It’s such a weird thing when you get something that has such a rich and varied history, backstory, side stories and colour - and decide to make a pinball game out of it. Pinball, arguably one of the simplest types of game around, is something that Zen Studios have made their name in with tables based on various Marvel properties, Universal movies, The Walking Dead… But admittedly mainly Star Wars.
If you’ve played a digital pinball game, then you know the score - two buttons to flip flippers (though you can use the touch screen in this instance) to ensure the shiny ball doesn’t go down the hole, whilst trying to score as many points as possible. Occasionally there’ll be more than one ball, but usually you have three attempts to score as many points as possible.
And so it is, in the single player mode. You can play any of the 19 tables either by yourself, or hot seating with up to four friends. Use Force Powers or Talents (more on those in a moment), or don’t, and try to score as high as you can on any of the tables. As I mentioned, there are 19 of them and you’re free to use whichever you like. If you were playing Pinball FX3, you’d need to buy them each separately at £5-£8 each, so Star Wars Pinball being only priced at £24.99 saves you a bit of money.
Then we have the main mode, the campaign. Play through five Operations of increasing difficulty, which let you obtain Holocron Shards. Each one has a different requirement - use only three balls, time limit, flipper usage limit, that kind of thing. Some stages are only mini-games which you can activate while playing some of the tables - these vary from shooting down ships in first person, to a lightsaber duel with Darth Vader. You get three Holocron Shards per stage, and they are used to obtain Force Powers and Talents. There are 300 in total, and you’ll need them all if you’re to unlock and upgrade all of the Talents.
There are two Force Powers, one to slow the game down and the other acts as a score multiplier. You activate them by holding Y, and using them will deplete a meter on the screen. There are also six Talents which boost your score in some way, and are active at all times. However, you can only use any combination of three in each table you play.
There are two online modes which you can play in, and you do not require a Switch Online subscription to participate.
First is League Play, which takes the form of seasons where you compete for points against higher players. You select one of three opponents, each with a score that you need to beat in order to get some points - more points for a higher challenge. Each season is made up of four random tables, and playing on more tables gets you a Diversity bonus. Perform well in a season and you’ll advance to the next league. At the time of writing, I’m proud to say that I’m the top player in the Bronze III league, and I have photographic evidence (as well as a screenshot) to back me up.
The second online mode is Galactic Tournament, which sees you competing in or creating your own tournaments. Each one has its own rules, such as what sort of game it is (three balls, timed, etc), as well as whether or not you can use Force Powers and Talents. I was not the top of any of the tournaments I tried out…
The final thing I have to mention is the Jukebox. It has nine tracks, unlocked through the career mode, featuring such hits as The Battle of Yavin, Imperial March and perhaps the most famous, Cantina Band. Once unlocked, you can select one to play while you’re in the menus, but of course you’ll choose Cantina Band. It’s silly that Zen Studio put any other tracks in, but I suppose there have to be things to unlock.
When you start the game, it asks you to pledge to the dark side or light side of the Force. As you play, your score contributes to making your side more powerful. What this means for the game is basically nothing, but it’s a nice way to gauge what kind of people own this game - good or evil. At the time of writing, my side was losing. Obviously, everyone else so far was a bunch of goodie two-shoes.
Graphically, Star Wars Pinball looks great in handheld or docked modes. It will be a little weird going from docked to handheld mode, as everything is a lot clearer to see on the bigger screen. More impressively, you can choose to have the screen rotated so that you can hold put the Switch on its end and play it in a true pinball table orientation. If you have a TV that is on its side, you can dock the Switch again and it will retain the rotation. When I checked out the game at Nintendo’s headquarters, I thought I’d broken it.
Speaking of which, the presentation I was shown featured the words “next gen graphics”, and whilst it’s a nice looking game I think that’s going a tad overboard. Also, when you think of pinball tables, you think of those tiny displays which show you the score - well that’s replicated in this game too. And a couple of the tables have a low-resolution screen built into them, which show scenes from the movies.
Some of the graphics look really great, especially the lightsaber duel mini-games. Occasionally you’ll hit the right thing, and a person will hop up onto the table and do something. Shoot your ball, shout at an astrodroid to fix the shields, ferret around looking for something… Those parts are well animated, but quite distracting.
Audio-wise there is the aforementioned music - which can be turned off if you’re streaming the game because it will be content copyright claimed - and there’s a lot of audio. I’m 90% certain that none of it was by the actual actors, except for the tables based on the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons. But that’s just because Steve Blum has a distinctive voice. There was a slight issue during the presentation at Nintendo, where several of us were certain that the Han Solo voice actor was swearing. After hearing the clip several times, we realised that it was actually “fuzzy”. So, not all of the voices are what you’d call crystal clear.
Another niggle is the vibration, which is off by default. Since the Joy-Con is capable of HD rumble, if you turn it on, then your hands will quickly grow tired of the constant buzzing. Plus it’s probably murder on the battery.
Finally, although Zen Studios have said that this is the complete game with zero microtransactions - it currently is. However, there is clearly room left for two future tables in the single player table list. The Mandalorian? Star Wars IX: The Rise of Skywalker? We don’t know, but it’s entirely likely. The previous Zen-developed pinball titles have been free-to-play, with all of the tables paid DLC, so it’s a business model which they are known for.
Star Wars Pinball brings 19 tables to your hands for one price, which is fantastic given how much each table would cost on another platform. Having it portable and with touch screen controls is really fun, and during my playtime I’ve had no problems other than the ones I’ve already stated. If you’re a fan of pinball and have a Switch, then it’s a must-purchase. Big fans of Star Wars will probably get a kick out of it too with all of the tables focussed on one aspect of the franchise or another. You might want to steer clear of the Droids one, if you’re not a fan of certain droid actors, though. Honestly, though, I went in not expecting much and was happily proven wrong, I’m going to be playing this for a while yet.
Star Wars Pinball (Reviewed on Nintendo Switch)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
If you’re a fan of pinball and have a Switch, then it’s a must-purchase. Big fans of Star Wars will probably get a kick out of it too with all of the tables focussed on one aspect of the franchise or another.