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Zen Pinball 2 – Star Wars: Heroes Within

18:1009/05/2014Posted by Raymond WebsterOne Comment

Digital pinball games can offer a significant improvement in terms of theming and aesthetics over traditional pinball tables, and the new Star Wars themed tables added to Zen Pinball 2 are good examples. They are packed full of audiovisual gimmicks that allow players to be reminded of scenes from the films, and offer far more elaborate set-piece obstacles than most tables would allow. The pack offers four tables, A New Hope, Droids, Han Solo and Balance of the Force, each of which will be discussed individually.

A New Hope is probably the least ambitious table in terms of pinball mechanics; it offers a comparatively basic setup of U-shaped loops and a central recess in which mini-games occur. Its theming, across the entirety of the first Star Wars film, is loose, with a series of “scenes” to unlock as the core progression mechanic. This kind of linear “storytelling” within the framework of a pinball table is serviceable, but very distant from anything that can be done mechanically in part because the table itself is so ordinary in design compared to others within the pack. Furthermore, the method of “activating” these scenes is via spelling out a series of letters along the channels by the flippers; careful manipulation of the flippers is needed to ensure all the letters can be lit without losing a ball. This is ultimately an irritation more than a virtue, feeling much less controllable and skill-based despite being entirely based on reactions. As a result, playing on A New Hope is a case of juggling the need for scenes (which can trigger extra shots and massive scores) with the need to simply play – and the actual combinations of loops and channels are very simplistic.

Droids is quite the opposite – it is a table almost too labyrinthine to properly learn, and has an immensely game-changing roulette slot which can offer anything from an extra shot to a huge score bonus – or a very low one. It has large amounts of interactivity, with a “smelter” skill shot which places a ball on a conveyor belt that must be stopped, “missions” that involve recovering items dotted around the table and a visually busy industrial design. What it does very well is have a flow beyond the ball simply returning to the home flippers each time; the upper half of the table has asymmetric flippers which are angled towards a pair of ramps that form a loop, but which can also bring the ball back to the main part of the table. Play is chaotic and swingy, with more often than not score injections coming from apparently random chance, but as a whole – and possibly as a result of this chaos – it is a very enjoyable table. It is very much a pinball table for those who are less adept at pinball; the simplicity of A New Hope rewards capable play and quick reactions, whereas Droids offers more leeway on things to do.

Han Solo is possibly the easiest table of the four to score highly on because it has a very predictable sequence of shots to earn sizeable bonuses. The central ramp, easily accessed from either flipper, puts the ball in a cup for a moment and then launches it at a flipper. Hitting it will advance the “hyperspace malfunction” track, and once this is full a very predictable and easily-completed mini-game ensues which offers a huge bonus. Reliably doing this repeatedly is a good way to build up score even if some of the other challenges seem difficult. Yet outside of this simple central challenge, Han Solo offers a number of features which play up the possibilities of virtual pinball; the properties of the ball can be changed, there are animatronics and moving sections of table and it has more special effects within the table itself rather than on the LED screen. In terms of wider design it is a good balance between the visual complexity of Droids and the sparse design of A New Hope, with a slightly more complex and interesting arrangement of ramps to encounter and a secondary set of flippers.

Balance of the Force is visually the most busy and striking, with a two-colour aesthetic and a mirrored design, with opposing mechanics on either side and events focused around solving a conflict in one direction or the other. In terms of design is is closer to Droids than the other tables, albeit with a stronger focus on time-limited events and keeping the ball on one side of the table or the other. In this way it most strongly of the four tables rewards “traditional” skill at pinball – precisely hitting the correct targets reliably, rather than building up multiple bonuses and objectives simultaneously. Furthermore, despite its business it is clear to read and the mirrored (yet subtly different) layout of each side adds significant depth to it.

Overall, these four tables form a good spread of pinball styles; they vary in complexity and skills needed and do not feel like duplicates of each other. However, the very strong Star Wars theming is not entirely an asset; the sound clips repeat very frequently and their appeal does diminish over continued replays. The busy visuals and prevalence of moving parts also at times obscures the ball’s path and the correct targets to hit, but this is not a significant issue since the tables clearly highlight entrances to ramps and channels when needed. Learning each table’s unique aspects and the idiosyncrasies needed to get high scores is ultimately the draw of a pinball game, with the theming a secondary – yet interesting aspect.

Game reviewed on PS4 with a review copy provided by the publisher.

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One Comment »

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