- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gamers return to a time when mall arcades ruled as they visit a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within (Zen Studios, Rated E10+, reviewed with PlayStation 4, $9.99).

Zen Studios delivers yet another set of fantastic pinball simulations looking ripped from those classic, stand-alone Data East machines of old and compatible with near every entertainment console and mobile device.

This quartet of tables, paying a nostalgic homage to George Lucas‘ space fantasy, looks particularly amazing on a widescreen television paired with Sony’s latest multimedia machine.

Each table boasts three-dimensional animated characters hanging out, orangish-dot-matrix displays showing scenes from the movies, actual dialogue from the trilogies and physics-based action along with some gorgeous illustrations and details only a “Star Wars” geek would appreciate

A player’s gleeful adrenaline really kicks in with additional help from Ben Burtt’s familiar sound effects and the booming, legendary scores from John Williams.

The four, old-school adventures are worth hours and hours of time investment. Each comes loaded with surprises for those who hit the right combination of ramps, spinners, rails bumpers and kickout holes to unleash multiball frenzies, mini-games and massive point totals.

Here are some highlights of each pinball table.

Han Solo — Situated right in the middle of the famed space slug’s gullet from “The Empire Strikes Back,” the game table reveals Chewbacca tinkering in one corner with a pinball rail (he’s available to also throw balls back into play) while Han sits in the captain’s seat and offers words of encouragement. Poor C-3P0 is stuck at the bottom between flippers and in pieces.

With the ball in play, hitting a spinner rotates a shooting gallery at the top of the table featuring rogues from the Cantina Bar. At some point, Han will even get up and blast a target (looking like metallic cut-outs when they appear in the right spot).

Also, a model of the Millennium Falcon rests on the table and opens up for more events.

Now get this, hit the right combination of stuff and get jettisoned to an actual mini-video game requiring a player maneuver the Millennium Falcon through an asteroid field. The computer animation pops from the screen, but the actual game controls will frustrate.

Despite all of the above, my favorite feature is playing each round to the jazzy sounds of the Mos Eisley house Cantina band, Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes.

Geek moment: Hit a target until the word “FROZEN” is spelled out, and a Han Solo in carbonite model flips out by one of the rails to suck balls in for an eventual multiball event.

Master of the Force — The most relaxed of the tables (a soothing soundtrack and less frenetic action), yet most confusing, offers a play area split down the middle of Sith versus Jedi. One side red for Sith with illustrations of Darth Maul, Darth Sidious and Darth Tyranus and the other blue for Jedi with artwork of Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn (remember him?).

In a diorama-like setting at the top of the table, an animated Yoda on Dagobah looks about and the Emperor rests on his throne aboard the Super Star Destroyer, both offering guidance and memorable phrases during the action.

Features on the table include a holocron model from the good and evil side to shoot at (the Jedi one rotates when hit) or hop over (the Sith one lowers to become a ramp when a ball next to it gets struck).

Better yet, filling up the Force meter combined with a spinner shot delivers a video of a legendary duel and new targets.

For example, when triggered, a short clip embedded in the table plays above the flippers of the fight between Darth Maul, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. A track containing cutouts of the three then pops up and move back and forth near the center of the table. In a traditional shooting gallery style, hit the characters with the ball to move them and collect points.

Geek moment: Hit the right combination of shots and Yoda welcomes you into his home for a round of mini-pinball as a platform slides out with circular table to conquer.

Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope — Easily the prettiest, most loaded with surprises but the least forgiving, this table reveals an old Obi-Wan Kenobi surveying the complex play area while Luke Skywalker hangs out in the corner, lightsaber in hand, deflecting blasts from a floating training droid.

These two leave as the action starts, with a ball pushed into play via an expanding lightsaber blade.

Many character interactions await a player if he can hit the right spots with the ball and trigger seven movie scene missions played out in the pinball arena, all with an active, menacing model of the Death Star hanging out on the right side.

For me, the best mission results with a lightsaber battle between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader (hit a spinner to help Obi-Wan focus) with the encounter taking place on a platform that pops up from the table.

Additional minutia to appreciate includes using the pinball to push an X-34 landspeeder toward a sandy cliff and collect pinballs, shooting at TIE fighters in a mini-playing field (that opens in the center of the table) and a maze challenge using a dot-matrix screen tied to helping Luke Skywalker find his X-wing in the great temple on Yavin.

Another mini-game is far more complex as well as fun and involves a player becoming Han Solo as he blasts his bounty hunting nemesis Greedo.

Triggered by spelling out “CANTINA” by repeatedly going up a ramp, the table disappears and reveals the outside of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Now viewed in a first-person perspective, the goal is to pick the right door that Greedo will pop out of to automatically shoot a blaster at him and collect points.

Geek moment: Correctly maneuver a ball sitting in a gutter away from a Tusken Raider ready to whack it with his gaffi staff. Avoid the staff and collect 100,000 points per miss.

Droids — As the title suggest, this is a homage to R2-D2, C-3PO and their buddies stuck aboard a table with all the features of a Sandcrawler. With the ever-present overseeing of the Jawa Nesbit hanging out at the rear of the table, a player must trigger and complete five missions that annoy the Jawa leader and help the droids escape the massive vehicle.

Features include lava pits opening up to suck a ball into, magnetized cranes to move the metallic ball around, unlicking an ore-processing unit to start a multiball and an R2-D2 mini-game requiring solving a combination-lock puzzle.

Geek moment: A curious C-3P0 examines a fellow droid and gets blown apart with his pieces scattered on the table. A player must shoot the ball at the right spots to help R2 reassemble his companion.

Here’s my only caveat with all of the tables. If you stink and have no luck at pinball, it will take an enormous amount of time to unlock some of the coolest moments. I suggest reading the table manuals carefully, hone into a few strategies for success and setting the default to five balls per game rather than three.

Ultimately, Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within is a wonderful, smartly priced experience while being a Force to be reckoned with for gamers of all ages.

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