By Evan Norris 14th Oct 2019 | 2,586 views
If you're a fan of either pinball or Star Wars, then Star Wars Pinball deserves your attention. If you're a fierce follower of both, then this package of 19 themed virtual pinball tables is a total no-brainer. While some of its ancillary features don't add much to the equation, and where each table's rules are Byzantine (despite handy tutorials), this is a rich, comprehensive collection of six years' worth of pinball magic from the masters at Zen Studios.
Since 2013, Zen Studios has been creating Star Wars-themed digital pinball tables and releasing them piecemeal via DLC for Pinball FX 2 and FX 3. Now, thanks to Star Wars Pinball on Switch, fans can play all 19 tables, wrapped together in several Switch exclusive features—some good, some superfluous. The tables are based on movie adaptations for Episodes IV through VIII, plus Rogue One and Solo; TV adaptations of The Clone Wars and Rebels; characters including Han Solo, Darth Vader, Lando, Boba Fett, and droids; locations like Ahch-To and Mimban, and themes that cover Jedi vs. Sith, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and the Might of the First Order.
Securing all 19 tables in a single location and not needing to worry about collecting them à la carte is by itself worth the price of admission for Star Wars fans and pinball geeks. However, Zen ties the collection together with several new modes and features that make the Switch incarnation of Star Wars Pinball the best and brightest. These include HD Rumble, a digital jukebox, vertical play (nice for Switch owners with a vertical grip), a brand new career mode that glues together over a dozen discrete tables into a thoughtful campaign, and, finally, "galactic struggle", an online tug-of-war that tracks whether the light or dark side is winning.
Galactic struggle doesn't make much of a difference. You can contribute dark or light side points for your contingent by getting high scores and winning in league play, but never do you feel like a piece of a larger movement or fellowship. Career mode, conversely, is a welcome addition that makes the disparate tables in Star Wars Pinball feel somewhat connected. There aren't any narrative or thematic threads unfortunately, but there are five operations of increasing difficulty with several missions each. So instead of tackling individual tables for high scores in single player, you can attack the tables in the context of missions. You might take on The Empire Strikes Back with a three ball limit or face down Rebels in only five minutes.
The primary goal in these missions is to collect Holocron shards, which are spent on Force powers and talents. These abilities can dramatically increase your pinball scores. There's "vision", which multiplies the earned score for a limited time; "focus", which earns score for the ball distance traveled; and many more. With multiple mission objectives, rewards in the form of Holocron shards, and even a few mini-games, career mode helps make this title feel like more than a loose collection of themed pinball tables.
Outside of single player and career mode, players have the option to participate in tournaments both official and unofficial, and challenge other users' high scores in League Play. In each season of League play, four tables are available. After you select a table you'll pick one of three opponents. The more difficult the matchup, the higher the reward. At the end of the league season, players can advance based on their accumulated weekly performance.
All of these bells, whistles, and special features would be wasted on poor controls and tables. Luckily, Star Wars Pinball has simple, accessible controls and, minus a few duds (steer clear of Solo, Rogue One, and, sadly, Boba Fett), a strong collection of thematically and mechanically diverse tables. The only downside: long, complex rules and workflows. Every table comes with a handy table guide that walks novice players through its mechanics and steps, but even those can be overwhelming. With 30+ pages of checkpoints, scenes, lanes, targets, spinners, sinkholes, skillshots, multipliers, letters, and time limits, each table guide seems like it requires a degree in engineering. Thanks to approachable inputs and several different camera perspectives, jumping into a pinball table is easy enough; actually understanding how it works is far more daunting.
The Byzantine nature of pinball rules notwithstanding, Star Wars Pinball looks and sounds great—for the most part. Each table is filled with dozens of small details and fan service moments, and many come alive thanks to animated characters, ships, and creatures (if you're a pinball purist, you'll have to forgive the game's more fantastical elements). The famous sounds and musical themes of Star Wars similarly breathe life into the proceedings; is there anything quite as rousing or magical as a John Williams' score? Sadly, despite some excellent sound design and orchestral music, several voiceover performances drag a few tables down. Wrong-sounding Lukes, Reys, and Vaders will pull you out of the fantasy, fast.
If you adore both Star Wars and pinball, this package is probably a game-of-the-year contender. If you enjoy one and not the other it's still a worthwhile investment. There are enough special features and fan service to entertain the pinball agnostic, and plenty of interesting gimmicks and modes to satisfy those who think of "Star Wars" as Reagan's missile defense system.