The crew at Zen Studios is sure keeping busy. They brought out Pinball FX2 in October of 2010, and they've had a steady calendar of releases so far as DLC to add to the collection. The big one came on December 8th, with the release of the first Marvel Comics Collection, consisting of Blade, Iron Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Wolverine. The later additions to the collection (so far) are The Fantastic Four and Captain Marvel. Never really cared for the Four or the Captain, but it's pinball. Maybe Zen can make them cool, if only in-game?
Marvel is definitely a good license to have for games, and putting it to use on pinball tables combines various groups of nerds: videogamers, pinball players, and comic readers. You know, those people who grew up to be adults with expendable income? Yep.
Above: Blade's Days (left) and Nights (right)
Like many people, I was introduced to Blade with the Wesley Snipes movies. I saw the first Blade, and while I really enjoyed it and all of its cheese, I didn't realize it was based on a comic book.. err.. a graphic novel. Actually, no, I feel comfortable saying comic book. The table looks fantastic- something you'll see and say about each table, by the way. The physics, table noises are great, as mentioned in the previous Pinball FX reviews, so let's take a look at this thing considering that fact.
The lone weak point is as expected, the voices. They aren't terrible, but they seem a bit stale and cheesy. By choice? Maybe, voice acting in pinball has always been hit, miss, or other. The goal in Blade is to hunt vampires, specifically Deacon Frost, who is out to become a "Vampiric Deity." You are armed with various upgrades and weapons which translate to bumpers, ramps, and targets on the table. You don't fight it alone, as you have Hannibal giving you help, weapons, cues, etc, during the game.
Below: Deacon Frost, the greenish guy, and Hannibal, the guy with the inverted garbage pail.
Blade has transitions from night to day tracked by a clock face with the sun and moon, that slowly moves to allow the day-night modes of the table to change. At night, the vampires are stronger, and Deacon Frost will pop out of the table, mocking Blade and making a fuss at the top of the table. There's even a mode where the pinball becomes UV powered and glows in the darkness of the table. Freaky.
Overall, Blade is an enjoyable table. Some of the physics and shots are a bit annoying, the type of annoying that made me tilt and slam tilt real pinball tables in arcades and bars, prompting my quick exit from the location. Not by choice.
Captain America is the most recent table, released separate from the others this week on the XBLA and PSN platforms. As stated before, I never got into the Captain, or Bucky, or the shield. I did enjoy the badly translated Captain America & The Avengers arcade game. But the comic strip stuff didn't work for me. He didn't seem like a super-soldier, he just sort of seemed like a tool. But how did his table work out?
Pretty good! It doesn't hurt that Barn Zemo and Red Skull are Nazis, so you've got a built-in enemy that right-minded individuals already hate. The 1940s battlefield theme is imagined nicely on the playfield, even the big Captain, Red Skull, and Baron characters hanging out on the table look good. The entire playfield is visible, save for the top loop near the backglass, but you never see that shot in any pinball game.
Like all tables, there are different play modes on Captain America. One of the modes has you disposing of Adhesive X that is spilling on the table and hinders the ball's movement. Adhesive X is such a goofy name for a "secret weapon" it could only be found in a comic universe! It's easy to see the shots to destroy the Adhesive X canisters, but I always have run out of time before completing it. Another mode, Sparring, where you and Red Skull smack each other around, on the other hand, seems to last forever. There doesn't seem to be a time limit on this one as my sparring with Red Skull was going on for a few minutes, with me having one hit left, and him having 3 left.
An interesting part about Sparring Mode: there are holes that appear on the table that you don't want to hit or you will take damage in your fight. I've never seen that on a pinball table before. The table always yells at you to "do this, do that, do the other thing!" but never told "hey, don't touch that, dick!" Nice! Something that could be used for later tables, or other pinball makers. It does add some cool new strategy to pinball.
There's also a mini-game table where the Captain is being shot at by small pinballs, which pops up on the upper left side of the table. Haven't figured that one out yet, I take too much damage. But I have a shield! What happened?
Oh, almost forgot. Bucky? You suck.
The Fantastic Four, to me, is a quick line from the movie Reservoir Dogs, when they talk about the head gangster looking like The Thing. One of the cops is talking about the Fantastic Four by saying "with that invisible bitch, 'Flame On!' and that shit?" But Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, was in the comic strip Damage Control, where he would go to pay the clean-up crew to clean up after another battle with Dr. Doom or whomever the Four were fighting that day. That's the extent of my enjoyment of the Four.
Thankfully, the pinball table is very playable, and one of the better ones available visually, and one of the more frustrating ones gameplay-wise. The playfield stars Dr. Doom, Mr. Fantastic, the Human Torch, the Thing, and the Invisible Woman hang out in different areas. They don't refer to them as their comic names in the game, but as their real names (Reed, Victor, Johnny, etc.) I guess that's how that works with them.
The Torch and the Thing can actually hinder your process in the game. The Thing will sometimes smash the table, which can nudge your ball and have it pop right down the drain if you're not paying attention. The Torch distracts my playing with his lines and speech. I think the Torch might be related to Bucky.
There are multiple missions (modes) on the table, each specific to the characters. They are activated by launching the ball into the Baxter Building on the upper right of the field. That shot is not easy, but you can get the hang of it after awhile. Mr. Fantastic's mode has him reaching across the table in specific areas collecting parts by collecting pinball shots (think: the crane mode in Secrets of the Deep.) The Thing's mode has you beating up Doombots after landing a skillshot that determines the scoring for each Doombot you beat up. The bots are in play, so you have to smack them with the ball, and watch the rebounds don't fall down the drain. The Invisible Woman's mode is hitting flashing ramps and lanes to use a force field against Dr. Doom, eventually defeating the Dr. with deflected shots. The Human Torch mode has you hitting the spinner to up his temperature to 1,000,000 degrees, I assume that may be wrong. That seems a bit too hot?
Hitting ramps in Fantastic Four is great for racking up scores by combining them for extra points. It's always cool to land that one ramp you've been trying to get forever, and there's no flipper wear that makes the flipper weaker as you play like in real pinball. Excellent. This is a great table, and I'm still learning the nuances of it. Why was Jessica Alba in the Fantastic Four movie again?
Iron Man is up next. The cockiness of Tony Stark is present with his presentation, but it doesn't really seem to fit. His enemies Mandarin and Whiplash are on the table, and fighting modes are activated by dropping the three center targets, just below Tony's ego platform. The LOCK is lit by dropping two targets tucked between two pegs, and dropping the ball into the hole that appears. It sounds easy, but is not due to the placement of the pegs. I've lost many a shot to those pegs.
The ramp shots in Iron Man are clearly visible when you are prompted to make them. A blue beam will light a trail up the ramps where you are supposed to shoot next to defeat an enemy or to collect a bonus. This table is a little overwhelming and confusing at times. I was getting lost trying to figure out what I was supposed to do next. Do I shoot Whiplash in the balls, or the face? Why did the ball not go there, is this a Gottlieb table? Man, the table does look nice though. The table is fairly sparse when it comes to targets, there's not much to do but hit ramps, loops, and the occasional action mode. Ooops, I hit the wrong button in the Mandarin Flameblast mode again. Which button was I supposed to hit again?
With its faults, it's still a pretty good table, but definitely the weaker sibling.
The Amazing Spider Man brings the webslinger to do battle with Mysterio, Doc Octopus, and the Green Goblin (No Merlin? No Draco?)
There also appears to be some sort of.. disco music playing? The sounds are cool, and the physics are interesting visually, especially the double-twist loop ramps on the left of the playfield. When the ball is shot out of Spidey's wrist, they hit one ramp. When they come down of the small top playfield, they hit the other ramp. There's even a ramp that goes down below the flippers and drops the ball off to the in-lane for the left flipper.
During his mode, Doc Octopus actually will walk down across the playfield with his metal arms clinging to the sides of the table, which is certainly cool and weird at the same time. The Green Goblin tosses pumpkin bombs that need to hit the flashing ramps for bonuses to be collected, which can be a little difficult due to the pumpkins coloring. It looks like a basketball, and it's rolling around a red, yellow, and orange table. Not the easiest to follow. Another mode will invert your flippers, which is annoying. When you hit the right button, the left flipper moves, and vise-versa. Thing is, you could get used to it, but then the mode will run out, and things go back to normal. But I'm still thinking "inverted" like a dope. It's kind of annoying. Actually, it's really annoying.
Above: The Green Goblin. He's no Willem Dafoe, but he still looks pretty fekkin' weird.
Lastly, I know Peter Parker/Spider-man is supposed to be a brat of some sort or a smart ass, but he comes across as a doosh. Sure the one-liners and insults are smarmy, but they're 10-year-old bully smarmy. Those kids you would wish would get home and their parents would smack their stupid kid's face. You know?
Wolverine. One of the more recognizable characters, thanks to his popularity in both comics and film. He's the all-Canadian Bad-ass, even in those yellow-and-blues! The tables skillshot is probably the most difficult of the FX tables. You have to hit the giant Sentinel, but I can't seem to hit it without just taking a chance and every now and then hitting it. Einstein showed me how to do the shot, but either I don't have the patience or I just suck at the skillshot (or both?)
The Sentinel is also represented on the jet bumpers, with its head. They do look funny, but the other tables have regular jet bumpers, so I rather enjoy the change. Sabretooth is on the table in a dashing fur coat looking thing, and the Silver Samurai is also present with some foot soldiers. The table is fairly busy and compact, and the sounds are some of the better in the series. About 95% of the targets for Wolverine are on the upper 1/3rd of the table, which leaves a lot of travel time between flip and target, sometimes broken up by the appearance of foot soldiers that pop up from red hands on the playfield floor.
In all, the tables are all playable and enjoyable, and they each have their own nuances or annoyances, but that all depends on the player. They are available now on the XBLA as DLC for Pinball FX2 or on the PSN as a stand-alone Marvel title with the Fantastic Four and Captain America as DLC. These are must-owns for the pinball lover out there, and those who are curious about pinball would be wise to check them out.
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