I’ve been a huge fan of the various pinball games released by Zen Studios for a long time. Zen Pinball 2 was one of my main “go to” games on the PS Vita, alongside its sister release Star Wars Pinball. Both delivered a stunning arcade pinball experience and the same has continued with the PC and consoles, up to the current iteration, Pinball FX. Now, the latest table pack has been released, Star Trek Pinball, featuring three tables based on the long running franchise but is it Warp Factor 9 or does it barely reach Impulse speed…?
The Next Generation
This isn’t the first time Zen Studios have released tables based on Star Trek. Since their engine started to include conversions of real tables alongside original ones, they acquired licenses from Stern, Williams and a host of other pinball makers. As part of this they snagged the license for one of my all-time favourite tables, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
This was previously released as part of The Pinball Arcade and was probably my most played table on the Vita and PS3. The arcade perfect port brought back fond memories so it was a must-buy when it landed on Pinball FX. So when a new pack was announced of all new tables there was no question a out getting these, especially with the quality of their Star Wars ones.
What’s On Star Trek Pinball?
The pack, retailing for around £12, contains three tables which seems to be a typical price for licenced tables. Each is based on a different part of the Star Trek franchise although the choices could be somewhat controversial to many. The first table, Star Trek, is based on the Kelvin timeline movies. The second is based on Deep Space Nine – one of the most underappreciated shows made in Star Trek’s history. And finally we have Star Trek: Discovery – a series that has a large fan following but has divided the more vocal members of the online fan community.
Dedicated fans are likely to grab Star Trek Pinball regardless, and I’d say the same for Pinball FX completists. However, the choices do seem strange if they want to appeal to fans based on the shows themselves. If Zen Studios are planning on a long term run for Star Trek tables I certainly would have thought that theming packs might have been a better approach.
Each table takes a different approach to its gameplay. Kicking things off, the playfield of Star Trek takes place on the bridge of the Enterprise but the gameplay feels quite random. There doesn’t appear to be any flow or story behind the game and each of the missions on the table seem rather mis-matched and chaotic. While the table may be set in the movie universe, there’s little connection to the movies and perhaps an adaptation of the film’s storylines or scenes would have been better. As it is, it’s quite a weak table which will soon grow tiresome.
Deep Space Nine follows and this is a complete contrast. As well as offering a visually superb table, the missions are themed around different aspects of the series and species encountered throughout the show’s seven year run. The wormhole – as you would expect – plays a significant part in the game and adds a wonderful visual touch when it’s brought into play.
Finally, Star Trek: Discovery takes a novel approach and sets the table on board a holographic recreation of the Discovery and its crew. Missions are centred around hypothetical situations that the ship finds itself in (a useful approach to excuse their somewhat random nature) and the gameplay is narrated by the ship’s computer. What I did find frustrating was the tight placement of some of the ramps and the low scoring system used. There’s nothing more satisfying than racking up high scores on a pinball table, but you won’t find that here.
Now here comes my main problem with all of the tables and unfortunately it’s something I found difficult to look past… With any licensed videogame that uses voiceovers you expect one of two things – either the original cast to return, or professional voice actors who are adept at mimicking other actors. Obviously getting various Star Trek cast members back for a few lines of dialogue in a pinball game would have been prohibitively expensive so other actors were used.
But none of these sound anything like their on-screen counterparts. Not even close, and that’s the real issue. It breaks the illusion that you’re playing a Star Trek game when O’Brien sounds more Scottish than Irish. There are some incredible voice actors out there who specialise in looping (re-recording existing dialogue for other actors) so why not use them? For example, did you know that some of Bruce Willis’s dialogue in Armageddon in the scenes set on the oil rig were recorded by voice actor Wally Wingert? The weather made it too difficult to hear Willis on set so rather than get him back to record a few lines, Wingert was brought in instead.
I’m not saying the voices need to be perfect, but when Star Trek: The Next Generation was released just a few weeks earlier with full original cast voices featured it’s hard not to compare the two. In fact, of all the voices across all three tables, the computer voice in Star Trek: Discovery was pretty close to the original actress. The worst? Probably the Star Trek table where the actor reading the dialogue for Kirk plays it with no emotion and it comes across flat and stilted.
As with all the original tables from Zen Studios, visually Star Trek Pinball is a treat to look at. Both the flat table graphics, the scenery and visual effects all add up to a superb pinball experience from start to finish. As with most Zen tables, there’s an incredible amount of detail, not only on the table but at the sides of the playfield to keep the tables as immersive as possible.
The tables themselves are somewhat hit and miss unfortunately. Deep Space Nine is undoubtedly the star of the pack and could have easily been released as a standalone title. But I have a feeling that had that been the case, the others might have struggled commercially on their own. While Star Trek: Discovery is fun in short bursts, it lacks long term appeal and Star Trek is one you’ll find that you’ll play once or twice and never return to again.
If you’re a completist or die-hard Star Trek fan, then you’ll want to add Star Trek Pinball to your Pinball FX collection without hesitation. Otherwise, I’d hold back until it’s on sale as it’s not worth the asking price for just the one table that you’re likely to play.