- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A new way to appreciate the saga of the Skywalker clan arrives via the inspired journeys of a silver orb in Star Wars Pinball (Zen Studios Rated Everyone, reviewed for the Xbox 360, 800 Microsoft points or $9.99).

This dazzling add-on pack to Zen Studios’ Pinball FX2 virtual simulation for home entertainment consoles delivers three new tables, taking players into the rich Star Wars universe.

Developers took great pains to deliver a fantastic pinball experience with real-time physics and multiple table perspectives, giving the player the feeling of hovering over a glass-covered machine at the local arcade.

Colorful illustrations on the table’s surface, an orange-dot matrix screen — featuring film scenes — in the upper-left corner, iconic music, lighting and sound effects, dialogue snippets and solo or multiplayer action (four players local or online) round out the fun.

Each board also goes beyond the traditional with interactive, three-dimensional versions of the characters, animations, timed missions, special effects and mini-games.

Let’s take a look at each of the three tables and their homage to the George Lucas-created mythology:

Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back — My favorite film of the series doubles as my favorite pinball table from Zen Studios. It comes to life with musical themes from John Williams’ Academy Award winning score, Ben Burtt sound effects and a clever use of light sabers.

It begins with Darth Vader hovering above the board — to the booming “Imperial March” no less — and the gamer using a light-saber beam to push the ball into play.

The table features a diverse selection of surprises. Spell out “vader” by hitting the right combination of targets and the Lord of the Sith pops back up in three-dimensional. Dare shoot a ball at him and he responds by crushing each one into pieces.

Better yet, unlock one of the six missions (number two for example) and a Stormtrooper pops up (it should be a Hoth Snowtrooper but let’s not quibble here) in the middle of the table.

A player must beat him up with the steel ball using the mini side flippers (that’s a hint). Dispatch the trooper and come face to face with an AT-AT Walker lumbering across the table. Of course, a tiny snowspeeder is flying around its legs.

Or, hit the right combination of bumpers and access a Jedi Training mini game using the flippers’ controls to now position a light-saber blade to deflect laser shots from a floating droid aboard the Millennium Falcon.

The board also features planetary backdrops depending on unlocking the multi-part mission scenes, skill shots involving an Imperial Probe Droid and a generous selection of dialogue from such icons as Han Solo (“you said you wanted to be around when I made a mistake …”), Luke Skywalker (“now all I have to do is find this Yoda”), Vader (what is thy bidding my master?”), C-3PO (“the odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field …”) and Yoda (“you must complete the training.”).

Geek moment: Hit the right spots on the table and the ball returns to play via a light-saber blade swinging around and acting as a glowing guide rail to return the orb, now a smoldering red, into play. Also, prepare yourself for a one-on-one encounter with the legendary Sith Lord in the first-person perspective.

The Clone Wars — Taking its design, narration and character-modeling cue from the current Cartoon Network animated show, this table covers the epic struggle between Separatists and the Republic.

Action begins with a traditional text crawl seen in the movies offering a bit of background information about the conflict.

Then, with the pinball table plopped right in the middle of the Senate’s Grand Convocation Chamber on Coruscant, Anakin Skywalker in all of his three-dimensional glory pops up onto a platform to oversee the action.

Features include hitting the right targets to spell “council” to take on missions with help from Ahsoka Tano and Anakin, lots of chatter from Yoda, a clone trooper gunship ready to rescue a ball, appearances by the evil Asajj Ventress and a mini-game to train as a Clone Trooper by hitting flashing targets.

Geek Moment: Fans get to take part in an encounter between Count Dooku’s new apprentice Savage Opress (the younger brother of Darth Maul) and Anakin on the planet Toydari. That means beating the Sith Lord by shooting him off of his platform and blasting the steel ball at the correct flashing lanes during the duel to succeed.

Boba Fett — The oddest and most difficult to appreciate of the bunch, this table pays homage to arguably the most bumbling, arrogant and fiercest bounty hunter in the Star Wars galaxy.

The table features a Sarlacc Pit (get used to ball-dropping into it), a spinner with a Han Solo encased in Carbonite and a very active Boba Fett — so active that he can occasionally shoot explosives on the playing field and one of the ball saves has the hunter use his fiber cord whip to catch the ball and toss it back into play.

Geek Moment: Shoot at a seesaw contraption to wake up the TT-8L gatekeeper droid (remember the big-eyed bot questioning C-3PO at the front of Jabba’s Palace?) and open up a sinkhole. Drop balls into the hole until “Hutts” is spelled out, and the mighty Jabba pops out from behind a curtain. Get ready to take on bounties that include encounting Darth Vader and using Boba’s favorite ship, Slave I.

Overall, Star Wars Pinball is a casual gaming fan’s dream challenge (expect ten themed tables devoted to the fantasy universe this year) but requires the powers of the Force and concentration of a Jedi to unlock all of the surprises.

Although it’s often mind-bogglingly difficult, with objectives being a bit confusing, it is a perfect challenge for the purist looking for a nostalgic trip to a galaxy far, far away.

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