Zen Studios truly understands pinball, and in what comes as no surprise at all, truly understands Star Wars.
The team that brought the world the Pinball FX series, Zen Pinball and CastleStorm have delivered pinball fans to a galaxy far, far away on the Nintendo Switch in its latest release, Star Wars Pinball. For all intents and purposes, this compilation of Star Wars-themed pinball tables and mini-games is exactly what you’d expect, which speaks to Zen Studios knack for nailing expectations and absolutely soaring above its competitors in the genre.
When you boot up Star Wars Pinball, there’s no time wasted giving the player absolute control (or absolute power). From this hub menu, you can quickly adjust your settings, including an option for vertical screen orientation, the perfect addition for accurately emulating, albeit small, an actual pinball setup. You can choose between a number of modes, from the operation-based Career Mode to the quick play Single Player mode, and a number of multiplayer options like League Play and Tournaments.
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In a similar fashion to many mobile games, Career Mode is broken down into bite-sized, objective-based missions. For example, one might task you with scoring the most points in five minutes, while another asks you to do the same, but with only one ball. Things scale up from there, and you’ll come across missions that limit your “flipper” count or score multipliers.
These limitations keep things interesting and challenge the players in ways you might not expect if you’re just there to play classic pinball. These objectives are tiered, and you’ll get three badges if you complete all of them.
There are also a number of mini-games inserted between groups of missions to keep gameplay from stagnating. Unfortunately, most of these fall pretty flat, especially when you expect to mostly be playing pinball in a game that has the word right there in the title. As cool and quirky as a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader is, the gameplay never quite reaches a comfortable level, and certainly doesn’t retain the polish of the pinball-ing.
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Of course, if you’re just looking some classic solo pinball action, Single Player Mode is the way to go. From the jump, you can select from 19 different tables spanning the entire Star Wars saga. Want to hang out with Ezra and crew from Star Wars Rebels? There’s a table for that. Feeling nostalgic with young Luke and Leia? There’s a table for that, too. Each one is masterfully-crafted, featuring music and sound effects from the films, OK-ish voice matches and plenty of depth. In each of the tables, moments from the shows or films they represent come to life, and have much more heart in them than you might expect from a licensed pinball. But to be honest, this is a team that has mastered digital licensed pinball and worked with some of the top brands in the world.
To make each play session more interesting, Star Wars Pinball introduces force powers and other talents to buff up your gameplay. These force powers help to elevate traditional pinball games to offer even more control and occasional unpredictability.
If you’re feeling confident in your pinball abilities, League Play is definitely worth diving into next. This is where you’ll increase your rank and challenge other players to take the top spots on leaderboards. You can also use your league points to assign to either the Light Side or Dark Side, where one will come out on top at the end of every season. If you keep up and stay in the top 50 percent of players, you can progress to the next rank and league.
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There’s also the Tournaments Mode, which allows you to join or host pinball tournaments with players from around the world. Since launch, the community has been well-populated, so hopefully that keeps up in the future, because a mode like this certainly lives and dies by player retention. There’s also a Cantina Jukebox, where you can unlock tracks from the Star Wars saga by playing different tables and then select that music for use across every table.
For residing in the niche Venn diagram of avid pinball players and massive Star Wars fans, Star Wars Pinball does not disappoint. The game successfully translates the arcade mainstay by keeping things interesting on a regular basis. Tables will have scenes that play out in front of you, something that can feel a bit static in real-world pinball, but come to life in these rectangular Star Wars terrariums. With an asking price of $30, it’s an easy recommendation for any pinball fan who loves the lore and characters of Star Wars.
Star Wars Pinball is now available on Nintendo Switch. A review copy was provided by the publisher.