One of the things I always remembered about home pinball games growing up was dreaming about being able to play some of my all-time favourite machines at home. Sadly that never happened and I was never able to play my two personal favourites – the two Star Trek tables released in the 1990s including the legendary Star Trek: The Next Generation table from Williams. At one point we were briefly teased at the possibility of this happening when Interplay released Star Trek Pinball for the PC but sadly it turned out to be a completely original game featuring all-new tables. Yes, it may have been a fun game, but it just wasn’t the same…
A Trip Down Memory Lane…
While I loved the original Star Trek table from Data East, it was the TNG table from Williams that was my personal favourite. I used to attend Star Trek conventions on a regular basis and at one of these the organisers had arranged for several tables to be shipped in for attendees to play on all weekend and I lost count of the amount of time I spent playing on them. After that time, and this is certainly showing my age now, I ended up ploughing copius amounts into a machine that took up residence in a local internet cafe I used to use before I was online at home (yup, that long ago!).
Anyway, it was my all-time favourite pinball machine and incredibly addictive. Certainly being a Star Trek fan helped playing it but the sheer variety in the game modes and missions, excellent use of the dot matrix display for the mini games, and fantastic sound and original speech recorded by the original cast made for a near perfect pinball game.
Star Trek: The Next Generation comes home
This isn’t the first time this table has been recreated for home systems. The first time this was released was by Farsight Studios for The Pinball Arcade. Being one of their more expensive tables to license, they took to Kickstarter to make it happen (as they did when they released The Addams Family). One of the problems they had at the time that needed the fundraiser was down to the multiple licences involved to bring the release to fruition.
Not only did the basic game need to be licenced from Williams, but the Star Trek licence needed to be arranged with CBS and all of the actors likenesses needed to be arranged because of their usage on the table and backing display graphics. Not only did this take time but money… a lot of money making this one of their most expensive tables to produce. Eventually, once developed it was released across a range of formats before Farsight eventually lost the license to Zen Studios.
So onto the table itself… the bulk of the Star Trek: The Next Generation table consists of a series of missions set for you by Starfleet – exploring the galaxy, repelling invasions from the Borg or Romulans, rescuing civilians in distress, and various other missions. Sending the ball into one of the upper ramps increases your warp speed for bonuses at the end of each ball, and on the table are two torpedo launchers. During the game, the ball will be deposited in these and you can then fire the ball from these at designated targets on the table for additional bonuses or to activate missions.
The best of these, and my personal favourite, has to be the Borg mission though. For this you’ll be granted multiball use but just before this the table will announce, in Patrick Stewart’s voice, “All hands, brace for multiball!”. I swear, you’ll never look at Patrick Stewart in the same way again!
Visually this looks superb. The table has been recreated perfectly and anyone who has played the original will feel immediately at home. The table graphics have been recreated in all their glory with every detail, every colour down to their last inch with rich, vibrant colours, great backgrounds and on-table objects and superb animation on the dot matrix display.
Sound wise, I can’t fault this and would say that it is one of the pinball games ever. The Star Trek: The Next Generation theme, and other music from the series, plays throughout while you play, there are roaring sound effects from the show and the game is littered with speech from all of the cast. The table just oozes atmosphere from start to finish and you are drawn into the table from the instant it loads up. Even before you start playing, as the table is displayed on screen and the music plays it almost calls out to you to press the start button.
Some home pinball tables have had flaws in their design, but thankfully this isn’t the case with Star Trek: The Next Generation. As a result, the table is allowed to stand on its own merits and it is a real corker! I’ve been a huge fan of the work of Zen Studios for some time and they’ve done a fantastic job recreating this table. It is incredibly compulsive, has that elusive “one more go” factor and will appeal to pinball fans of all ages. Certainly if you are a Star Trek fan then this is something that you should buy without hesitation and there is no denying that this truly is a classic pinball table.
It’s not just the fact that it’s a brilliantly designed table, but more importantly it’s a superb Star Trek table. Usually, when you get a table based on a license it can feel as if the brand has been tagged on as a selling point but here it’s an integral part of the gameplay at every step, from launching the ball to every single game mode. And it’s that aspect of it that’s kept the game fresh so long after its release.
This is one of the best pinball tables to be released for any home system and even though it’s the most expensive single table released for Pinball FX, it’s worth every penny. With the game engine itself being free, even if you only ever buy one table, make sure it’s this one. It’s a table you’ll still be playing years from now. An essential purchase.