Despite its rich universe full of exciting battles, races and romance, Star Wars has translated to only a few must-own games. Too often we're left with mediocre titles that rely too heavily on nostalgia for the movies. But that isn't always the case. When a quality developer steps in, their Star Wars game will make you completely forget that Masters of Teräs Käsi even existed.
From the chaotic space battles to the tense lightsaber duels, Zen Studios' newest game captures what people love about Star Wars. It's fast-paced, exhilarating and the most exciting Star Wars game in years. What's even more impressive is that I'm talking about a simple pinball game.
Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force is Zen's newest content pack for the wildly popular Pinball FX 2. It features three brand new tables, all based on George Lucas' original trilogy. We get to race through Endor, shoot down an X-Wing and confront Darth Vader once and for all. It's everything you loved about those first three Star Wars movies, only this time it involves much more pinball.
The good news is that all three tables are worth playing, even if, like me, you're not a huge Star Wars fan. Not only are the three tables surprisingly diverse, but they include some of Zen's most ambitious mini-games yet. Let's take a look at them one at a time.
With its burgundy coloring and giant mask looming in the distance, there's no question that this table belongs to one of the greatest villains in movie history. Here we are on the Death Star, where Darth Vader has kidnapped our hero, Luke Skywalker. Docked are some of Star Wars' most recognizable ships and the artwork makes clear that we are in the Stormtrooper's home court.
Fans of high scoring rounds will love this table. The stage only has a few lanes, but there are a number of hidden passageways to discover. You'll bounce around and spell out words like "SITH" and "REBEL" for multipliers. What seems like a low scoring game at first will quickly spiral out of control with multi-million point bonuses for easy tasks.
On the other hand, there are a bunch of fun missions that involve Obi Wan, Luke and other familiar faces. In one inspired bit, Mr. Skywalker busts out of his shackles and gets into a one-on-one duel with his sinister father. It's a fun bit of staging, even if it doesn't change what you're doing on the pinball table.
The next stage isn't confined inside the Death Star, but instead takes us into the far reaches of space. Like the name suggests, it's a full-on assault, and you're in the middle of the action. This table has a fun conceit involving splitting the two sides right down the middle. On the left side of the table are the Imperial forces, while the right features the Rebel Alliance. There's even a bar at the bottom that shows who is winning the war.
On the surface, Starfighter Assault looks like any other Pinball FX table. But don't worry; it won't take long for this stage to blow your mind. This game is more than a pinball table; it's also an overhead shoot-em-up, like Galaxian. And that's not all, there's also a mini-game that apes Wing Commander. These diversions are understandably simple, but they are a welcome change of pace from the usual bumpers and flippers.
Beyond the short (albeit cool) missions, this Starfighter Assault table is able to stand on its own. This stage is good at ratcheting up the intensity, making it the most exciting Star Wars table yet. You'll race to launch the ball in to the right spot in order to shoot down the incoming ships. Expect to see X-wings and TIE Fighters everywhere before this fight is over. This incredible level is worth the price of Star Wars Pinball by itself.
Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
The final table takes us to the temporary end of the trilogy, Return of the Jedi. Here we're tasked with aiding Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, C-3PO and more. This time around the table is built right into the forest moon of Endor. This gives the level a very wooden look, almost as if the entire stage was hand constructed by the Ewoks. While not the most exciting level, this is definitely the most interesting looking part of Star Wars Pinball.
Despite the good looks, I found myself bored by this table's design. The mini-games (including one that has you smacking pinballs while racing through the forest on a speeder bike) aren't much fun and the layout feels claustrophobic compared to the rest. It is by far the weakest of the three stages in Balance of the Force.
While not as inventive as some of the Marvel tables, Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force does a great job capturing the magic from the film series. Regardless of whether you're a fan of the movies or just into pinball, there's a lot to love about this Pinball FX 2 pack. As it turns out, Zen Studios might be on to something with this pinball thing.
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