Posted by Carter Dotson on May 2nd, 2014 + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
With Star Wars Day this weekend on May 4th, Star Wars Pinball has gone free as part of the festivities. The Empire Strikes Back table is available for free as well. Additional tables are available as in-app purchases, including the new Heroes Within tables recently released. Other tables are available on sale for $0.99, down from their $1.99 price. May the extra ball be with you!
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.
It is a beautiful thing when bite-sized games from the console space transition to iOS successfully. A perfect example of this phenomena at work was Hello Games’ fantastic reinvention of the Joe Danger series last year. Now it seems that Zen Studios wants to get in on the action, as they’ve put the finishing touches on a port of their console and PC tower-defense/action hybrid title, Castlestorm. They were kind enough to give us an early look at the game, and much to my shock I learned that not only is it great fun, but it may actually prove to be better than its console predecessor.
Everything you loved about the original game is back again, and this time it’s being aided by an extremely intuitive touch interface. The previously arduous process of twiddling control sticks to try and line up a headshot is a nightmare that can be left in the past. Launching projectiles are now as simple as tapping on the screen where the shot should land. But sometimes a catapult just isn’t enough to fend off the enemy’s attacks on the castle. In these cases, you have the option of spawning defensive ground troops or jumping into the fray yourself in the form of super-powered hero characters. These death-dealing beasts specialize in hand-to-hand combat, with a side of magical abilities mixed in for good measure. Anyone who is familiar with the control scheme of a traditional 2D brawler will feel right at home showing these “Knights of the Square Table” the error of their ways.
Though some may sink hours into the actual combat component of Castlestorm, others may find it just as enjoyable to custom design their own fortress. The easy to grasp quasi-drafting tool makes tweaking and tinkering with the perfect blueprint just as fulfilling as topping the adversary on the field of battle.
While the previously released Castlestorm console outing clocked in at a reasonable $9.99 purchase price, the iOS iteration implements an entirely free-to-play monetization structure. Both coins and crystals can be purchased using real cash, earned through normal gameplay or awarded for logging in to play on a consistent basis. Coins are used to level-up the abilities and stats of either the hero characters or each type of projectile in your quiver. Crystals are used to unlock more substantial elements, such as entire campaigns.
What I’ve played was a very solid sneak peak of things to come. Hopefully the final product lives up to the promise of this preview. Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for our full review.
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.
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” a young child was enchanted by the Star Wars Universe. In more recent history, that same boy came down with a chronic case of pinball addiction. So you can only imagine how the child rejoiced when learning of Zen Studios’ intentions to meld their passion for pinball with Lucas’ brainchild. If you haven’t read between the lines yet, allow me to clarify that the aforementioned child was me, cleverly shrouded as an adolescent, in hopes of hiding the fact that I am a grown man rendered shamelessly giddy by the proposition of my beloved Star Wars bleeding into my favorite past time. Oh well, so much for that.
Much to my glee, the good folks over at Zen Studios invited me to get some early hands on time with their newest masterpiece: Star Wars Pinball. The base install will be its own stand-alone pinball hub, consisting of a healthy collection of three tables at launch, set to the themes of The Empire Strikes Back, everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett, and the animated Clone Wars franchise. Before moving on to the meat of the preview, it is worth mentioning that each of the tables will also be available for individual purchase in the Zen Pinball 2 hub as well, but there are special features associated with the specific Star Wars Pinball app that you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
Trying to please Star Wars fans has become an increasingly difficult task over the decades. With that in mind, the creative team at Zen has taken every necessary precaution to make sure their tables are the definitive embodiment of the franchise, only featuring a steel ball. Lightsabers, sound effects, and even reasonably similar sound-alikes have been brought in to re-create seminal moments of the series. There is no greater example of this than the Empire Strikes Back table. Players have the opportunity to relive the most important scenes of the film, all while still playing an authentic pinball game. Everything from downing Tie Fighters to dueling Darth Vader are on the list of highlights, so it is certainly not to be missed.
Boba Fett is a character from the Star Wars mythos that has taken on a life of his own. A relative bit character in the original trilogy, fans have clamored to know more about the mysterious masked man. Drawing heavily upon his actions freezing Han Solo in carbonite and the resulting events on Tatooine, the Boba Fett themed table follows the notorious bounty hunter in his manhunts across the galaxy. Featuring a set of bounty missions that can scale in difficulty depending upon the user’s confidence, this is sure to once again be a fan favorite.
The last, but certainly not least of the trio of tables takes place in the fairly recent Clone Wars animated franchise. Tom Kane, the narrator from the television program and film reprises his role, informing the player of their immediate activities throughout the action. Of the three tables in the set, this is by far the biggest opportunity to run up the scoreboards. A big key to success is managing to chain together long combos, thanks to the fluid layout heavily favoring ramp play.
No matter what your level of appreciation is for the Star Wars brand, you will find something to appreciate in these tables. Even those that don’t like the franchise will still find plenty of fantastic pinball shenanigans to enjoy, because they are simply awesome tables to sit down and pick away at. We look forward to seeing what other tables are waiting in the wings for the coming months. Stay tuned for our full review of Star Wars Pinball, coming soon.