Developer: Zen Studios
Publisher: Zen Studios
Console Reviewed: PS3/PS Vita (PSN)
Also Available On: Xbox 360 (XBLA), PC/Mac, iOS, Android
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Progress: Played each board several times on both systems and achieved decent high scores
Zen Pinball 2 and its inexplicably numerous variations on just about every currently available platform is about as ubiquitous as a pinball platform could possibly be. In most of its forms, the core Zen Pinball 2 platform is free with extremely protracted demos of a few available tables included, so you're expected to purchase packs of pinball tables to get any real gaming experience out of the game. The first three of ten planned Star Wars themed DLC pinball tables for the Zen Pinball 2 suite were launched recently with designs based on Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the character Boba Fett and the animated TV series The Clone Wars. Is the Force with this first batch of pinball tables or do they belong to the ever-growing dark side of licensed Star Wars video games? Read on to see how we liked our pinball Jedi training.
Off the bat, one of the best features of any DLC for Zen Pinball 2 is that if you buy it via PSN from either a PS3 or a PS Vita, it is "Cross-Buy entitled" meaning that you get it for the other system too. This is the first Cross-Buy entitled product on PSN that I've played and I have to say that it's quite a great feature that Nintendo would do well to looking into with the Wii U and 3DS. I thought that I would spend most of my time playing Star Wars Pinball on the PS3 because of the bigger screen and better graphics, but the portability and touch controls on the PS Vita won me over in this case and I ended up setting my highest scores on all three tables on the PS Vita. The only difference between the two versions of the game were that the PS Vita version (understandably) looks a good deal worse than the PS3 version and the PS Vita version sported the ability to control the paddles with a touch on either side of the screen, a method I found much more personal and responsive than using the shoulder buttons on either system. (It never really says anywhere, so I only discovered it accidentally, but you can also rotate the PS Vita 90 degrees to get an elongated view of the table, which is pretty neat if a bit uncomfortable to hold.)
Zen Pinball 2 does its damnedest to try and emulate the experience of playing on a physical pinball table. The sounds and mechanics are spot on even if the ball physics sometimes take a back seat to convenience or showmanship depending on the table. Also clearly visible from most of the generously many view options is a classic pinball-style Dot Matrix screen that shows everything from your score and progress to extremely pixellated movie scenes just like in the days of yore. While for pinball purists these considerations may be a relief, from a gaming point of view there is no reason that they couldn't at least have included an option to have a more updated and colourful status screen. Just like many of the great physical pinball tables, the Star Wars Pinball tables in this pack make liberal application of all of your favourite Star Wars noises and sound bytes. The only problem here is that even though Zen Studios was given full license from LucasArts, I swear that they went the cheap route and had most (if not all) of the supposed film sound bytes impersonated instead of taken straight from the films. I didn't notice at first, but the more I played the more I noticed that the distinctive voices of characters like Han Solo and Yoda really did not at all sound like they did in the movies. I'm not certain if this was a cost-cutting decision or not, but I hope that for any future Star Wars tables (if they occur since LucasArts' untimely dissolution) that they go with real movie clips rather than poor facsimiles.
The Empire Strikes Back (TESB) table was the one I was most excited to play, but it ended up being the one that I disliked the most. TESB table requires much more precision than its pack-mates and despite several attempts I was never able to complete any of its five movie-event themed missions. This is the table on which the impersonated voices are most prevalent too, but compared to your average virtual pinball table it's still a decent amount of fun. My highscore on this table was just over 6.2 million.
The Clone Wars (TCW) table, with the license I care the least about, ended up being far and away my favourite of the three. TCW table is much more fast-paced than TESB table with plenty of wire tracks winding about. You can have a great time just shooting the ball about and watching the lively 3D character models have lightsaber battles all over the table. After hitting some things that I am uncertain of a bunch of times a path to a mini-table above the regular table can open up too allowing you to rack up a ton of bonus points if you're careful enough. I'm not familiar with the voices from the series, so I can't say if they were as poorly impersonated as the ones on TESB table, but everything else on this table is spot-on. My highscore was just under 48 million on this table, so I was proud to be in the top 5000-ish or something players on the leaderboard.
The Boba Fett table is kind of middle-of-the-road, neither as actively frustrating as TESB table or as generally awesome as TCW table. This is the table of the three that I played the least, but it is probably the most activated animated of the three. Boba Fett zips around the table pretty much the entire time and there are some nice visual touches like a Han Solo frozen in carbonite spinner located above a sarlacc pit. Fans of the infamous bounty hunter will surely have a blast on this table if only for all of the movie references.
Whether or not you think three virtual pinball tables is worth $9.99 is up to you, but Zen Studios does make it a little easier to decide by allowing anyone to download the aforementioned extremely protracted demos of the tables before they commit to a purchase. Considering both the amount of fun I had with the tables and the fact that you get them for both PS Vita and PS3 in one purchase, even though these tables don't all knock it out of the park quality-wise they're worth a play from pinball and Star Wars fans alike. (I just hope that if/when all ten tables are available that they'll offer discounts if you buy more than one pack at once.)
- "Cross-Buy entitled" meaning your $9.99 nets you the tables on both PS3 and PS Vita
- PS Vita version offers touch controls and a possible vertical holding position
- Structure is very true to classic physical pinball tables
- Misses some opportunities to add video game zest to the formula (emulates a Dot Matrix display)
- Lots of dynamic characters and ships flying almost constantly around the tables
- Classic voices are impersonated instead of using sound bytes from movies
- Empire Strikes Back table is precision-based, Clone Wars table is easier and speed-based, Boba Fett table is a mixture of the two
- As a whole a good buy for both pinball and Star Wars fans alike
A review code for this game was provided to us by its publisher.