When Zen Studios started churning out Star Wars pinball tables a couple of years ago, it promised a total of ten would be available by the time that it had finished. So, with the release of its latest quartet of machines – titled Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within – it’s added the remaining four needed to complete the full set, and given PlayStation 4 players of Zen Pinball 2 some new layouts to flip out over while shooting for the top of the leaderboards.
Among the four tables released, there are a couple of previous omissions that you would’ve expected to have seen in earlier packs. These include an arena dedicated to everyone’s favourite smuggler Han Solo – complete with a replica of the Millennium Falcon – and a Masters of the Force table, which has the most Jedi-on-Jedi action that you’ll see this side of The Clone Wars. The other tables comprise a droids machine featuring R2D2 and C3PO, and an Episode IV: A New Hope table which is the last to be based upon a film from the original trilogy.
All are sold as a single purchase, so, as with the previous Star Wars playfields, they can’t be picked up individually. On the plus side, though, they’re priced the same as the other sets – which only have three tables in them – making this final pack much better value.
If you’ve spent time with any of the previous Star Wars tables or with Zen Pinball 2 itself, then you’ll be more than aware of the pros and cons of Zen Studios’ approach to table design. Fortunately, in this instance, the developer’s been a little more creatively focused, and these new tables benefit from that greatly. Whereas before the arenas were overloaded with targets, bumpers, ramps, and garish colour palettes – all of which made keeping track of the ball quite frustrating – these new machines appear to have been designed as good play experiences first.
That’s not to say that the use of toys and animations has been toned down too much, as the playfields are still filled from lane-to-lane with an array of animated characters and unexpected surprises for you to hunt down. Indeed, it’s impressive to see Princess Leia exchanging blaster fire with a Stormtrooper on one machine, and Han Solo gunning down a literal rogue’s gallery of patrons from the Mos Eisley Cantina on another. However, as before, these novelties can outstay their welcome, as there are still the odd occasions where they can prove a little too distracting.
On the upside, all of this over-the-top presentation does manage to evoke the spirit of Star Wars, and this is further backed up by the liberal use of the sound effects and music from the films. In addition, Zen Studios has recorded quite a bit of dialogue using sound-a-like actors, but as with previous packs, this vocal work can be a little hit and miss. Some of the voices are indistinguishable from those that they’re mimicking, while others are so far off the mark that it can be quite jarring. This is especially the case when they’re reading word-for-word iconic lines from the films. The less than perfect audio presentation is let down even more by repeating dialogue that plays as you hit certain ramps repeatedly, and single music tracks on loop.
Presentational idiosyncrasies aside, these four tables are some of the strongest that the developer has produced, and each is fun to play, while at the same time feeling unique. They also offer up a decent challenge, and you’ll need to use the handy table guides to become familiar with all of the ways to trigger multipliers and multi-balls if you’re to have any hope of posting a truly decent score. Despite the improvements, though, there are still the odd problems that detract from your fun. Chief among these are the frequently frustrating mini games – including a sequence where you have to pilot the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field – which sports some really poor controls.
Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within not only contains some of the best Star Wars tables that Zen Studios has produced, but also some of the best that it’s released full-stop. While the Zen Pinball 2 wrapping is still the same – for all of the good and the bad that that brings – it’s clear that lessons have been learned from previous designs. This change of approach has brought the studio back from the dark side, as it’s managed to make tables that are first and foremost fun to play, while still finding a way to apply some digital gloss.