After the commercial, creative and visual failure of Stern with their Led Zeppelin game (one had to be blind or too proud not to realize it and foresee it…), Stern cruelly needed to restore their image and to show why they are number one.
The May 4 announcement of its new Star Wars franchise pinball machine, the Mandalorian, got fans of the license and the manufacturer (us first!) excited.
Fueled mainly by Pinfluencer Kaneda, the hype around this new pinball kept growing. It promised to be a real killer from Stern. So what about after the May 11 reveal? Did Stern succeed? Well, yes! The copy is not perfect, but it restored the image of the manufacturer without any doubt… Come on, let’s go and analyze it all!
Let’s start with the artwork: well, it was not so difficult to take a universe to a graphic designer and say to him “it is necessary to reappropriate a universe and transpose it to pinball while remaining faithful to the spirit of the franchise!”
Randy Martinez was in charge of realizing the artworks for the different models of the range. The least we can say is that he knew how to take up the gauntlet with brilliance and especially boldness!
Indeed, his pencil stroke, that we will call “retro future comics” for its origins and its ability to modernize the line, fits perfectly with the Star Wars universe. He had already illustrated himself (no pun intended) with the Star Wars comic but with a more omnipresent comic similarity than in our present case.
For the Mandalorian, he achieved the right balance between cartoon and photo-realism, a real wonder!
The three models (Pro, Premium and LE) are all more beautiful than each other. But the most surprising thing is the technique used to achieve it: obviously it is not a “photoshop”, nor computer-assisted drawing, but real painting!
More precisely we will speak here about mixed technique because it gathers a work of flattening with the ink of acrylic and a routing which seems to be carried out with Posca pens (acrylic felt-tip pens), the whole then digitized for the needs of the production on decal.
Its cell-shading approach is reminiscent of the cult “Borderlands” video game. Its post-apocalyptic western atmosphere is replaced here by a space western one and with a big nod to the movie “Solo” from the Star Wars saga.
The pro and premium models are once again neglected in favor of the Limited Edition. The armor-blades available on the LE model are proof of this. They are not embossed, but simply in blaster cut, er sorry…, laser cut! They take the silhouette of the disruptor, or Amban phase-pulse blaster for the purists (big texan rifle modified with a barbecue spike, it works too!).
Armor blades will however be available for the pro and premium models at the optional price of 3 million dollars… Naaaaaah, we’re kidding, but it won’t be far away from that price :). They also take the design and the shape of the disrupter. They are magnificent, a real success once again!
On the other hand, in terms of optional shooter, they did the minimum! Indeed, they took the cockpit knob of the razor crest and that’s it…
It is very faithful to the series with its rust and its blue border, but it lacks badly of creativity and audacity compared to the work done by Randy Martinez! In short, consistent but not creative.
As we are nice, we give Stern a free idea: a thermal detonator instead would have had several advantages:
- It federates the old generation and the new one of fans who will recognize the weapon.
- It is consistent with the “Star Wars lore”: this weapon is common in the bounty hunter guild
- The original design of the thermal detonator is bright, it would have made it more attractive like Stranger Things or Jurassic Park shooters.
- Creativity and audacity : ask Randy Martinez he knows what it is 🙂
Available as standard on the LE machine but optional on the other models, the artblades are also successful. But those of the LE table are better because they complete and finish the world under glass (we’ll come back to that), unlike the others which are only an alignment of the protagonists of the series: the “bad guys” on one side, the “good guys” on the other.
Last point of the general design before moving on: the paint called “beskar” on the limited edition. Honestly, it’s a nice touch. Stern really wants to make a difference with what has been done before… and also to focus on the high-end clientele (yes, we say high-end clientele and not high-end pinball machine, nuance). In the end, it’s just a different color, but it does give a classy and consistent look. Two things that high-end customers like.
Toys and story
Let’s go ! Let’s decipher the two and a half playfields (there is the pro edition on one side and premium/limited edition on the other).
The universe of the Mandalorian is rather well retranscribed. We can find key elements of the series, as much for the board which is very beautiful as for the “toys” which are distinguished by the level of finishing (exit the dishwashing glove of Thanos from Avengers)…
Regarding the layout, we speculated in our podcast about a potential link with the pinball machine The Shadow, also designed by Brian Eddy and also featuring a mini playfiled. We confirm the similarity: a general layout more original than the “fan layout” used on several creations of the designer.
A “fan layout” defines a board with a main toy in the middle, with ramps, lanes and orbits surrounding it in a fan pattern. On The Mandalorian table, the playfield is more unstructured, which requires greater skill to deliver satisfactory shots. And the challenge seems to be successful. As much as on The Shadow game ? We’ll have to see.
But let’s make another parallel, let’s not be afraid of anything. This pinball machine is a mix between Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles and The Munsters. And although two of these pinball machines are the fruit of Jon Borg, the real link between the three is the lead game developer Dwight Sullivan!
So, wouldn’t it be the future code that would have determined the design of the playfield, anticipating some ideas of Brian Eddy? Especially since Dwight Sullivan was also on the code of a certain Star Wars comic game…
Toys or « Toys » ?
A giant figurine (but small enough to fit the concept) of Grogu proudly stands at the bottom of the board on the left. However, there is nothing to be proud of!
Even if it is successful in terms of molding (at least better than the Thanos glove mentioned above), it has no interaction with the gameplay, exactly like the bibendum on the Ghostbusters (“well, well, well”). It doesn’t even blink! A gimmick that would have made its effect “awwwwwnnnnnnn so cuuuute!!!!”. In these conditions, it is difficult to say that it is a toy… And that’s a shame.
Let’s do a little “what if” to turn it into a crazy toy:
- a small ramp which passes not far with a magnet in the hand of Grogu and hop! The ball is caught! The power of the force is conceptualized, transcribed, fan service effect guaranteed!
- Shall we improve the trick? Ok ! Once caught, we recycle and adapt the mechanics of the T-rex of Jurassic Park and hop the arm moves and releases the ball elsewhere!
- More? You rascals! OK, now imagine that this ball is held in the palm of its cute little hand. Instead of being released on the playfield, the arm moves and goes straight into Grogu’s mouth which is wide open and refers this time to the running gag with the batrachian eggs…
- Isn’t that enough? Ok, I’ll give you the big one! Always Grogu ! It grabs the ball in the palm of its hand, its arm moves towards its mouth, it opens, it swallows the ball, A call-out with the voice of Mando aks it to spit with sound effects and all the tralala led level, and then BOOMMM ! It spits out six balls in a multiball way (in a TMNT way with the truck, well, well, well). And then you get a fabulous, coherent, funny, surprising toy that will make you sell phenomenal quantities…
Well, no! You will have just a resin molded in the bottom with a magnet on the voard as on … The Munsters pinball (” well, well, well as by chance “), except that there we can not even bash it! Booooooh!
Second “toy”, well… Same problem ! The razor crest is very well done ! They even managed to put two leds to simulate the reactors. But on the other hand, guys… Between us… What’s that underneath ?!!!! No kidding! You have to hit the razor crest’s balls! Isn’t it a little creepy ? No, no I don’t have the wrong ideas! This “pendulum” is misplaced!
You still want an idea that fits with the code and the toy? OK… OK… but here I’ll do it in one shot: Let’s skip the balls, keep the lane, once the ambush mode is launched (it’s already coded!), a trap door opens and a Ravinak (ice monster) comes out and grabs the landing gear like in the series (just a plastic thing that comes out of a trap door! No need to make a jaw mechanism, don’t push!) Then to make it go back in the ice you just have to bash it like the deadheads of Elvira. All this without any balls ! So… Happy ?
Third toy (without quotation marks for those who followed the subtitle)… That’s better! It’s better because it’s a real toy and a mini playfield at the same time. The originality is finally there even if we will allow ourselves a small criticism.
So for those who did not follow, here, when the ball comes on the upper playfield by the left ramp as on the Ghostbusters pinball (“well, well, well as if by chance”) and then towards the diverter as on the TMNT machine (“well, well, well as if by chance”), the playfield rises, a little like the drum kit of Joey Jordisson, the drummer of Slipknot for those who have the reference.
Never before seen! We can only salute the performance. But, there is always a but, you activate your flippers to hit fixed targets, too bad. A little idea to finish perfectly this great idea?
A little mechanism like Dracula from Monster Bash (“well, well, well like… well, no, that doesn’t work!”) and you have a moving target to snipe and that makes you an ultra cool toy, completely in the bounty hunter’s skills!
Well, in their defense, that’s what they did but with leds that tell you which target to hit. It is still a great toy. Well… For the premium and limited editions.
Oh yes, we forgot to tell you! The pro version is still a “poor man’s pinball machine”, a conception and vision that we find hard to understand. As an example, in the video game, everyone buys the same game and then the player is free to download improvements. We start from the same base and then the free will does its work. If not equal, then fair! But not here.
The Pro model has been stripped of not only the system that lifts the upper playfield (it is an integral part of the board) but also of a flipper… The ramps are also affected by this “philosophy”. They are made of plastic and amputated, once again, of a unit. There are no small savings!
You wouldn’t know any Jawas, would you?
We’re in luck at Pinball Mag.! We know some Jawas who snagged The Mandolarian pinball last week and they tell us what they managed to steal. Yes, we have connections! Well, we’ll translate it for you, Jawa is not a simple language and C3-PO wasn’t available.
Here is what you will find on the board:
- 6 balls
- 3 flippers on the pro model
- 4 flippers on the premium and LE models
- a diverter that gives access to the mini playfield
- a spinner
- 3 fixed targets on the left for the hunter mode
- 2 fixed targets on the right for the Boba Fett
- a mobile mini board for the Premium and LE versions with 6 fixed targets
- an immobile “mini playfield” for the pro version with 6 fixed targets
- a “scoop loop” for the premium and LE versions
- a big little Grogu
- a magnet in front of the big little Grogu
- a scoop
- two bumpers
- official music of the series
- dubbing by Carl Weather, an actor of the series (Apollo Creed in Rocky movies)
- videos of the series season 1 and 2
- 2 ramps for the pro model
- 3 ramps for the premium and LE models
- 1 Razor Crest with a pendulum
- 2 slingshots
- Shaker, anti-glare glass, beskar paint, mirrored backglass, high quality sound system, artblade all dedicated to the 750 copies of the Limited Edition.
- and lights everywhere !
And what about the gameplay?
Just like our analysis of the board, the gameplay and the flow bring its share of pleasure, without making us reach Nirvana. Here are the positive points that we put forward:
- The missions, each referring to an episode of the first two seasons, are accompanied by scenes from the series and literally immerse you in it. On the LE version, the Mudhorn scene with the artbalde on the same theme is a real highlight !
- The “Role Play” side with the ability to spend Beskars to choose a bonus at the forge (the scoop). You can choose to save the ball when it takes one of the outlanes, receive an extra ball, add a ball during multiballs, or start a mission, etc… The inventory is rich enough to vary the tactics. Moreover, this gives a glimpse of the possibilities that pinball machines will be able to offer if Stern takes a serious look at the use of the lockbar as a complement to the traditional gameplay. We are getting closer and closer to the long awaited crossover (at least in Pinball Mag.) with the video game.
- The mini playfield, which at first sight makes you think that pushing the buttons to hit the targets is enough, turns out to be a more subtle gameplay element: you’ll need some skill to take advantage of this removable platter only available on the premium and L.E versions.
- The “block” (a kind of module on the right side of the board with an additional ramp on the premium and L.E models) allows short and grouped shots that give back speed to the gameplay. It also allows to validate some mission endings with bonuses and offers a 180° shoot of the most satisfying !
On the other hand, if there is a notorious weakness it is the Skill Shot. In the first version, it was simply doomed to pure chance ! A new code has corrected this injustice, but it is still a bit soft : the ball must pass through one of the 3 lanes at the top of the board, when the inserts are lit. These navigate from left to right. It is easier to use the automatic launcher than to dose with the ball launcher. What a shame !
This is the way !
Our verdict on this machine? It is good but it’s not the pinball machine of the decade either. There is still a serious effort to be made on the “toys” so that they are engraved in the memories!