Zen Pinball 2 has been good to us at Gaming Illustrated in the past, with their Plants Vs. Zombies table that showed us bright colors, cutesy graphics, and a constant influx of the ravening dead. Zen Studios, makers of Zen Pinball and Zen Pinball 2, have released a new table: Marvel Civil War, based off the faction-shattering, friendship-crushing Marvel Comics plotline. The Marvel Civil War table is available now for XBOX 360, PS3, PS Vita, Apple OS, MacOS, and on the Google Play app store. It’s basically a DLC add on for the Zen Pinball 2 game, and can be grabbed for around $2.99 to $3.99, depending on platform.
We were given the PS3/PS Vita version for review, which are compatible with each other, allowing you to transfer high scores and play the same tables purchased on either. If you missed it be sure to check out our original review of Zen Pinball 2.
Needless to say, you probably know how pinball works. This eternal game of gravity was one of the first attractions in arcades of old, and still serves a niche market of nostalgic players who would eschew plot and jiggle physics and go right to grabbing as many points as humanly possible.
Zen Pinball 2 handles well, and Marvel Civil War is no exception. The ball is incredibly fast and the flippers are responsive, a must-have for the meth-addict twitch required of you when things start getting crazy. The flippers are operated with the shoulder buttons, and the plunger that starts the game is manipulated with the right analog stick. And that’s. Pretty much. It.
The game follows the events of Marvel’s Civil War, which involved Tony Stark’s future-minded Iron Man and Steve Roger’s flag-waving Captain America, disagreeing publically and violently over whether or not super heroes should have to register with the government (or some kind of body) and take responsibility for the damage they often recklessly cause. Cap came down on the side of freedom, insisting that the people who risk their lives to save the world shouldn’t be treated like criminals. Iron Man, much to the hatred of many-a-fan, came down on the pro-registration side, insisting that Registration was inevitable, and he’d rather the superheroes police themselves than have the government start a witch hunt on all capes.
The plot is complex, involving superheroes and villains falling on both sides of the argument. Families are split apart, old companions become bitter rivals, cats and dogs sleep together, etc. Needless to say, such a story about civil liberties is a weird choice for a pinball table, and Zen Studios pulls it off as best as they can.
A television at the back of the table plays a constant series of news broadcasts, all that take you slowly through the Civil War plotline as you rack up more points. The game starts in Stamford, like the plot of the comic, where a villain (Nitro) and a group of heroes (the New Warriors) get in a cataclysmic fight that demolishes an entire school and the better part of a town, killing thousands.
As the game starts, you pick a side: Pro-Registration (Iron Man), or Anti-Registration (Captain America). As you score points, you dump them into a meter that compares against the other side. The goal of the game is to keep a lead over your opposing force on this meter, and to fill it whenever you can.
There’s also a sort of “scoreboard” of heroes, including Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, the Vision, and a few other Marvel classics. As the game and the plot progresses, heroes jump back and forth from viewpoint to viewpoint like Mitt Romney and John Kerry had babies with a waffle machine. The idea is to keep as many heroes in your faction as possible.
At times, Captain America and Iron Man will get tired of staring at each other across the glass surface of the table and will start duking it out. They each make a move and the game freezes in a lurid red glow – then you have to smash the pinball down a certain lane to keep the fight going, hopefully in your favor.
There are all kinds of little sequences like this, providing an element of strategy which takes the game beyond simple mindless reflexes. They are fun, and they do break up the standard “flipper the ball and pray to Gandhi it goes somewhere good” method of pinball playing.
My main problem with the Civil War table, a problem I didn’t have with the sublimely designed Plants Vs. Zombies table, is the design. The way the ramps and bumpers are concocted, I found myself never hitting anything of value for long stretches of time. Scoring points is actually sort of an anomaly – there are whole looping lanes that circle the board, and hitting a pinball into one doesn’t guarantee a single point. The choice seems arbitrary, and often prevents you from scoring the frantic self-repeating orgy of points that makes pinball really fun.
Whole stretches of play would be nearly silent affairs without that the happy “point scoring” sound effect, where my ball was thunking into useless walls and traveling down slides and chutes that aren’t coded to hand off points. It was weird, and decidedly anti-climactic, breaking the sense of frenzy that pinball so desperately needs.
Another problem is the plot – while the idea of traversing a storyline on a pinball table is novel, it falls to a few obvious flaws. Namely, pinball is a game that involves repeated failure-and-restart. That’s the name of the game. You lose, you get a score, you try again for a higher score. Thus, even though you are getting better every time, you’re hearing the same news announcements, the same conversations between angry heroes, and seeing the same plot twists you saw the first time. For something that should have infinite replay value, it can become repetitive and stale quickly. Especially if you suck, like I do.
The graphics are shiny and three-dimensional, and the camera surfs around the table as the ball flies wildly. Captain America and Iron Man, full realized models standing on top of the table, cavort and frolic and fight, and it all looks great.
Technically, the graphics are good. No technology problem here, boss. The problem seems to be in the design more than the execution – the Marvel Civil War table is a bit grim, as naturally befits a storyline with the kind of heart-rending gravitas Marvel was shooting for. Unfortunately, it is just a series of blue and red ramps and silver tech-looking bumpers and not much else.
The lighting is cool, certainly, and the ball feels weighty and solid – however, it lacks the verve and sense of life that the Plants Vs. Zombies tables has. There are three colors, and they are used frequently. Everything is shiny and edged in chrome, and while it all looks a cool sleek console on a SHIELD Helicarrier, it still comes across as flat.
Brilliant. The music is appropriately heroic, the voice work is well done, and it’s nice to hear the iconic lines from the comic book storyline dropped on you by Captain America or Iron Man. The soundtrack is actually available for download, for free, another cool point for Zen Studios.
The flippers clack merrily, the ball dings, and the bumpers and wingdings and bells all chime as you’d expect them too. When everything is going great, and you have Cap and ‘ole Shellhead duking it out, shouting heroic diatribes at each other, points blasting and chimes chiming, the game feels great.
Some of the lines do get repetitive, but that’s a function of repeating the same story over and over again, and certainly not the fault of the sound design team. Overall, well done.
The game is roughly three-to-four dollars, depending on the platform. This is relatively cheap, and if this table had the life and replayability of the Plants Vs. Zombies table, I would recommend to everyone, everywhere, in a heartbeat. As it stands, three dollars isn’t expensive, but if you’re already not a big pinball fan this table is not going to win you over.
If you’re a diehard pinball fan or you “Make Yours Marvel,” you might want to check out this table.
Zen Studios has done a great job turning a comic book license into a pinball table, something they’ve already done countless times. The faults in the game (which, I’m going to be honest, are slight) lie more in the concept than the execution. Following a narrative in a pinball game is difficult, with all the janglies and lightning-quick action. Add to that the repetitive failure involved in pinball, and you have a much tougher sell. I can only hear “Tony, you went to Washington to speak out against the Registration act. Did the Stamford incident change you?” so many times before you want to scream “YES, CAP, OBVIOUSLY THAT CHANGED HIM OR HE WOULDN’T BE DIFFERENT.”
It’s a silly concern, but over time it does become tiresome. However, Zen Studios knows how to make pinball, and the gameplay is remarkably fun (if you subtract the occasional lull where the points stop coming.)
If you like pinball, check it out. It’s another well-done pinball table from the guys who do it best. If you aren’t . . . maybe avoid this one.