated and are all very well selected and adds to the over all gameplay.
The first table listed on the main menu is Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back. The centerpiece of this table are scenes from the movie. Hitting two targets and then dropping the ball into a trap door allows you to select which scene you want to attempt. One of my favorites is taking down one of the AT-AT Snow Walkers. This scene requires you to hit the ball around the orbit the AT-AT is walking on, simulating flying around its legs with the tow cable. If you are able to orbit the machine enough in the allotted time you get to see it drop to the ground and complete the scene. This table is very fun and very challenging. Several missions and modes keep things moving, but with practice you will get to relive some iconic moments from the movie.
The second table is Star Wars - The Clone Wars and is based on the animated series, so if there is one table that will seem unfamiliar it will be this one. The table is well balanced with ramps and upper flippers that allow you to put together some creative combinations. In addition to five missions that can be activated and attempted, this table features two additional playing fields that you can hit the ball into to complete other objectives. I found this table to be the easiest of the three to activate and complete missions, however it still offers some unique challenges and a nice overall experience.
Bobba Fett is the final table and ended up being my favorite of the three. The bounty hunter that delievered Solo to Jabba is the theme of this table. Accepting hunts from both the Empire and Jabba the Hutt and collecting the bounties for successfully delivering your quarry is the driving mechanic. But there are some excellent surprises that one would not expect to find in a pinball table, even a virtal one. Hitting the tentacle of the Sarlacc, a sharpshooting skill shot mechanic, and a very unique and fun to watch ball save method make this table one you will find yourself playing a least two or three times whenever you open up the application.
As mentioned at the outset, releasing these table separately from Zen Pinball 2 allows for some additional features to be implemented. When you first open the application you are given the opportunity to select a side: Jedi/Light or Sith/Dark. As you play, your score is added to others that have chosen the same side and are weighed against those that chose the opposing. Just as Anakin, you have the option of switching at any time. As your scores increase you will rise from an Initiant, Padawan, Knight, and then Master. The top 12 Jedi scores will receive the special title of Jedi Councilor, while the top 10 Sith scores will be dubbed Sith Inquistors. The top overall Jedi score will be Master of the Order and the top Sith player will be Dark Lord of the Sith. Once you achieve the rank of Master you will always have it, but if you acquire one of these special titles you could lose it to an ambitious player that overtakes your score.
Each table has a fairly detailed table guide available by pressing the + button while the table is loaded. The guide will outline some of the mechanics the table has and how to score points so you aren't playing the table in the dark. If you are really interesting in serious pinball training however, I highly recommend the table guides posted on the Zen Studios blog. They are a collaborative effort of several senior members of the Zen forum and complied by ShoryukenToTheChin. They contain screenshots, detailed explainations of missions, and scoring tips for all three Star Wars tables as well as many others available on Zen Pinball 2.
Sadly, Star Wars Pinball appears to be plagued by the same leaderboard issue that Zen Pinball 2 is experiencing. Ever since the Wii U system update the leaderboards have been unreliable and often display the word "Loading" indefinitely. I've spoken with Zen Studios about this issue and they confirm they are aware of it and are working with Nintendo to correct the issue. However, after almost three months and an update having been implemented the issues remain. Hopefully they are able to resolve this problem soon as it does deal a crippling blow to a very nice feature of the application.
9/10 - An absolute, no questions asked purchase. The only reason I am not awarding a 10 is because of the current leaderboard issues and the fact that I believe the best Zen Studios will offer is yet to come and I don't want to top out the score too soon.