Zen Studios’ Star Wars Pinball arrives this week on Nintendo Switch, bringing with it 19 fully-featured pinball tables. For the few out there that are unfamiliar, Zen’s pinball tables are videogame marvels. At first glance, they appear to be standard pinball table adaptations, but before long, they reveal themselves to be magical. Characters crawl out of the edges of the playfield, spaceships soar over the ramps and bumpers, lasers fly and force-static crackles through the air. Hidden minigames abound, and the tables reveal secrets as you play – sometimes shocking you after weeks of play with new features you never realized exist.
Layered over the top of these 19 tables – each a successful game in it's own right – is a bevy of slick features that add structure to the proceedings, tying the entire package together into one cohesive experience. It is without any hyperbole that I say the following: if I could only have one game on the Nintendo Switch, this would be the one. I could play Star Wars pinball for the rest of my life.
Historically, Zen Studios’ pinball tables represent some of the best money I’ve ever spent on video games. Zen has been churning these things out for the better part of a decade, and I have various tables scattered across every gaming device I own.
Whenever I buy one of their ubiquitous three-packs, I know that there will be at least one table that I absolutely love – and often times it’s the table I least expect. The X-Men table. The Skyrim table. The freakin’ Alien Isolation table. The South Park/Butters table. The Plants vs. Zombies table. Zen’s ability to grab onto some of the biggest cultural licenses and translate the essence of those franchises into unique and interesting pinball mechanics is one of the great success stories in gaming.
The Star Wars Pinball package is a treat for any Zen Pinball fan – and a must purchase for folks that have never tried this unique flavor of addictive video game cocaine. Most of these tables retail for between three and five dollars each. I imagine that most players are like me – they have a few scattered tables across a number of platforms, purchased during sales or on impulse. The chance to scoop up the entire collection of 19 Star Wars tables for thirty bucks is a superb value that should not be passed up.
Reviewing each of the 19 tables in Star Wars Pinball is a fool’s errand. Like all of Zen’s content, there are tables that I love and tables that don’t resonate with me quite as much. I’m a ramp guy – and some tables in this collection are just not conducive to my preferred combo-laden style of play. But with this number of tables to choose from, any pinball fan will find plenty of tables that click with them.
Every corner of the Star Wars universe is explored in depth – with the exception of the three prequels, which are only represented via a single table based on the animated Clone Wars series. But there are individual tables for the original trilogy, and tables for each of the newer Disney-era films, including tables for Solo and Rogue One. Certain characters receive their own tables – the Calrissian Chronicles table is a particular favorite, with Lando supplying a steady flow of sound clips and quips, making excuses every time you mess up.
Also included are tables centered around unexpected locations or battles. The Ahch-To table, for example, or the Star Fighter Assault table might have players questioning their inclusion. But these tables lead to some unanticipated in-depth mechanics, and the reasons for their inclusion quickly becomes apparent as soon as you play them.
Each table includes a number of mini-games based on scenes from the franchise – and of course sound clips from the films (or from sound-alike actors) add to the atmosphere. And the inclusion of the iconic Star Wars soundtrack in every table only heightens the experience.
The real treat with the new Star Wars Pinball collection is the number of gaming modes that have been added to the platform – new windows into tables that you might otherwise skip or ignore. Any player can create a tournament at any time – and a huge number of configurations allows for some very specific contests. Want to see who can score the highest on a particular table with one ball over the next four hours? You can do that.
League Play pits players against others’ high scores on certain tables – allowing teams to rack up points for their chosen side of the force (I’m a dark side guy, though I seem to be in the overwhelming minority).
But the biggest new feature in this collection is “Career Mode”, a new way of playing through a series of quests that span the entire spectrum of 19 tables. How high can you score with only three minutes? How well can you do on a mini-game that you have never actually unlocked through regular play? And attempting to reach a high score with only 200 uses of the flippers adds layers of strategy and tension to an experience that is already deeply engaging.
Career Mode exposes players to tables that they might have otherwise ignored – and the qualifications for advancing to the next quest aren’t overly taxing. With a more or less “three-star” system of grading performance, players can unlock the next level with only one star – easing what might have been some seriously frustrating requirements (whatever, Empire Strikes Back Vader Lightsaber Battle. Just…whatever).
The only real drawback to playing this game on the Switch is keeping track of the ball on the tiny screen - an issue that Zen has addressed by allowing players to turn the Switch vertically and play in portrait mode. While this is certainly a fun bonus, it still doesn't quite resolve the issue. This really isn't the fault of the game, it is more a limitation of the system. That said, my old eyes did a lot better when playing this one in docked mode.
Zen Pinball games scratch an arcade itch that will be familiar to most long-time gamers, and the urge for “one more try” is almost overwhelming in some circumstances. And while guides for each table are provided - explaining how to unlock various minigames and such - learning each table on your own can provide hours of satisfying entertainment.
Zen Studios’ Star Wars Pinball is a must have. The thrill of keeping a four-ball multi-ball cranking away on the Darth Vader table is almost inexpressible. My wrists are tight, my fingers start going numb, every muscle in my shoulders and back are clenched – and I feel none of it. All of my worldly attention is on the screen, and I am in the zone in a way that only gamers can understand.
If you have been curious about Zen Studios’ pinball games and have never tried one, this is a very economical way to jump in. And if you know and love the series, this is a great way to grab the entire collection in one definitive edition – and get the fun new Career Mode to boot.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Stadia, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, and a super sweet gaming PC built by Joh Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.
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