Star Wars Pinball: iPhone/iPad App Review

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If there’s one franchise which is well represented in gaming, it’s Star Wars. Even if we take mobile gaming on its own, there are many examples of games set in George Lucas’ universe, from ports of classics such as Star Wars: Old Republic, to Lego games, and of course, Angry Birds Star Wars. We’ve looked at some of them before, and being big Star Wars fans, felt it was only right to cast our eye over the latest Star Wars game to hit the iTunes App Store: Star Wars Pinball.

Now, the game has been available to download since late April, but each pinball table required an in-app purchase to play. However, at the moment the table based on The Empire Strikes Back is included for free, and that makes it well worth a second look. We’d understand it if people passed Zen Studios’ Star Wars game by, as pinball isn’t something you’d expect to convert over very well to mobile. It’s just such a physical experience, from the sound of the ball hitting the bumpers, to the shake of the table itself as you slam the buttons on the side. How could anything like that be as enjoyable on a phone?

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Surprisingly, Zen gets pretty close. It has done an incredible job with its Star Wars-themed game, as it has with the many other licensed games found inside the App Store. The Empire Strikes Back is the free option, and it’s joined by two other tables – one based on Boba Fett and the other on the Clone Wars TV show. Empire is the best of the three, but if you enjoy it, it’s certain you’ll enjoy the others, so they’re well worth the extra £0.69 each cost.

With no actual buttons to control the flippers, in Zen’s pinball you tap either side of the screen to activate them. It’s natural and the system is very responsive, and just like in real life, it’s all down to your reactions. You’ve got to be quick too, as the ball shoots around the virtual table and very high speeds, but it always looks and more importantly, feels realistic. In fact, that’s the best part of Zen’s games, they feel as close as it’s possible to get to a real pinball experience.

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The game is based on modern pinball games, where there are objectives and missions to complete, in order to get a high score. If you’re an experienced pinballer, the missions may seem obvious, but to newcomers, they’re quite confusing. It’s often because we’re expecting them to be more complex than they are, but the advice of following the flashing lights is often misleading, as the table is always awash with lights and sounds, and taking your eye off the ball for a second usually means losing it. If you’re stuck on what to do, don’t get frustrated, just head over to YouTube and search for the game. Zen’s Star Wars pinball is available on many different platforms, and the object is always the same, so you’ll quickly find a video showing you what needs to be done.

Zen’s Empire Strikes Back table is beautifully presented, with recognizable characters and locations, plus the missions are all based on key scenes from the movie. The game is filled with audio samples too, but Zen has used voice actors for the parts, rather than sampling the film. In some cases they’re accurate, but when they’re not quite right it’s very distracting.

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While the game is universal for the iPhone and the iPad, it’s a much better experience on the tablet, thanks to the table looking very small indeed on the iPhone 5. We don’t even want to think about it on the iPhone 4S. It’s still playable on the phone, but you’ll need sharp eyesight to keep up when the ball is zipping around. Performance is excellent on both the phone and the iPad, although play does stutter when a notification comes in. There’s a wide choice of modes, from playing on both the light and dark sides, to multi-player online options.

Perhaps the only niggle with Star Wars Pinball is with the high scores, as you must enter your name each and every time, as the game refuses to remember what you entered the time before. Worse still, the entry system is archaic, and you’ll end up settling for being “AAA” to just get on with it. However, as this is the only annoyance, we should be grateful for such a great game.

As we mentioned, Zen Pinball’s Empire Strikes Back table comes free with the app until 9 September, so download it and give it a try, even if you don’t think pinball can be any fun on a phone or a tablet. We’re sure you’ll change your mind after a few moments with this gem.

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