Contributing Writer with the 148Apps Network since August 16, 2010
Mild mannered programmer by day; gamer, podcaster, and writer by night. Blake is a staff writer for 148Apps, as well as the Managing Editor at GamesAreEvil.com. He also co-hosts and produces the EvilCast Recap podcast with fellow gaming junkies Ross Polly, Keri Honea, and Chris Nitz.
Zen Studios have been at this pinball thing for quite some time now. Between the console and iOS platforms they have become the undisputed champion of the digitalized steel ball. Their most recent offering, Star Wars Pinball, garnered an Editor’s Choice rating from this very site. So you can only imagine the excitement when they announced the game’s first batch of DLC, entitled Balance of the Force. Calling upon their veteran stable of developers, the trio of new tables look to put the initial collection to shame. Thankfully, the team over at Zen has the Force on their side!
The first table of the set follows the trend of the first outing by adapting one of the classic films, which in this case is the original trilogy finale “Return of the Jedi.” Building upon lessons learned last time out, the table once again breaks up the plot points into a collection of checkpointed missions. When playing through the stages in Jedi, players will encounter countless interactive objects and fantastical extra-curricular activities that force them outside of the traditional confines of the bumpers. How exactly does one take part in a speeder race through the forests of Endor, without ever breaking the immersion of a pinball experience? Trust us, somehow they have managed to pull it off seamlessly. And how could you ever forget the epic showdown between Luke and Vader? This time the player gets to determine the outcome.
Next up, Starfighter Assault comes aboard to provide the parallel experience of piloting for either the Empire or Rebellion. Depending upon the ethical allegiances of whomever is behind the paddles, the player is placed in the role of tipping the balance of battle one way or another. The table has a light RPG system of sorts that rewards mission completions with upgrades to their fleet, which may very well turn the tide of conflict. Once again, certain missions will involve leaving the table and jumping into the cockpit of signature fighters made famous by the series or competing in third person shootouts, somewhat in the vein of Galaga. There is more than enough variety and fan service to go around, regardless of which side of the battle is embarked upon. Thankfully this also lends itself well to replayability, because why settle for only one side of the story?
Darth Vader rounds out the trio, with his own signature table. It only makes sense that a character as iconic as Vader would receive the same treatment afforded to Boba Fett in the initial offering. As one of a select few characters that spans the trilogies, there is quite a deep pool of subject matter to pull from; starting at the beginning of each game, when the player has the opportunity to actually participate in his transformation from Anakin Skywalker to the hulking “mandroid.” From that point on, the table covers notable occurrences from the original films including the hunt for rebel bases, a Death Star trench run, and his battles with the likes of both Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi. It is a tour-de-Force, (sorry, I had to…) that should not be missed.
This time around it feels like the team at Zen was given free range to really “go nuts” in respect to table design. Each playscape feels more complex than the base set, while still not being off-putting to newcomers. Everything from tricky ramp positions to the new multi-shot goals all play like evolutions to a formula as well as the culmination of mechanic refinement that has been in progress since their immensely popular Marvel line. Regardless, the result is a breath of fresh air for pinball enthusiasts who have been eagerly awaiting their next challenge.
Balance of the Force is scheduled to launch on iOS as downloadable content for both Star Wars Pinball and Zen Pinball on October 16. It is also worth noting that while the tables will be available for purchase from within Zen Pinball, players will not get the benefit of Star Wars Pinball’s additional leaderboards and Force rating system; so choose platforms wisely. Really, no matter what the choice the player will still be treated to a nostalgia-drenched adventure in a galaxy far, far away. They may have once been but a learner, now Zen Studios has become the master.