Playing Star Wars Pinball on the 3DS, I was constantly irked by something but couldn't quite tell what, and it really prevented me from enjoying the game to its fullest after having played it on a high-end console. In the end I figured out it was a hardware limitation that prevents me from getting the most enjoyment out of Star Wars Pinball on the 3DS. It's obvious that the guys at Zen Studios have gotten as much out of the hand-held as possible in terms of processing power. Unfortunately in doing so they had to make what felt like a critical concession. 'But what could possibly drag down a pinball game on the hardware side?' you might be wondering. Surprisingly, it's the frame-rate.
Pinball is a game of reflexes, timing, and accuracy, and when those aspects are hampered by a lower frame-rate than 60 frames per second, it drags the experience down as a whole. This is also compounded by the smaller screen real-estate on the 3DS screen. I found myself constantly cycling through the available camera angles and each one had something that didn't quite work for me, either trailing behind the ball a little too slowly or having angles that obscured ball visibility. Funny enough, whenever I managed to trigger a multi-ball mode, that was when the camera felt most ideal, giving me a zoomed out top-down view of the table. I may not have been able to see behind certain areas of the table, but I never felt like I lost a ball and it was the game's fault while in this view.
Now, outside of those gripes, Zen Studios continues to deliver with solid pinball action. Everything I said in my WiiU review of Star Wars Pinball
holds up on the 3DS. There is a little bit of a graphical downgrade, but that seems mostly for the character models for Darth Vader and Boba Fett. The tables themselves look pretty good and while the effects aren't as grandiose as they are on the more powerful console siblings they are still more than serviceable. The 3D effects look great, but don't really help in trying to locate the ball during hectic moments, as adjusting your eyes will mess with the 3D effects. Audio has also taken a little bit of a hit, but it's mostly just a lower bit-rate in overall quality due to the handheld hardware.
The shrunken down system didn't stop Zen Studios from implementing everything that the console versions enjoy though, so the Light Side and Dark Side options are still present for players, along with online leaderboards. There is also a hotseat option that allows for pass-and-play multiplayer. Unfortunately as of this writing, the leaderboards are broken and constantly cause the game to crash. The work-around means turning off the wi-fi functionality for the 3DS during gameplay but a patch is currently in the works to address that. There are also unlockable rewards that can be earned by completing specific objectives tied to each table, some of which are incredibly tough to get, but really satisfying when you do, although personally I only managed to pull of the AT-AT challenge on the Episode 5 table.
The tables themselves are well crafted and I could easily see them being used in real-life pinball machines if a company were so inclined to port these to a physical form. My favorite of the bunch is the Boba Fett table that features plenty of side-missions, that make it easy to score in the tens of millions of points. The mission structure often requires you to hit specific ramps, but for those times where you're just unable to you can use ammo that gets picked up and can knock out a particularly difficult ramp. It's nice to see the guys at Zen Studios cater to those who might not be that great at pinball with options like these.
Star Wars Pinball on the 3DS is the unfortunate victim of being a game that doesn't really work on hand-held systems. It is simply held back by the limitations of the 3DS hardware, and while the 3D effects look great and offer a good selling point for this version, the fact that this game doesn't run as smoothly as its console brethren is a hindrance that keeps this game from being great. It's good as a casual pinball title, and thankfully it's not a full priced game, otherwise I'd be hard pressed to recommend it. If you've got that itch for pinball on the go, then give this version a shot, otherwise, stick with the console versions.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
Aside from one major bug that should be patched soon, Star Wars Pinball is a good stop-gap for when you absolutely have to get some pinball gaming in while on the go. But it's not going to come close to matching a real table.
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