Acclaimed pinball wizards Zen Studio's combine the thrill of pinball gaming with Marvel Comics themed tables of popular Marvel heroes Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man and Blade. How does console gamings first ever Marvel pinball game rate?
Credits & Solicit Info:
Publishers: Microsoft Game Studios, Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PS3 (PSN), XBox 360 (XBLA)
Developer: Zen Studios
Release Date: December 8 2010
Reviewed on PS3
When this game was released, at $10 ($12.95AU for me) I thought it was a pretty steep price for a four table DLC pinball game. I'd have probably kept passing on it till a price drop hit had not The Outhouse's own Jude Terror made a thread on the board asking DMM to "suck it" in a thread about this game. Then more praise for this game filled the thread and I knew I had to try it out for myself.
Back in the 90's I was a big fan of a pinball game called Balls of Steel. Despite being a game from the 90's the table physics, level structure and the interactive nature of the tables themselves calling that game ahead of its time is an understatement. It even had a dedicated server that allowed you to submit your high scores so you could challenge the rest of the world...and we're talking about the 90's here. A pity the game didn't end up being compatible with Windows 7 and is collecting dust on my shelf these days. Since then I tried a couple of other Pinball games that aren't worth remembering and my god, they were so awful so I quietly retired from the pinball genre for almost a decade.
Until now. And damn, did I forget how addictive a good pinball game is...it's like virtual crack. At first glance the tables look pretty simple, but as you're slowly playing you start discovering little details that deliver unlockable items, missions, power-ups. And there is a lot of them, A hell of a lot. From hidden ramps, combination switches and ramps, unlocking kickbacks, missions, ball saves and accurately hitting targets there is enough here to leave pinball/retro enthusiasts busy for a long, long time. Since every table is totally different and will require totally different strategies. There's never a dull moment and I haven't even gotten to the villains yet.
And I have no doubt that this game can keep plenty a comic book fan enthralled. The villains, in most instances, are game changers. Once you unlock their respective missions they will become your main priority as the Green Goblin lobs pumpkin bomb balls on the field which you have to throw back, Doc Ock slowly advances across the field unless you can stop him and Hand Ninja's pop out of the table. With each table having its own unique villains that require equally unique strategies to take down you are provided with another objective besides racking up high score after high score.
As for the physics of the core pinball game, Zen seems to have nailed it. The way the ball plays off the corners, bumpers and ramps is about as realistic as any pinball game you'll find in an arcade. When the ball rebounds it feels as authentic as you can get. Zen's pinball engine is damn near flawless.
Outside of the gameplay, the tables themselves are just as vibrant and engaging by consisting of comic book art, almost mesmerising lights and sound effects and an energetic soundtrack. Zen truly pulled all the stops in terms o design by throwing in everything including the kitchen sink at the player. That is probably my biggest complaint about this game: at times all the bells and whistles can become to much which leads to a momentary lapse of concentration that can lose you.
Newcomers to the pinball genre may also get frustrated to no end trying to unlock all the specials and missions they want to see most. The game is bundled with a manual of sorts in the main menu's that tell you how to unlock them. Unfortunately it can be very vague at times and I had to resort to looking up a couple on YouTube to figure it out. (Specifically the Silver Samurai on the Wolverine table). But if you have patience to just go wild on the table and try to discover things by yourself as those of us that played pinball games in the arcade used to do you'd prefer discovering stuff for yourself than trying to figure out how to just do one small task on a table with so much more to offer.
On to the tables themselves now: As I mentioned above no two tables are similar, they are all very much unique. This also means that I found certain tables far superior to the others.
Spider-Man was easily the most fun. From its huge table design, most interactive villains and complex paths Spider-Man was so far ahead of the pack it is by far the standout table of the four.
Wolverine was my 2nd favourite. While it had a smaller design, it was by no means short on features. That combination makes for frantic, fast paced, high scoring runs that can just as easily be a double edged sword when the fast pace ends up biting you with a ball loss.
Blade seemed like the odd one out of the tables. The franchise has been relatively dormant since Blade Trinity *throws up* and there isn't really much happening on the comics front either. A strange pick given that there's Thor and Captain America movies due this year among other pending franchises that could be more lucrative these days. Or maybe Zen thought they could capitalise of the Twilight vampire craze with a vampire hunter...? Whatever the case, it is definitely the most unique with night and day modes with each having very different objectives and playing styles. A solid table but I can't personally put it above the previous two.
Then finally we have the Iron Man table aka the weakest link. Upon first glance the table is flashy, sleek, ultra modern with a tech inspired finish that is easily identifiable with Iron Man. Then comes the gameplay which is the flattest of the lot. Everything is so cramped together, and being the most limited feature-wise doesn't do it any wonders either. Even more so thanks to the comparatively limited one-liners Tony Stark, the Mandarin and Whiplash offer. The repetitive nature of unlocking the armor and targeting ramp X on almost every villain mission didn't score it any bonus points on that side of the game either. Iron Man still had gameplay to offer, but compared to the rest of the tables it gives them no competition in any category whatsoever.
Outside of the tables themselves the game features a leaderboard system so that you can play competitively against your friends for bragging rights. Seeing a notification during gameplay saying you are about to beat one of your friend's scores during the heat of gameplay provides a uniquely satisfying feeling. Or, if your score is high enough you can pit yourself against the best pinball players from across the world. With my highest rank being world #442 on the Iron Man table I don't think the top pinball players of the world feel threatened by me. Yet!
The game also boasts a multiplayer mode. Unfortunately for PS3 users like me, you won't get the split-screen multiplayer mode the 360 got. We just get a ball per turn per player mode which sucks knowing what could have been.
Bottom line: The game is perfect for comic fans, pinball enthusiasts, gamers looking for an old school challenge or a combination of all of the above. If you're looking at the game wondering if you should take the plunge for the one or two tables you really want I'd say go for it, what you get for $10 was reasonable value in my mind.
Regarding the games future, expect Zen Studio's to add to the game with more DLC tables thanks to Marvel Studio's providing them with a license to adapt characters AND storylines to pinball tables. There is also poll running on the games official website asking the public to pick the next character themed table. The choices are Captain America, Hulk, the Fantastic Four and Ghost Rider. As of now Captain America is very narrowly beating Ghost Rider.
Replay Value: 8.5
Review by: fieldy snuts