As with any good trilogy, all good things must come to an end. Sadly, this is also holds true for Zen Studios’ epic conclusion to their trifecta of pinball DLC packs. The aptly named Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within releases for iOS on April 29, but we were lucky enough to get a hands-on look slightly before the masses. Will this be the strong finish that the game deserves, or will it end up feeling a bit more like “Revenge of the Sith,” than “Return of the Jedi?”
Leading off the pack is the most predictable in the pipeline: “Episode IV: A New Hope.” This brings a close to the trio of tables focused on honoring the original films in the franchise, and boy does it send things off in style. Fans of the “Empire Strikes Back” adaption included in the game’s base download will find the design of a central loop ramp rather familiar. That said, flanking ramp layouts make this outing appear far more symmetrical, with the exception of the additional left ramp. The main tweak to Zen’s existing formula is the ability for players to channel their inner Bambino and call their shot, so to speak, and select which ramp they would like to use for their post-launch skillshot. As per Zen’s usual mantra, the feature is nothing game changing, but it is just different enough to keep things fresh. Other highlighted elements include the return of mini-games involving a Tusken Raider or two, a slew of missions inspired by the plot of the groundbreaking film, and even a mini Death Star trench run. Considering that this film is where the magic began, it surprisingly also acts as a strong final act under these circumstances.
After dedicating a table to one specific film, it only seems appropriate to follow that up with a table focused the Droids that have incidentally appeared in every installment of the franchise. The core plot revolves around R2-D2 trying to get the Death Star plans safely into the hands of “Old Ben” Kenobi. Flanked by his trusty companion C-3PO, the duo navigate their way across the massive deserts of Tatooine. In the process, they come in contact with Jawas, sabotage and escape from a sandcrawler, and aid several other droids in need. Every aspect of this fast-paced ramp-heavy layout oozes personality and stays true to the series’ narrative - 3PO never shuts the hell up. But that is a good thing, right?
What would a last look at Star Wars be without something dedicated to the most important Jedi and Sith? The Masters of the Force table manages to do just that by bringing together the likes of Yoda, Count Dooku, Qui-Gon Jinn, Darth Sidious, Darth Maul, and several others, all in the name of reliving the biggest battles throughout the series. Oddly enough, most of the combat reenactments take a more simplistic and “old school” approach, employing what amounts to cardboard cutouts of the combatants that double as targets to either hit or avoid, instead of utilizing the resource-intensive fully rendered characters found across the other offerings in this collection. In another interesting side note, the way that the Jedi Holocron is used to capture the ball and transition between alternate modes loosely harkens back to the magnetic trunk in the classic Bally/Midway table, “Theatre of Magic.” It is hard to put a finger on why, but this decidedly more grounded table feels like something that the Zen series has been missing for quite some time and is a welcome deviation from their current design philosophies.
Bringing the collection to a close is none other than everyone’s favorite “scruffy looking nerf herder,” Han Solo. If there was ever a quip, mannerism, or action that the character was known for, most likely it will be featured on this table. Han teams up with his infallible protector Chewbacca to relive the many moments that made him an amazing anti-hero and cultural icon. Of course, the Millennium Falcon is prominently on display in the top middle of the playfield and can even be taken out for a minigame test flight, bobbing and weaving through an asteroid field. Heck, the player even has the opportunity to engage in a shootout in the Mos Eisley Cantina! Guess it is high time to find out who really shot first.
As has always been the case with Star Wars Pinball, each environment is lavishly populated with nods to the lore that will no doubt please hardcore and casual fans alike. The voice acting continues to be fantastic, once again breathing life and credibility into the Force-inspired experience. It's a good thing that this is the last pack of DLC, because topping Heroes Within would be a tall order. No Jedi mind tricks are needed here, because each table’s midichlorian counts are off the scale.