Pinball FX2 – Star Wars™ Pinball: Balance of the Force Pack – PC
Publisher: Zen Studios
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: Oct 16, 2013
Genre: Casual, Simulation
Reviewed by Mark Smith
Review Score: 5 of 5
I’ve been playing Zen Studio Pinball games for over six years now on pretty much every available platform from iOS to 3DS to next-gen console to PC. I have every single table available, although until recently they were scattered across the various formats, but thanks to a recent Steam sale I was able to acquire the ENTIRE library for Steam-PC; easily the best system to enjoy this time-consuming classic. So rest assured that when I tell you that Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force contains three of the best tables ever released for the franchise, I’m not trying to pull a Jedi mind trick.
Zen Studios has always avoided simply licensing and recreating the real pinball tables found in bars, bowling alleys, and arcades over the past 70 years – not that those wouldn’t be amazing and sell like crazy. Instead, they have taken the more fanciful approach, creating tables that would be impossible in the real world, and recently taking their pinball wizardry skills into popular licensed franchises like Marvel comics and the Star Wars universe. Balance of the Force not only marks their second set of Star Wars themed tables; it also showcases their best table designs to date and some of the best pinball action you will experience in their growing franchise.
When I get new tables to review I usually spend a few hours with them and try to see as much as possible, get a reasonably high position on the leaderboards, find the hidden achievements, and boost my Superscore, but when it comes to these three new tables I have probably spent more time with them in the past few days than I have spent with all of the other 20+ tables combined. Admittedly, I’m also a huge Star Wars fan, but that really has little to do with the appeal of these tables. If anything, hearing your favorite cherished lines of the movie franchise repeated to the point of annoyance might be a detraction, but the simple fact is that these table are a pure joy to play and the sense of discovery is overpowering, as each game session has you finding something new about the tables.
Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force comes with three tables, each focusing on a particular movie or element from the legendary franchise. Up first is Episode VI: Return of the Jedi; a fantastic table that seamlessly blends the desert world of Tatooine with the forest moon of Endor. The table features 3D modeled characters for Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and a Scout Trooper than hovers on his speeder bike near the ball launcher. There are numerous mini-games missions and interactive targets you can trigger including an AT-ST, Speeder bike, Death Star II hologram, TIE fighters, Tydirium Shuttle and a Shield Generator.
Star Wars: Starfighter Assault is the next table in the pack and possibly my favorite of the three. It opens with a fantastic cutscene of X-wings and TIE-fighters engaged in furious combat around Imperial Star Destroyers before the camera pulls out and gives you the choice of playing as a rebel or an imperial. Your choice actually has some impact on the game. Rebels launch from the right side of the table using Luke’s targeting computer to determine velocity while Imperials launch from the left side as TIE-fighter wings are snapped onto the silver pinball. I loved the way your initial choice alters the table design; mostly in the animated turrets on the upper-right deck that have a distinct rebel or imperial design based on who you are playing.
The table is a beautiful design that blends the imperial reds and rebel blues with plenty of interactive missions you can trigger; some that even play out as a primitive version of Galaga with you using the flippers to move your ship side to side and firing at incoming waves of fighters with the launch button. You will need to complete all the side missions for both sides to activate wizard mode. Starfighter Assault is probably the most involved table as it features an almost RPG-like quality that will have you earning Fleet Upgrades that can be used to upgrade fighters, turrets, and even boost the rank of your pilot. It really is quite thrilling to have tiny fighters zipping around above the table as turrets try to shoot them down, and you might even catch a glimpse of the Millennium Falcon if you are good enough, but make sure you are prepared when the Death Star II comes into targeting range.
Last up is Star Wars: Darth Vader, the ultimate tribute to the Dark Lord of the Sith in a table that just oozes with uncomfortable evil. The vertical back of the table is this sinister Vader mask that opens up to reveal the very lab where Darth Vader was “born”. The rest of the table is this two-color red and black design accented with chrome rails, very polished and very dark. The launch tube power is represented with the Death Star cannon energy coil effect that shattered Alderaan – nice touch. Vader, Obi-Wan, Luke, and the Emperor all appear as fully animated 3D characters and interactive targets launch iconic missions like the chase for stolen Death Star schematics, the memorable lightsaber duel against Obi-Wan Kenobi, and of course, the final dual with his son, Luke Skywalker.
Zen Studios crushes it out of the park with this latest set of tables, which are now available individually or as a set on just about every platform out there. The art and design for these tables had me holding down the camera button and just moving around admiring the artwork, and the music and sound effects are taken right from the films and really add to the gameplay experience. I loved the way certain effects were applied to certain targets, so when you ball gets bouncing between the bumpers it sounds like a space fighter battle.
As with previous Star Wars and even the Marvel games, the use of dialogue and popular quotes from the films is fun at first but they still repeat a bit too often and the comments almost never have anything to do with what is going on in the game. It just seems that every 30-45 seconds they are randomly pulling something from a massive database of recorded dialogue. You might hear one new line you haven’t heard before if you play long enough, but that just means you are going to hear all the others even more. It’s a small annoyance for what is otherwise an amazing pinball game and an awesome set of new tables that will have pinball and Star Wars fans playing for countless hours in a galaxy far, far away.