Monday, 25 March 2013

Star Wars Pinball

"NO DISINTERGRATIONS"

Yes Star Wars Pinball, another arm of the ever-growing Disney empire in the form of balls and flippers. 800 Microsoft Points gets you 25% fewer tables than normal, but hey, it's Star Wars, and we all like Star Wars... provided you don't mention the special editions, prequels, DVD, 3D or Blu Ray releases, Clone Wars, the bizarre Christmas special and this paragraph isn't working so well is it.

So what do we have here then? Well, it's a set of three Star Wars-themed pinball games, pitched as the first of many to come from from Zen Studios in a similar manner to how Marvel Pinball has been handled. The difference here, of course, is that while the Marvel universe is large and diverse, Star Wars consists of six inter-connecting films and an expanded universe that doesn't expand very far. I'm predicting repetition, are you?

The original plan from the company was to produce a table for each of the six films - a sensible decision despite the overlapping content, as it gives you the opportunity to skip on Jar Jar and friends should you so desire. But Lucasfilm demanded the franchise be milked some more and now we have other topics to consider - this initial selection boasts conversions of "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back", "Star Wars: The Clone Wars", and... "Boba Fett" because... erm... well.

Of course, all pinball products by Zen Studios usually turn out fantastic regardless of theme, but there's certainly a worrying prospect ahead - these Star Wars tables are now the most expensive of Pinball FX 2's offerings, yet they each have a hard time justifying the inflated costs. The latest Marvel Avengers pack still reigns supreme in terms of quality and value for money, and while this initial set of Star Wars tables outclasses the likes of Plants vs. Zombies or Civil War, they're not really pushing the boundaries of the genre. Certainly there's nothing "new" here from a pinball perspective, but it should keep the fans happy.

So to start, The Empire Strikes Back, curiously pronounced "pew pew" if the menu screen is to be believed. Predictably, having likely been the first to enter production, Empire stands as the more refined, comfortable and most thought-through of the the set, with a story to tell, a purpose to serve and a guaranteed fanbase to lavish it in unfounded praise. Seeing as this has you play through the entirity of the film, it's difficult to say it's low on content, and while it perhaps falls a a bit short when it comes to special effects, this tends to be the table most will come to see.

Unfortunately, Empire isn't amazing. Though certianly a blast for those ignorant of Zen's Marvel efforts, the goals are simplistic and predictable - shoot ramps and targets and avoid draining down the left. Though there are four different multiballs in the game, none are particularly thrilling, and with most of its content stripped straight from the film, it's arguably the least polished of the three. If the 1992 real-life Star Wars pinball table by Data East is the standard, there's a good chance that, aesthetics aside, Empire falls short, but it's still perfectly enjoyable and worth checking out if you're into this sort of thing.

And now time for some controversy - I think Clone Wars is better than Empire. Despite being aimed at a market that is never likely to touch pinball simulators, Clone Wars is a surprisingly beefy and well put-together experience that clearly out-classes the quality of the film. While Empire will catch you out with its rules on kickbacks and its fast-paced play, Clone Wars is a more accessible, fluid, combo driven affair, much like last year's World War Hulk. Though a bit on the easy side, I'm always going to respond well to a game that gives me a score of 644 million after only five or six tries - if you're tired of draining, Clone Wars is for you.

Of course, the contents of the Clone Wars TV show and film won't resonate with anyone under the age of ten, but this pinball table certainly makes up for its shortcoming in other areas - it's by far the most polished of the three, and the experience will be fresh for all but the die-hard Star Wars fans. Even though it doesn't feel like the iconic series and the plot is undoubtedly questionable, variety works in Pinball FX 2's favour, and it all helps to make Clone Wars the unexpected champion of the trio.

Lastly we have Boba Fett, the token redundant table here to make up the numbers. It's brown, Darth Vader is shoehorned in for the sake of it, and it's filled with recycled content, mostly from Empire. Character-specific tables in Star Wars Pinball strike me as a bit misguided - unlike, say, Spider-Man or Captain America who have had decades of comics to beef up their character, Boba Fett has comparitively little screen time which doesn't lend itself well to pinball. This entry has you spend most of your days capturing nameless bounties and hanging around that damned Sarlacc pit - elements that could have been incorporated quite nicely into a Return of the Jedi table. I suspect Jango Fett from Episode II might have been a better choice, but also, Disney are suspected of creating an entire film for the guy - that's content you're throwing away right there.

Boba Fett is the only table to introduce drastic changes to play however - there's a missile system which lets you attack the playfield, and no doubt those "respect" values mean something too. Trouble is, I broke the top one-hundred in the leaderboards without reading any of the rules - clearly there are design issues here, and though no recent Zen Studios tables are broken or stupid (and this one is no exception), Boba Fett is a difficult one to fuss over. Perhaps it's just me, but I found it a relatively "standard" pinball offering which doesn't really enrich our lives by existing. I foresee troubles on these character-specific additions.

But regardless of the overpricing and odd choice of content, Star Wars Pinball is still a game to recommend. Sure there's a strong chance "pack 2" will severely outclass "pack 1", but it still stands as top notch stuff.

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