New in the Arcade: Star Wars Pinball (1992) & Star Wars Episode 1 Pinball (1999)

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Two classic pinball tables inspired by the recently revitalized Star Wars film franchise return to Ground Kontrol, better than ever! Longtime Ground Kontrol patrons will recall the Data East Star Wars table as part of our selection way back in 2006, until it succumbed to the dark side and was removed for extensive repairs. More recently, Star Wars Episode I has rotated in and out of our pinball lineup as we dialed it in for optimal play. Now, your quarters are their only hope!

Star Wars (Data East, 1992)Star Wars (Data East, 1992)

A chirping, moving R2-D2 is your co-pilot as you navigate the Death Star trench, the Sarlacc Pit, Yoda’s Lair, and Jabba The Hutt’s palace in a pinball adventure spanning all three original Star Wars trilogy films!

Star Wars had a strong video game presence early on in arcades thanks to Atari, but it took a little while for the franchise to really make an impact as a pinball experience. Two pins with very limited runs preceded this game – The Empire Strikes Back (1980, Hankin) and Star Wars (1987, Sonic) – but flipper fanatics didn’t have a real opportunity to use the Force until Data East released their version of Star Wars in 1992.

Equipped with a control lever instead of a traditional plunger, your first objective in the game is to take out a TIE fighter in the video-based skill shot. Hit the ramp to score big points, light S-T-A-R W-A-R-S and unlock awards. When you see the red light above The Force scoop, hit it to collect a Force Award. The Force Awards range from lighting other special shots to increasing your bonus to activating the Tri-Ball multiball! If you hit The Force scoop when it’s not lit, your carelessness can be rewarded by a Dark Side shot (worth 25 million after 5 shots), complete with the ominous breathing of Darth Vader. Shoot the Death Star several times for another path to Tri-Ball, and don’t forget about your control lever – after your 5th Death Star hit, you can push it down and press its fire button to lower the Death Star and buy yourself a quick opportunity to start Tri-Ball early with a carefully-placed shot. Veteran players know that the game’s original code allowed you to conquer the table by simply hitting the center ramp over and over, but in December 2012, Chad Hendrickson released a comprehensive 20th Anniversary “fan edit” of the software. The 1.04 ruleset greatly enhances the game so you’re encouraged to explore the many shots on the playfield, creating a more challenging and more rewarding experience for casual and experienced players alike. We made sure to install the upgrade on our table right away, because this is one Star Wars “special edition” that’s actually an improvement!

Covered in detailed comic-book style artwork featuring iconic characters and scenes, Star Wars backs up the visuals with high-quality music, sound effects and quotes. Especially impressive and unexpected are the detailed models of R2-D2 and the Death Star. R2 reacts to the action as if he was accompanying you on the Death Star run or a trip to Dagobah, even hopping up and down if you achieve something truly awesome, like scoring a replay. If you think this pinball table is just a bucket of bolts, think again – after just one game, you’ll be rushing to return to the change machine in less than 12 parsecs!

Star Wars Episode I FlyerStar Wars Episode I (Williams, 1999)

Special in many ways, Star Wars Episode I was the last pinball table produced by the legendary Williams company. It is also of course, one of two “Pinball 2000” tables, the other being the Attack From Mars spiritual sequel, Revenge from Mars. Pinball 2000 features a tinted playfield glass that reflects a monitor hanging in the backglass, creating the illusion of sprite-based graphics on the playfield for a hybrid between video games and pinball. Generally regarded at the better of the two Pinball 2000 titles, Episode I makes good use of its unique design and instantly recognizable license.

Episode I was designed by John Popadiuk, the master behind Cirquis Voltaire and Theatre of Magic. The main goal in the game is to advance as a Jedi, starting as a Youth and ending up as an all-powerful Jedi Sprit. Along the way there are tons of fun and interesting modes that all fully utilize the monitor, creating a dynamic experience that would be difficult if not impossible in traditional pinball. Jar Jar and Anakin are ever-present here, much to the chagrin of the pickier fans, but fortunately the awesomely creepy Darth Maul and the “Duel of the Fates” score feature prominently as well!

The game’s modes range from serious space battles to the undeniably goofy “Jar Jar Juggling”, taking you through a fairly accurate representation of the film’s attempts at pleasing hardcore Star Wars fans and young Padawans not yet trained in the ways of the Force. The key multiball mode is a lightsaber duel between the Jedi Knight Qui-Gon Jinn and Darth Maul. Simply participating in this special mode will advance your rank, but if you manage to defeat Darth Maul, you’ll earn 5 million points each time! Some of the game’s thirteen modes also offer “Perfect Shooting” bonuses as an alternative challenge to simply completing the conditions. Once you’ve beaten all thirteen, the modes unlock again with double the bonuses.

Say what you will about the Episode I film – the pinball adaptation ended up a memorable experience with a lot to do and see. Of course, credit must be given to its excellent design and ambitious technical achievements, which sadly did not lead to enough success to keep Williams afloat. Since you don’t have to shift your attention between the playfield and a traditional score display, some may find this an easier introduction to the world of pinball. Amateurs, kids, pros and dedicated Star Wars fans can all find something to like in this game that seems flashy at first, but reveals a lot of depth!