One of the biggest and most revered movie releases of all-time, The Empire Strikes Back has received more game tie-ins, both directly and indirectly, than most major Hollywood blockbusters.
Its not even the first time the film has crossed over with pinball, but it may well be one of the finest.
Available now: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, PC
Version Tested: Playstation Vita
Zen Studios have done an excellent job encapsulating the multi-layered plot and dynamic action of the Empire Strikes Back onto a pinball table. That may sound like ludicrous praise to many of you, but it’s a genuine thumbs up from me. This pinball table has an engaging story to tell, even if it is a relatively familiar one.
Split into six scenes playable in any order, players can take part in several mini games that even move away from the table and actually place players within key moments from the film and Star Wars franchise, including a scene where you wield a lightsaber and must deflect laser blasts from a combat droid.
But it’s the table action that counts, and there’s plenty of that with a bunch of bonuses open to the player from the very beginning. While the majority of the sweet spots are fixated at the top middle of the table, disappointingly, many of the bonuses seem to lack a degree of creativity and are easily categorised under the ‘spell out the name of the character’ variety. Whether it’s Vader, Skywalker or Lando, you’ll earn many of your points this way and the in-game popups persistently prove this.
Still, the table never remains a static entity, it will gradually transform and change throughout the game, but all in an authentic Star Wars way. For instance, Darth Vader will pop up in the middle of the table and start Force throwing the ball around towards the flippers and occassionally the abyss below. AT AT Walkers will trudge around the corners, standing tall and presenting a challenging obstacle for any pinball trying to pass. The ball will also be forced along a rampway designed to look like a lightsaber so that it can fast travel towards the bottom of the table. It’s small, subtle details like this that help create a level of immersion befitting of Lucas’s lavish universe.
To add to this, key scenes from the film are broadcast through black and white images and brought to life by voice acting in the upper quadrant of the screen. Memorable moments include Luke’s first meeting with Yoda, as well as Solo’s acts of bravado and the initial voyage to Cloud City are distinct in their appearence and add creedence to the events transpiring on the table.
Despite my misgivings about the bonuses, the table itself is brilliant Zen-engineered fun. All in-game action is accompanied by the familiar, adrenaline-inducing tones of the Imperial March and the fast and furious moments enriched with familiar Star Wars sound effects blaring in the background. It’s great switch-off fun and does more with the license than many might expect.
The Empire Strikes Back is a genuine pleasure and will etch a semi-permanent smile on your face as you rack up the points and play through each scene. Despite the familiarity of many bonus sequences, you’ll keep coming back to this one again and again.